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Fake snow, real sincerity and a little bit of period humor rule RIOT LA

Photograph: Liezl Estipona RIOT LA.

The beauty of RIOT LA, which bills itself as "LA's alternative comedy festival," is its variety; everything from video game podcasts to interactive drinking games manage to fit under its umbrella. There's a lot of comedy to take in at the Downtown fest, hours worth, with dozens of performers storming as many as seven stages at a time. The downside? There will most definitely be duds. With so many shows blurring together, a comedian really needs to kill lest that stream of consciousness rant become a watch-tapping exercise in patience.

Alternative comedy—whatever that even means anymore—made its name on detached, subversive irony. But at this past weekend's fest, some of the stand-out sets seemed to have one thing in common: sincerity (in more of a "truthiness" than truthfulness kind of way).

Kyle Kinane at RIOT LA.Photograph: Liezl Estipona




Adding storytelling to a routine is de rigueur at this point, but packing a real sense of sincerity—regardless of whether a story is even true—feels like an effortless art. There's an honesty and ease when Jerrod Carmichael talks about confronting Bill Cosby via email, Kyle Kinane recalls getting kicked out of Canada by friendly moose-sized security guards and Melissa Villasenor jumps between a Björk impression and the difficulty of dating when you're sinking so much time into playing Animal Crossing. Maria Bamford spent an entire show in the astoundingly believable character of Marilyn, her folksy, Target-shopping Minnesotan mother. When she capped off her set sans wig and invited her actual mom on stage to celebrate her 70th birthday, it was—as fake Marilyn might say—just darling.

Maria Bamford and her mother Marilyn at RIOT LA.Photograph: Liezl Estipona


Now, don't think we've gone soft: one of the weekend's best acts was Cameron Esposito's ode to the menstrual horror show. From the second she stepped on stage, Esposito resuscitated a completely deflated room and capped off her set with a delightfully disgusting rant on the grotesque anatomical miracle of a woman's period.

Kurt Braunohler at RIOT LA.Photograph: Liezl Estipona


Kurt Braunohler, meanwhile, returned with Roustabout in anticipation of the jet ski-filled web show of the same name. Like last year's show, there were plenty of silly surprises: an acrobatic dog performance, a spontaneous banana split eating (and whip-it) competition and plenty of fake snow. But Braunohler himself is the highlight. He's bursting with glee, whether talking about proposing on a hot air balloon or the deliberateness of eating with chopsticks, "the gentleman's utensil." He sounds genuinely excited to deliver each punchline, and the audience sounds just as excited to be hearing it.