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Women rule the comedy world at an almost grown-up RIOT LA
Written by
Michael Juliano

Theater shows are a tough sell in Los Angeles. You can see comedians for a few bucks any night of the week at UCB, NerdMelt or the Comedy Store, so why submit to steep service fees for a spot at the back of a 1,600-seat theater?

This year’s RIOT LA, however, made a compelling case for seeing stand-up on the biggest, most beautiful stage possible as the alt-comedy festival gussied itself up for its opening night with two shows at the Theatre at Ace Hotel: David Cross, on his first stand-up tour in six years, and Natasha Leggero, Janeane Garofalo and Maria Bamford. That power trio in particular—plus exceptional host Fortune Feimster—absolutely lit up the historic theater with the type of unforgettable performances that keep us coming back to RIOT each year.

Bridget Everett.Photograph: Zach Dobson

They weren’t the only women to kick ass at this year’s festival. Conceptual comedian Kate Berlant, alt-cabaret queen Bridget Everett and character virtuoso Lauren Lapkus all played to sold-out crowds, while a trio of ladies slung elegantly constructed dick jokes at Roast Battle. If any women-in-comedy detractors still found themselves subscribed to worn-out cliches by the end of the weekend, well, we weren’t interested in what those people had to say anyway.

This year’s lineup was also notable for assembling some of alternative comedy’s progenitors, including the previously mentioned Garofalo, Cross and Bamford, as well as Patton Oswalt, who closed out the fest with a spectacular hour-plus set. Tales of marriage, children and aging have crept into the stalwart comedians’ routines, but their more mature perspectives are just as filthily pointed as ever; bits on shrooms, one-night stands and Star Wars have given way to stories of couples colonics, parenting failures and, well, more Star Wars.

David Cross.Photograph: Zach Dobson

The festival itself has matured, too, but the fourth annual RIOT LA has also entered that awkward adolescent phase. The introduction of two shows at the Theatre at Ace Hotel and more performances this year at the Regent Theater added a new level of polish and prestige to the fest. Meanwhile, the fest’s core cluster of venues a few blocks up on Main Street still maintains its wildly inventive streak with indescribable shows like the Bullshit Artists and 7 Minutes in Purgatory, which we can only attempt to explain with the photo below.

T.J. Miller.Photograph: Zach Dobson

Sometimes, though, things can feel a little too DIY, as was the case at an outdoor tent that was stuck competing with the sound of Night on Broadway on Saturday. The end result is an event that’s stuck somewhere between Sundance and a summer music festival. There’s nothing wrong with being both of those things, but a clunky ticketing policy pushes most attendees toward one end or the other; big-name shows are best enjoyed with individual tickets as none of the eight top-billed headliners were initially available to festival passholders (Gilbert Gottfried’s shows were opened up later on).

That said, we're willing to put those issues aside if RIOT LA continues to outdo itself as it becomes one of the most imaginative, eclectic and funny comedy festivals, period.

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