Filmmaker Lance Bangs has built an impressive resumé working behind the camera. Since starting in the early 1990s, Bangs has directed music videos for Sonic Youth and Arcade Fire, shot standup specials like David Cross‘ Bigger and Blackerer, and served as a camera operator for MTV’s Jackass. Now, with the launch of Vice Media‘s new cable network Viceland, Bangs is helming Flophouse, a documentary series chronicling the underground comedy scene in various cities across the country. As each episode travels to a new location, the story is told from inside one of the titular flophouses, where up-and-coming comedians live and work together, and always seem willing to offer a couch to their fellow comedians out on the road. Bangs recently spoke with us on what brought Flophouse to fruition, as well as its role in Viceland as a whole.
Your new show, Flophouse, really drops the viewer right in the middle of this underground comedy world that a lot of people aren’t going to be familiar with. How did this all come about?
I spent a lot of time in the ’90s and 2000s traveling with bands in the underground music scene, and there’d be these regional scenes with things happening in Minneapolis or Austin, Texas, or Athens. Then, in the mid ’90s I started doing things with the guys from Mr. Show, shooting stuff for David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, and would tour with them. So, I’d see this rise of younger, weird, interesting people going into comedy rather than indie rock, and I started putting on events at comedy festivals where I’d bring in performers I was interested in, and show clips of things that I’d made that never got released, or that we got shut down by. Through that I met a circle of younger comedians from other parts of the country, and I was fascinated that you could have a regional scene in Denver or New Orleans, and that you didn’t having to run to New York or L.A. right away. People were kind of living in shared apartments or group houses, and there’s a circuit where people would just crash on a couch or a mattress on the floor, then, in turn, when they came through town, you could help them put on shows.
[Later], I went to go visit Solomon Georgio in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and at the time his roommates were Eric Dadourdian and James Austin Johnson, and there’s a comedian I like from Seattle named Danielle Radford who was crashing on a mattress. She’d just been hit by a bus, and was waiting to get her settlement from the city figured out and doing physical therapy there on that mattress. Then, I came back a couple days later, and this kind of striking woman, Marcella, who I think had came out of Houston, was crashing there. Just the turnover rate of people that wanted to come down to an open mic or do comedy in Los Angeles, or try and pitch ideas for things, that they’d just sort of have this open policy of supporting their peers while letting them hang out and socialize. So, we’d meet people at one shoot in San Francisco that were visiting from, let’s say Denver, and I knew I wanted to go film the rest of the world that was around them in Denver.