Comedians At Riot LA Fest Tell Us About Their Biggest Stage Bombs And Other Comedic Memories

Commencing this weekend is the Third Annual Riot LA Comedy Festival, bringing together a slew of improv and stand up. We corralled a few of the comedians performing in this weekend’s festival to divulge some of their comedic memories, obsessions, and upcoming ventures.

Biggest Stage Bomb

Kumail Nanjiani: I was doing a show in Chicago. I started the set and it wasn’t going great. I did all my best material right in the beginning so five minutes in I was out of all my best material and I had another six minutes left. I knew that anything else I was going to say was going to be worse than what they’ve already seen, which they didn’t like anyway. That was brutal. Like a punch in the gut.

Lauren Lapkus: I remember one show at iO in 2005. We were all crawling on the floor like cats. It was really bad and then somebody broke the 4th wall during that and we didn’t know if we should keep being cats or not. The fun thing [in improv] is you’re not in it alone if you’re bombing. It’s really everybody bombing or it’s not happening.

Baron Vaughn: I was the emcee [for a show in New Jersey] and I was supposed to do 15 minutes. I was doing so badly that I completely lost track of time. This audience had no interest in what I was saying. In fact, I remember hearing forks drop. I was a young black kid and these were a bunch of middle-aged white people who were having dinner, and they didn’t want to hear anything that I was talking about.

Kurt Braunohler: There’s this one show Kristen [Schaal] and I did where we had been hired to do a corporate gig and we planned our half-hour set. The gig turned out to be in a hotel conference room. There were only eight people there and there wasn’t really a stage. When we started doing our sketches,a woman in the front row audibly said ‘Oh, this is terrible.’ We then had to continue to perform for a half hour.

Matt Braunger: I basically started doing open-mic and then started my own show at a bar. The first night we did was packed-out with all our friends and then a bunch of people who came to town. I had an amazing set and it gave me that false confidence of it’s always going to be like this. Then next week I just ate my own dick. [It was] this feeling like everyone in this room hates me.

Childhood Obsessions

Kumail Nanjiani: I was obsessed with video games and movies as a kid. That’s still what I’m obsessed with now.

Baron Vaughn: Kung-fu movies. Still love kung-fu movies. Pretty much anything that comes out in China, I’ll watch it.

Lauren Lapkus: I watched a lot of Saturday Night Live growing up so that was definitely required viewing in my house. Tons of sitcoms, so I think that definitely influenced me. I loved Full House and Saved by the Bell and watched those episodes over and over again. Which is a weird influence.

Matt Braunger: I loved reading anything scary. The first real book-book that I read as a kid, that wasn’t a young adult book, was The Exorcist. I use to go to Powell’s bookstore and just go with a couple bucks and come back with all these horror novels.

Kurt Braunohler: As a kid I was obsessed with sharks and boobs. I think that’s it.

Worst & Best Cities to Perform In

Baron Vaughn: I do really well in Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta, Chicago. Cities that I don’t do well: San Diego. I still can’t crack them. And Orlando is definitely on the list of cities that do not understand what I’m doing.

Lauren Lapkus: I love performing in LA. The audience here is amazing and especially UCB and the opportunity to perform to a sold-out crowd multiple times a week is really great.

Kurt Braunohler: Miami is the worst town to do stand-up comedy. Miami seems to hate comedy because they seem to take themselves very seriously and really love cars and tits. And if you’re not a car or a tit then they’re just confused as to why they should pay attention to you.

Comedians You Admire

Lauren Lapkus:I loved a lot of broad comedians, like Adam Sandler and Chris Farley. As I got older I realized I was really into people like Diane Keaton, maybe more subtle romantic comedy type actresses.

Kumail Nanjiani: Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis. You don’t want to copy people’s careers or anything like that but when I think of awesome guys who do stuff on their own, that’s who I think of.

Baron Vaughn: I have three paintings in my living room: Bill Cosby, Steve Martin and Richard Pryor who I would say are my three biggest influences. Outside of the fact that he very well may be a horrible monster, I can’t deny that Bill Cosby is an influence on, not only me, but the entirety of comedy. There is no comic that is not influenced by Bill Cosby. That’s why this sucks even more.

Matt Braunger: The first stand-up I heard was George Carlin’s “Class Clown” which I just devoured as a kid. It spoke to me. And weirdly enough in high school I started getting into Lenny Bruce. Which doesn’t speak to my generation really at all.

Kurt Braunohler: As I kid I really liked Steve Martin. Now one of my favorite comedians is Doug Stanhope.

Saddest Moment in Comedy

Kurt Braunohler: That was years ago. Kristen Schaal was doing Letterman, like a guest. So I came and was hanging out at Letterman with her and then I had to leave to go do a spot on the lower east side at this terrible show. On my way down to that show I get a text from my brother saying he just had a baby. And when I get to the show, there’s one person in the audience. Just one. And I get up on stage and just had a total breakdown. My comedy partner is on Letterman right now, my brother just had a baby, and I’m just performing for you! This isn’t even a show. This is just a weird, awkward dinner we’re having. I just sat down with them and talked on the microphone. I met that person many years later, it was pretty awesome.

Kumail Nanjiani: When Robin Williams passed away recently. That was really bad because I’ve been a fan of his my whole life. He had done my show at The Meltdown a couple times and he was always very nice and gracious.

Baron Vaughn: Essentially the last two years of my life have been my saddest moments in comedy. I had a TV show that got canceled then I sat around unemployed and going broke. And I was like, you know what, I think I’m done. I can’t sustain. I’m getting older and more irrelevant. So I might as well cut my losses now and leave. That’s what I was thinking everyday for 600 days. A lot of things changed in the last year. My attitude changed and it payed off.

Matt Braunger: When my friend Pat Brice died in 2007. Before you go to New Faces [of Comedy] at Just For Laughs, you find out a month before and you can’t tell anyone. That’s the only reason the industry goes, to see New Faces. These days all the the New Faces have managers and agents . But in my day most of us didn’t. I had known for a month and didn’t tell anyone. Not even Kyle Kinane who is one my best friends. At the end of the month, I was leaving in two days, Kyle called me in just a wreck. He told me that our friend had died in his sleep. We started out together in Chicago and he was one of the best people I ever knew so it was this really bittersweet experience to go to this festival that jumpstarted my professional stand-up career while at the same time I lost one of my best friends.

Upcoming Projects

Lauren Lapkus: I’m really excited about Jurassic World. I had a lot of fun shooting that this Summer. I have a new show coming out on TBS, we’re going to start shooting in March it’s called Buzzy’s and that’s with George Wendt and Ashley Tisdale.

Baron Vaughn: I’m going to be on a new Netflix original series in May called Grace and Frankie. I’ll be playing the adopted son of Lily Tomlin and Sam Waterston. The show will be good, I just hope people don’t watch and go, ‘Man, that show’s really good but that black dude needs to die.’ You know how the Internet can be.

Matt Braugner: My [Comedy Central] special [Big Dumb Animal], that’s coming out February 6th. I shot it last year and its basically the first special I’ve done and sums up I guess who I am.

Kumail Nanjiani: Writing the movie that is inspired by my life [with wife Emily Gordon].

Kurt Braunohler: Coming up on [January] 26th is the release of Roustabout, which is a series for Comedy Central Studios where I jet ski from Chicago to New Orleans in order to send 500 goats and 1000 chickens to Africa. And I actually have a podcast where I blind-fold people and throw them into my car and take them somewhere they’ve never been and they have to figure out where they are how to get home and that’s called ‘Get Lost.’