Wednesday, June 15, 2022


This is part II of an interview with Steven Marcus Releford, Niles Abston and Johnny Mac, a few of the brilliant minds behind "Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE." For those who missed their legendary, sold-out show last time, you have a new opportunity to experience their multimedia music and comedy extravaganza thanks to "Y'ALL HAD TO BE FREE'D" live at Bar Lubitsch at 7702 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA on June 19th at 8:30 PM. You can buy tickets for that show right here.


Johnny Mac has a good point about how social media has impacted stand up comedy.

Steven Marcus Releford: Doing stand up I was apprehensive about social media. "Why do I need social media if I'm already out there doing stand up? That's not where it's at!"

At least you had developed mad skills at places like The Garage before focusing on social media. Many people don't want to put in the work. Desmond Dekker was a Jamaican musician and producer that helped create Bob Marley and The Wailers. To sharpen them up into the perfect machine for playing live music with no fear Dekker would have the band perform alone in graveyards at midnight for the dead.

The absolutely incredible Desmond Dekker.

Niles Abston: That's what an open mic is like. If you could perform for the dead then having fifteen live people watching you is going to give you that energy. That's what The Garage open mic was like. If you can perform for people knocked out in their chairs drunk and asleep...

You know you're ready for the big time.

Niles Abston: When I was putting my Netflix special together, I knew that if my joke made people chuckle at The Garage, than the same joke for one hundred people who paid to see me will cause the roof to come off. That was always my gauge, does it get laughs at The Garage mic? If it doesn't I'm throwing it out.

What you said about Desmond Dekker making the band perform in the graveyard, if the band can bring that much energy to a live crowd and they do well it makes perfect sense. The Garage was our graveyard.

Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Plus, any Los Angeles stand up comic performing live is going to be tougher because L.A. stand up comedy is tough.

Niles Abston: You have to want to be here to be here.

It's a gift for the audience too because all of you sharpened your acts at The Garage together, so now you are bringing the finished product to the people paying you to perform.

Steven Marcus Releford: There is an element in this group that we have from performing shows together for years. We've been running shows for a while. We've been working the scene with feet on the ground so we know what's happening.

That's the energy we got from The Garage. With our show we'll all be able to witness the greats coming up. To have that osmosis between the people and us is that energy in the name, "Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE." Because if you missed it you missed it, so now here it is, again.

Johnny, have you ever seen an LA comic that's more focused on creating a character to play in a Hollywood film, so they don't have real jokes, and then go out to New York City only to fail because of that deficit?

Johnny Mac: I've never personally seen it but it is kind of a known thing in New York City. It's a running joke in the scene. "I had an LA comic on my show and..."

Niles Abston: They had a lot of charisma.

Johnny Mac: Exactly. They were all personality and no jokes. Because in New York it's all about the jokes.

Niles Abston: When I moved there in 2019 I would always get the, "Are you sure you are an LA comic?" I didn't know what that. They really don't think we can write jokes out here because some people really went out there and fucked that all up.

There are killer joke writers up on stage out here, it's just that some people went out there before they were ready and fucked it up for the rest of us. That's why I started Basement Fest as a way to chip away at that. I'd bring comics out from LA for the festival and they'd kill in New York, so it's not the truth.

So LA can write jokes. I like how you created Basement Fest to defeat the stereotype.

Johnny Mac: Comedy is performance plus writing. You are the actor and the writer. And in LA you got a lot of actors who want to be comedians. They want to be funny actors. Someone like Will Ferrell, he's hilarious, but we don't know if he is a stand up comic. If someone wrote jokes for him though, he would kill it.

The power and fury that is Will Ferrell.

We write our jokes and perform them. If you are a performer without the material, it shows. The better writers seem to be better performers. You want to have a balance. That's the best version. But if you can write comedy and do it deadpan, that's the best comic. If you are very personable, but have no joke or punch line, that's not a good comic.

Niles Abston: We see those people there. They will yell the punch line. They'll change their voice into a British accent or they'll sing the punch line. Because they know that in their head there's a voice that's saying their shit ain't funny. So they throw something extra on it to try to make something else.

I've seen that all the time. Why are you faking a British accent if you aren't British? Why are you singing the punch line even though the joke is not about a song. Oh, because you are not funny, and I'm talking about a specific person, right now.

You're talking about many. I've seen a lot of comedians like that. For their punch line they'll use an emotional, cartoon voice and transform into a different human being. They'll use a radio disc jockey voice like they are doing a commercial or suddenly screech their punch line and shock the audience into laughing because of the cringe factor. They'll wave their arms like a windsock puppet because they don't have a punch line or much of a joke. People in mental institutions do that, so it seems funny.

Niles Abston: I know a lot of comedians that perform in their black voice. When they are up there doing stand up, that's not how they are in real life. They are trying to sound like a black person. You see a lot of white people doing it. Trying to sound black.

Johnny Mac: Growing up, most of my favorite comics were black. I did my own voice.

Steven Marcus Releford: I feel like stand up at large is kind of like the martial arts. LA has The Way of the Crane. New York has The Way of the Monkey. So it's like, if you pull back from it there are different styles, but there is an overlap of what makes comedy, comedy.

I believe that LA comics are under great pressure to be a character that works on film, instead of a stand up comic that performs on stage. Some great comedians would just never look good on film.

Steven Marcus Releford: My family was visiting the other day, and said, "Look at you. There's nobody like you on Netflix." It's like I have to fit the mainstream whatever so people will be like, "Ok, he goes into that box." Black comedians go through that too. People assume there are only three types of black comic archetypes.

Niles Abston: "Is he a crazy one?" One of the biggest comedy archetypes is what I call, "The Def Jam." It sounds crazy, but white comedians expected us all to be like that. They didn't even want to have Def Jam happen. That was invented by Russell Simmons and his company. They presented it to HBO and it almost didn't get made because they were trying to explain, like, that black comedy was synonymous with hip hop because hip hop was popular at the time.

It was the 90's so black comedy had to reflect that. They couldn't get black people to watch comedy, but there were these underground spots like The Peppermint Lounge live in New Jersey where you would go practice there and end up on Def Jam. If you could kill with the black crowd in New Jersey, you would end up on Def Jam and so that almost didn't make it on TV.

And now 20-30 years later, you want black comedians that you almost didn't want back then? So that means whatever the new wave is right now, you are suppressing that, and it almost won't happen. Whatever we do in 2022 with our finished product, they are going to make black people do that in 2040. That's just not going to work.

What you are doing with your show is a completely different art compared to Def Comedy Jam. With the current technology you'll also be able to present the show to more people than comedians could 20-30 years ago. It can be on YouTube, Hulu, Netflix...

Larry Byrd, killing it.

Niles Abston: I kind of compare everything to NBA and basketball. Stand up comedy is a lot like the NBA. Back in the 80's Larry Byrd was one of the best basketball guys ever. Everybody was freaking out because he was making two or three threes a game. Now you got guys coming off the bench that are making two or three threes a quarter because the League realized three is more than two so lets just take more of these shots.

So for a kid growing up now they would watch a kid from the 90's would think it's boring because they are only scoring 80 points. Now it's just, shoot the three, shoot the three. The game has evolved. I feel like comedy has evolved that same way. Most of the stand up comedians you know have a podcast, edit the podcast on your own, direct on the side, write scripts, do stand up, run shows, do all these things and we are still expected to kill onstage like our predecessors.

Yes, that's right.

The unbeatable Chris Rock.

Niles Abston: I love Chris Rock. I love Dave Chappelle. I wouldn't be doing what I do without them. But if you compare 26 year old Chris Rock or Chappelle to 26 year old me, I would eat those motherfuckers alive because I have to edit, I have to direct, I have to write. I have to do all these different things they don't have to do, and I still have to do stand up.

The audience is also much more demanding. They have heard it all before.

Niles Abston: Exactly.

Steven Marcus Releford: Oh yeah. If we are all able to achieve what we've done now imagine how high we will fly when we can delegate these tasks to others and have that weight lifted off of us.

Johnny Mac: We are training with weights, dude.

Marcus was talking to me earlier about how just being his own manager takes away from the time he has to write jokes and perform.

Niles Abston: You gotta damn near be a company yourself.

Steven Marcus Releford: Its also a testament to being black on the scene. You have to work ten times harder and build that shit on your own.

Niles Abston: You can't just be good.                          

We were talking about it before, and what a lot of people don't understand about being African American in Hollywood is that you do not have the same generational wealth that white comedians and actors, mostly actors in Hollywood, have.

Niles Abston: We could do a Top White Actors List. Look at all the kids that are actors in Hollywood. They are all kids of white actors or executives. The only kids we have like that is Jayden Smith and he sells water. He doesn't even want to do that shit. He sells boxed water. He's like Jesus. Will Smith raised Jesus. He's like this good person that tries to help people, and then he makes music here and there. Every other white kid like Jayden Smith is an actor or producer.

It's also, look at the top studios you think of when you think of the giants even now that affect Hollywood. They are all white. And then you try to name a famous black Hollywood studio. You can't.

Niles Abston: Oh yeah. And they can only make so many projects a year. How many black kids growing up did you know that wanted to be a P.A. (production assistant)? They are like, "PA? Is that Pennsylvania?" But white kids will have families that get them to be a P.A. on a project, and now they can just sit back and watch a big time director do their job...

Sunrise the Divine from "Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE."

Steven Marcus Releford: And get paid $700 for a major fucking film.

Niles Abston: I'm finally going to get to watch a director do their thing because I had to grind for seven years, to get hired on a TV show, write that show, make it funny so I could see the words I wrote be directed. That's how I managed to see a major director work. While some other kid can just say, "I have an uncle that works here so I'm going to go check that out." So you just look at the hurdles we have to go through just to be around to see the stuff. Because you can't be the shit you want to be unless you see it.

It sucks because people tend to hang out, by default, with other ethnicities they are apart of, whether they are Armenians, Jewish or white, although LA and NYC are more integrated. To make it in Hollywood an African American has to hang out with those Hollywood industry, generational wealth Caucasians. That can be tough.

Steven Marcus Releford: That's where the resources are at. There are people starving right now, crossing deserts, looking for where the white people are at. "I don't care where I end up, I'm bringing my baby where the white people are at to find some food."

What bothers me about Hollywood is that there are no African American Golden Era Hollywood studios going back decades, but they are more than happy to profit from the African American, gangster stereotype. Or any black stereotype.

When I grew up, there'd be movies with African Americans shooting people, and they'd be more than happy to collect the money based on films like Boyz in the Hood, or Menace 2 Society exploiting the black gangster archetype.

Johnny Mac: They'll even hire white writers to tell black stories. It's crazy.

I understand how sometimes to tell a story you have to have an outside perspective, but you still have to represent that inside perspective without using a stereotype. Paul Mooney, a great man, understood the black experience, and had to explain to white people who aren't paying attention, especially middle class white people, by being an ambassador without insulting them when he wrote for The Cosby Show

He provided an example of a happy, upper class black family to inspire others the way he could because he was dealing with white Hollywood executives. Hollywood has gotten better. Reservation Dogs, on Hulu, is doing a good job of talking about Native Americans without resorting to stereotypes.

Niles Abston: FX is killing it. At the end of the day that is a Native American show with a Native American creator, Taika Waititi, directs a lot of episodes, but they had to package their culture, while there are some rich white people that are like, "Ok, fine." Meanwhile there has never been a show that is too white for TV. You never hear that. But you hear, "Too Asian for TV, too black for TV, too Mexican," because we have to make our experience palpable to them, first.

When you look at Atlanta people think, "Wow, they are really talking about some shit black people don't get to talk about on TV." Here's the thing, you have to look at all the groundwork Donald Glover has done to make white people feel safe around him. Donald Glover is the safest bet for white people when it comes to a black guy. He's the black friend to white people.

He can rap, he's handsome, he's talented, he's been in so many spaces like 30 Rock and Community where he has collected all these white tokens in a way so that they say, "Yeah, we will let you make a TV show," and then, "Woah! That's not the show we wanted you to make...but it's making money." So he's been able to do what a black director hasn't been able to do on television because he has been so palpable to white people for so long.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Stranger Things 3! - The Weird

"Can you count, suckers? Because I say the future is ours...if you can count."

-Cyrus, The Warriors

"Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.

Stranger: Indeed?             

Camilla: Indeed it's time. We've all laid aside disguise but you.    

Stranger: I wear no mask.                                   

Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda) No mask? No mask!"  

-The King in Yellow, Act 1, Scene 2. Robert W. Chambers

"Strange is the night where black stars rise,     

and strange moons circle through the skies,             

But stranger still is  

Lost Carcosa" 

-"Cassilda's Song," The King in Yellow, Act 1, Scene 2. Robert W. Chambers

"My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many."    

-The Bible, New International Version, Mark 5:9

"My fantasy      

has turned to madness      

And all my goodness       

has turned to badness."                         

-Michael De Barres, "Obsession," Animotion


This is part one of an exploration into the myths, conspiracy theories, horror films and occult concepts behind Stranger Things 3, the hit Netflix horror/sci-fi show created by my favorite geniuses, The Duffer Brothers. To fully understand what the frack we are about to discuss, you will want to read the first work discussing the first Stranger Things right here. After that, check out my observations on Stranger Things 2 over here. After that, follow me on Instagram. Please. Thank you!


Just like you this writer watched Stranger Things 3 through one bloodshot, inebriated, very high eyeball and decided the whole show had gone someplace else, far beyond horror, into realms we saw in movies before during the 80's. Action and science fiction are now part of the pastiche. Even Dungeons & Dragons has been abandoned. It's all about being cool, getting chicks and going to the mall. The Montauk Project seems to be a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...


So rather than break down Stranger Things 3 my writing time went to putting together a screenplay for a science fiction horror flick about mind control called The Populace. No, really! None of us can get away from the topic of the show. We always return, as if programmed to do so. The script got finished, and yet the conversation was still about Eleven and her wacky friends. Here we are again.

The problem was, at first there seemed to be nothing new I could tell you about the third season that wasn't already discussed before in the previous work done on the website discussing the show. You know about conspiracy theories like MKULTRA, PROJECT STARGATE, THE MONTAUK PROJECT, THE PHILEDELPHIA EXPERIMENT, tulpas, fallen angels and demons. You also already know about the Dungeons & Dragons references. What can I say that will entertain you, now?

The Day the Earth Stood Still


Surrealism began to creep in when I realized that a lot of sci-fi really is horror. The Day the Earth Stood Still is really just about the Greek myth of Talos and automata, or the mythical horror story Jewish folklore has about the golem. The Terminator is also about a golem. He's a killer robot, a card from The Horror Tarot Stephen King talks about in his masterpiece, Danse Macabre. The Thing is also a monster, and that shows up later by the end of Stranger Things 3. The living mind-controlled zombie men that show up controlled by the strange dark fluids they injected into themselves. This goes back to The Stepford Wives, which is also a sci-fi horror story.

Stranger Things is a sci-fi horror story. So is the conspiracy behind The Montauk Project, the government's exploration into alternate universes via time travel tunnels, and the id monster summoned by the psychic that destroyed the base and ended the experiment. The original conspiracy also dealt with time tunnels and cracks in reality that scientists attempted to explore, leading into alternate realities and very terrible places. So if Stranger Things 3 decides to add all those elements, plus films from the 80's like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Die Hard, and Back to the Future to the mix, who am I to argue?


The real problem I had decided whether or not to write this intellectual excavation of Stranger Things 3 is because there really seemed to be nothing more to discuss. They sort of dropped the Dungeons & Dragons references, because the kids aren't paying attention to that. The show was now growing up, like the children, and reinforcing it's own structure with references to itself.

If The Duffer Brothers created a show based on Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the same way they created a show based on The Montauk Project, there'd only be so far we could go once we described a female burglar sampling porridge created and consumed by three bears. We can guess what's going to happen until the bears show up. So you can understand how once the Soviet Union showed up, built a secret base under a shopping mall, and now everyone is referencing Star Wars (or Raiders of the Lost Ark) by putting on uniforms and sneaking around a military installation, I just lost interest. That wasn't a part of the original conspiracy theory. Not my department.

If the original story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears suddenly has a big brother, some penguins, a centaur, talking trees and a bowl of clam chowder, it's going to be rather hard to predict or discuss these new elements as they relate to the original fairy tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. The Duffer Brothers did that with the original conspiracy theories behind their work. There's so much more that was never a part of the conspiracy theories that are now part of Stranger Things 3. Since that's not my department, we are done. Nothing more to talk about, right? Good bye!

Talos, an automata (robot) from Greek mythology.


Ha ha ha, just kidding, there's actually more to discuss because I fracked up! There are things I missed while discussing Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2 that watching 3 again helped me remember. It's actually embarrassing. The Duffer Brothers did more than reference The Montauk Project, alien abductions and horror movies about psychic powers. Other concepts are at work here, including deep parallels to western European folklore about The Gentle Folk and Greek mythology.


At the beginning of 3 the USSR is attempting to blast a hole into the same underworld Eleven closed at the end of 2. The machine blows up, the tentacles emerging from crevasse before it does, and the resulting electrical backlash triggers the remaining detritus of the monsters from Stranger Things 2 to become a strange cloud that controls animals and then people. It's also an infection, associated by electricity, that is related to the weather, particularly thunderstorms. Why?

This concept of The Cold War getting so bad that an out of control corporation might do something that triggers the destruction of the Earth, or at least a good part of it, is very similar to The China Syndrome, a movie about what happens when beating the USSR becomes so important we end up going too far, with technology out of control. For instance, many scientists believed that when the first atomic bomb was tested in New Mexico it would cause all the oxygen in the atmosphere to ignite at once, killing all life on Earth. That's a lot better than losing to the Nazi's, so they tested the bomb anyways. The rest is history.


If the thought of Jason Voorhees from Crystal Lake walking around chopping people to death fills you with awe, glee and wonder, than by all means check out this flick. It has everything! Lighting brings Jason back to life! He's a zombie with a weapon now, totally brought back to life just like Frankenstein. Horror, sci-fi and electricity were really made for each other, huh? Just like electricity is a big deal throughout Stranger Things 3.

Now, here's the confession. Eleven's ability to use psychic powers is a total reference to this film. There's a young girl who is telekinetic in this movie! No, really! There's also no reason given why she has powers. She just does. The telekinetic eventually fights Jason and it's totally badass. Like, completely radical. Whey didn't I notice this when we talked about the first Stranger Things? Gag me with a spoon! Seriously, check out this film. Lot's of Stranger Things vibes to shake with.


The massive burst of lighting that reanimates the remains of the monsters becomes a whirling cloud that starts to control simple creatures, similar to how Dracula controls rats, and then moves on to control humans by grabbing them with tentacles. We were warned about this in the Stranger Things 2. The Mind Flayer, as the children call it, tried to control Will. Now it's controlling, and trying to control, everyone else.

The Duffer Brothers even give us a conversation with this horrific, extradimensional evil, and it's intent is pretty simple: conquest. Just like a disease, it wants to consume your body until you are something, or someone, else. This includes other free willed entities that die and become a monstrous collective.

I'm about to tell you a real life horror story. Trust me, it's horrific as it is scientific! You may want to skip down to the next part if you are faint of heart, have a mind that is easily broken, or are eating a pastrami sandwich. Take a deep breath. Brace yourself. It's about to get REAL.

Henrietta Lacks


Long story real short (I'll provide you with a link) there once was a woman that got cancer. The doctors studied it, but could not save her. She died. So far, so sad. Except...she lives! Apparently her cancer had a strange genetic mutation to it that meant it never died. Seriously. Worse yet, it kept growing.

The scientists kept feeding the cancer and giving samples to other scientist across the planet, who apparently aren't smart enough to watch horror films and learn to calm the frack down, until now the original sample is very, very big indeed. Bigger than the lady it came from! Like...tons! Maybe not tons, but dear Lord it's really big. Plus it's still alive, which is enough to make an army of atheists believe in The Devil.

Check out this link if you want. My point is that the body horror featured in Stranger Things 3 does relate to real life. The poor woman was afflicted by a genetic error that replicated, killed her, and lived on without her. It's still alive, like the horrific genetic monster in the Netflix show we know so well. A disease that controls the flesh, mutates it, and then kills the host, living on without them as the flesh that died creating it. Like The Mind Flayer, her cancer wanted to build. 


The Gate is a movie about a rift that opens to Hades, releasing little demons that try to murder everybody. This movie even (spoiler alert) kills a kid! Woah! They open the gate by doing the usual stupid things protagonists in horror movies do to open a gate to Hades like in Night of the Demons. Science always does that. Just ask Stephen King about The Mist. Or the scientists who worked on The Manhattan Project. So quite obviously Stranger Things 2 and 3 reference this, just like the first installment referenced alien abduction stories and conspiracy theories.


A lot of attention is paid to the opening sequence inside the theater with some of the kids. A tunnel opens up in the film screen, broadcasting images into their little heads, living as electricity becoming holograms in their heads. This concept, that the film screen is a dimensional gateway into other dimensions of understanding, is very Stanley Kubrick. Just ask Rob Ager! The Duffer Brothers, like many good directors, are also very Kubrickian.


This one baffles me. Sorry. A young woman in a white room, obviously trapped. Kind of like Eleven was, huh? Is this even a part of the zombie flick the movie says it is? I don't think so. This, to me, is Eleven's dark side, The Demogorgon, living on as an image that taunts her and those wacky kids across film and television. The young woman certainly looks like an evil Eleven. Or maybe it's a reference to Eve in Genesis and Sophia in Gnosticism. A woman trapped by an evil god in a world of flesh and sin. So The Mind Flayer is kind of like Demiurge.

2001, A Space Odyssey

Which brings us back to Eleven, again. Is she from the future, maybe? It would explain why the scientists and soldiers trying to capture Eleven in the first Stranger Things were killing people. Perhaps they were trying to prevent a paradox. Does that mean the USSR military and scientists we keep seeing are also from the future, or even the past? I'm not sure. Later on the kids hide in a movie theater and a giant, flaming 11 appears on the screen from the film Back to the Future. If you understand The Duffer Brothers, you known by now that's not a coincidence.

Back to the Future


Have you noticed that the entire series is about control? Eleven was controlled in the first one. The laboratory shoved her into a room and made her obey. The second series saw Will get controlled. The third is also about control. The Sheriff tries to control Eleven by keeping her in a room in a cabin in the woods and makes rules, telling her what to do. When another character tries to investigate, she enters a room and is controlled by the men.

Eleven controls the robots in the very first episode. The Mind Flayer controls live humans. The adults try to control the kids, and are controlled by their government agents. Will is also a control freak, too. Did you notice that? Remember, Will was possessed in the last season. He also had a tube from The Upside Down (or Vale of Shadows) in his mouth throughout the last half of the first season. Of all the people in this show, Will is controlled the most.

When the Mind Flayer activates, because of the USSR electrical experiment, it starts to control everything. Rats and then humans. Will also does this. Throughout the first episodes he's doing the same thing. Trying to get his friends to play Dungeons & Dragons. He feels the sensation in the back of his neck when there is strange weather, and in the theater. He's part of the Mind Flayer, even though he's not possessed, and his personality still reflects it.

I honestly spent the first episodes of season 3 trying to figure out if Will was totally insane, or just a typical hormonal teenager trying to figure out life. He just wants to get his friends into a room and make them play his game. Like the Mind Flayer, the government trying to control Eleven, or the Sheriff trying to control her too, Will wants to control his friends and make them live in his imaginary world.

Dungeons & Dragons is the ultimate drug if a person is a control freak. A good Dungeon Master listens to the players, creates an imaginary world where their opinions, hopes, dreams and decisions matter, proceeding to reflect their freedoms through visualizations created for entertainment purposes only. Its like good comedy improv, "Yes, and..." where everyone is a participant.

Trapped in a world inside his imagination.

A bad Dungeon Master puts his players into a box (you know, a dungeon) and controls them. The players must play the game they are given. Their choices are preprogrammed. It's an illusion of free will. As his players begin to make choices that don't reflect the reality Will wants, he loses his temper. Later on, he destroys the tree house because the agony of watching his friends ditch a game for real life tortures him. It's as if being possessed by the Mind Flayer reinforced something in him that needs to enslave others, just like the disease itself.

When you think about it, Will's plan to get everyone together helps out The Mind Flayer. Occupied by a game inside of their heads, locked in a room, they won't notice all Hades breaking loose in the town. They'll be too busy counting experience points instead of corpses. Will's redemption is when he realizes that fighting evil in real life is a true adventure.

To be continued!

Monday, May 2, 2022


This May 7th Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE will be performing live in Los Angeles, California featuring Steven Marcus Releford, Niles Abston, Arthur Hamilton, Johnny Mac and many others. With so many other live stand up comedy shows appearing all over L.A. thanks to the end of the Covid-19 lockdowns, why go to this one?

More than just a podcast or improv comedy show, Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE is a hilarious ongoing conversation between stand up veterans in the industry along with live music by artists like Johnny Mac (who's also an incredible comic), Just Vibes Collective and Deuce Flame. The audience is also the star of the show as viewers become participants in an interactive dialogue featuring prizes as well as laughs.

Already as popular with the Los Angeles stand up comedy underground community as it is with the Hollywood industry, this exclusive interview with Steven Marcus Releford, Niles Abston and Johnny Mac is a deep discussion about Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE and an inside look at a brutal, merciless industry where the only the funniest survive to be successful.

The location, as you can see, has been determined.

What is Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE about? Why go see this show? Compared to others, why is your show so special?

Niles Abston: It's a variety show of epic proportions. We as a group, Just Vibe Collective and others are good at a lot of different stuff so we've always wanted to do something that brought all of that together. We didn't want to do a run-of-the-mill stand up show...we can do that anywhere...we didn't want to just do a music show. We're good at the podcast thing as well so we wanted to pull those things together and have a platform where are really funny friends can have a ball and do their thing.

Where did the idea for the show come from? Why is it called, "Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE?"

Johnny Mac: A big part of it for me is letting people know who we really are when the audience isn't there and the cameras aren't rolling. Whenever we are hanging out we're constantly dying of laughter from cracking jokes, so let's invite an audience to watch that happen. That's the idea of the name, "Y'all Had to be Here." It's more of an inside joke.

So it's like hanging out in the green room after a show?

Steven Marcus Releford: Yes. It's essentially the green room on mushrooms. It's a comedy show on drugs. In the best way. Like Niles said we are just combing all of these elements we want to play around with including music and comedy. We can already do a music or comedy show. Whey not make it a live podcast in front of an audience? Each of us go up, do 7-10 minutes and highlight a special guest.

Niles Abston: This is a special edition show so we got three guests.

Who else is in the lineup for the live May 7th show aside from Arthur Hamilton and each of you?

Steven Marcus Releford: We got a music open with Just Vibe Collective. Then we got a music close with Deuce Flame. Then we're going to highlight three other comedians that are really dope on the scene...Alice Hamilton, Kalea McNeill and Nore Davis. It's fun as fuck. After the comedy we have a panel discussion with the comedians we invite on the show and it's just an impromptu, loose discussion with the audience and the guests. We propose different questions. It's a fucking riot, man.

Niles Abston: We do a lot of interactive things like playing trivia with the audience and giving out prizes. People love an inside look at things. There's nothing else like it.

Johnny Mac: The audience an ask questions too. They can be part of the conversation.

Steven Marcus Releford: It's not improv comedy in the traditional sense. A lot of it is improvisational, though. The first time we did the show it was like trying out a new hour long bit for all of us. Because of social media it's just as valuable to show people what's going on behind the scenes. It's just as valuable to people as what's going on in front. That's how they are getting to know you, in a way. If you don't witness it now, you are definitely going to hear about it later.

There's also an antiestablishment, PSYOPS, covert element with the title, "Brokeflix." Netflix has been seen as this checkpoint or finish gatekeepers when it comes to stand up comedy. "We have to get a Netflix special."

Niles Abston: I am part of a Netflix comedy special coming up. Although I'm very honored by Netflix, I'm more excited about something I own with my friends because I pick who goes on, I know who is going to be on the show, it's very integral to who I am and our friendship and everything like that.

It's also that we're watching comedians we look up to who built their brand that Netflix is paying to be a part of the festival. So that's something we want to build up to and the only way you can do that is to do something on your own outside of the system first. Because that way you can dictate who you are because you already know and they can't tell you what to do. So next year it will probably be a different conversation.

Steven Marcus Releford: You gotta make your own shit. If you build it they will come. Because we've already ran around the scene to know that scratching at the walls ain't going to help. Rubbing elbows, kissing ass, that ain't the way. If they don't give you a spot, make a spot.

Niles Abston: When I met these guys they were running a show outside of a cafe. You had to battle a smoothie blender to tell your jokes. So do go from that to trying to sell out our own show during the biggest comedy festival ever. On Saturday nights we'd do shows at our friend's garage. It was an L.A. staple in comedy before Covid. That's how I got good at stand up.

How'd you get to be a part of this, Johnny?

Johnny Mac: Kind of at the places he just named, The Garage Mic and the cafe. I met Marcus the day I moved to L.A. We started doing spots together and eventually we started running shows together. I started meeting all these other comics on the scene like Niles. We would have shows and put them on and they were doing shows and putting us on. We stuck together. It's interesting seeing people come and go doing stand up.

It breaks my heart.

Johnny Mac: So over the years this squad became more solidified over time. First it was different people all over and then by three or four years we had a core group.

That's quite an education! People go through college for that long to get a degree.

Johnny Mac: It really is like that.

Steven Marcus Releford: Anyone doing something outside of the traditional route you pray to God you could get what you obtain with a four year degree. You have to spend ten years in stand up comedy to make it a viable option. The scene shifts and changes. We just kept grinding.

Niles Abston: There was a period of time where the only way I got shows was because of these guys.

Steven Marcus Releford: The problem is the scene at large is not really built for it if stand up is your dream. If you want to go on the road or do a special you gotta do more than five minutes. The scene around here is not built creatively to allow a comedian to spread their wings and build that up.

Niles Abston: Have you ever seen someone kill doing a five minute set? Then you go somewhere else, see them do a longer set and think, "Wow, you're not even the same person."

Steven Marcus Releford: They're drowning!

Niles Abston: I just did Arizona over last weekend, so I was doing twenty minutes to thirty every night, and it's like the audience figures you out in that longer set and gets to know you doing that. So unless you build that muscle up, in my opinion, you're not a real stand up comedian, you can just be funny for five minutes.

Niles Abston

Johnny Mac: Really, what makes stand up great is that you have a strong voice. If you have a strong five minute showcase set, that's great, but it's not enough time to develop an actual voice. You have to stretch to actually establish that.

Steven Marcus Releford: Yes, and what actually gets the audience involved and want to invest in you and your disposition, that's only if they get to know what it is by hearing you out. You have to be willing to find spaces to cultivate that. It's the blueprint. If you are serious about doing stand up comedy, and if you are good, you are better off doing your own thing. Now, if you are whack, you will get ushered in. You get to do bringer shows. That was the point of a lot of the shows we were running. To give people time to have longer sets.

Niles Abston: Name me a comedian who went on a five minute tour.

Steven Marcus Releford: You just basically introduced yourself. We're still in this late night era. Everyone still thinks someone is going to see that five minutes and give them an hour long special

Johnny Mac: That's old school mentality. During the late night talk show era, five minutes could change your life. That's not the case anymore. An hour can change your life.

Niles Abston: The way pop culture and media has changed, being good at stand up isn't important anymore. It's being popular. "Y'All Had to Be Here" is something different to attract a large audience that maybe isn't interested in stand up and wants to have a different experience.

People like a variety show. The format is always successful.

Arthur Hamilton

Niles Abston: It's like watching a movie being written right in front of you. It's a different experience.

Steven Marcus Releford: You're fully invited in the making of the movie. The audience is like an instrument, we are up there playing and the show is the music being made going back and forth. How they engage matters to us. The laughter of the audience dictates the outcome of the film. It's a much more participatory, inviting type of show.

Niles Abston: Other shows have already built a brand. Coachella is going to sell out no matter who plays there. Beyonce headlined Coachella a few years ago. It's an incredible show, it's on Netflix, right? The ticket sales didn't go down because Beyonce wasn't on it the next year because Coachella goes experience first, fan first, so it doesn't matter who is on the stage, you are going to have a good time no matter what. They've built that brand.

That's what we are doing with "Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE." It doesn't matter what venue they're at or if some big time headliners come to the show, it's an experience for you tailored to you so we are going to have a good time. I've been a part of some really good comedy shows, and I've been a part of some shows where they treated the comedians really bad, so I want this to be the antithesis of that.

Johnny Mac: I've been freestyle rapping since before comedy. To me it's like hanging out at lunch with your friends freestyle rapping, and it's just four or five of you laughing. With this show it's a whole audience laughing with us, making it that much bigger. Just Vibe Collective is going to be a part of the show, and we are a group that plays off of each other. We use instrumentals. We use anything we can find. Last time I was beat boxing and Marcus had a highlighter he was hitting against a wall while we were freestyling.

Steven Marcus Releford: Lunch table vibes.

"Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE" live and in action.

A variety show is less boring because each different act entertains a different part of a person's brain so they are entertained more. It's not just a dozen of the same stand up comedians in a row.

Steven Marcus Releford: Yeah. Instead of one thing on your plate you have more. With us there's a freestyle element that you can't get from anyone else.

Niles Abston: With this show it's like Thanksgiving. I can't do it so it's fun watching them. I can barely freestyle comedy. I'm totally cool with playing more of a Quincy Jones role when it comes to that kind of shit. I love seeing it come together. That's why I love directing.

I can see how it's an energy that comes from spontaneity like improv comedy. The audience loves seeing it even if the performer makes mistakes, like watching a circus performer walk a tightrope.

Aside from Covid-19 shutdowns or scheduling conflicts, what are some setbacks you've all faced when it comes to keeping this show going?

Steven Marcus Releford: Losing the venue, like we lost our last one at The Formosa. That's been the worse. It's really the nature of any time you are running your own show that's probably going to be the biggest issue. The problem was we had was that after we made a deal to do the show there for a month they reneged because they didn't like the demographic. After working in that spot for ten months it was really just a slap in the face.

Comedian and rapper Johnny Mac

Like we talked about before the interview, telling you that they didn't like the demographic sounds like coded language.

Johnny Mac: A lot of the audience were people coming to see our show. They were buying food and people already dining would come in to see the show and be a part of it, too. I don't know what they meant about saying it wasn't their demographic because a lot of our audience were people who were already customers eating at The Formosa.

Steven Marcus Releford: It was a mixed audience.

Johnny Mac: We've had a lot of venues do that. They act like they are doing you a favor, but we are doing them a favor. At some point a venue decides it's them and forget that everything changed when we came in and then they decide they don't need us.

Niles Abston: It was definitely frustrating having that partnership and relationship after ten months, especially thinking of all the money I spent there as a customer alone. Because of us performing there, we had bigger industry people showing up to watch. The CAA's of the world. The WME's. The Comedy Central's. People from places like Netflix. I taped a whole comedy special there and had a huge after party on a Tuesday night. Who cares what kind of demographic it is if they are spending money.

I know people who were spending $250 a table going to watch your show.

Steven Marcus Releford

Niles Abston: It hasn't been mentioned enough, but Marcus made that place synonymous with LA comedy. When comedians from other cities like New York are contacting me to get a hold of him and do the show. This dude basically made them famous around the country as a comedy spot. People from other time zones were coming to spend money. He made a national commercial for them.

I noticed on nights were there was no comedy that back area was totally empty. Looked like a storage room.

Niles Abston: I used to take dates to The Formosa knowing that back area would be empty if we weren't performing. You could brag and say, "Tomorrow this room is going to be packed." Marcus set that up.

A lot of people thought The Formosa was gone for good. You put it back on the map and reminded people in L.A. that it still existed.

Niles Abson: You can't put a price on being cool.

Steven Marcus Releford: You can't market cool unless black people are involved. White people can't market cool. They can market empathy or sincerity, romance, safety, shit like that.

Niles Abston: And the white people that do market cool just hang around black people and emulate them.

And once black people have given white people the cool...

Steven Marcus Releford: Oh yeah, you can be done with me.

Rock and roll musicians stole from African American blues artists, who helped invent modern rock and roll.

Niles Abston: Elvis Presley stole from black southern preachers.

I heard that. What separates Los Angeles stand up comedy from places like the Midwest or New York City, New York? How are those scenes different than here?

Johnny Mac: I think New York is more pure when it comes to stand up. People go there to really do stand up. In L.A. there's always this underlying urge to want to be famous. I want to be an actor. I wanna be known for doing this thing. In New York it is, "I want to be as good as I can at doing this thing." And that's naturally going to change how you go about doing that artform.

Steven Marcus Releford: I think that depends on the mentality that you have. I feel like I had that mentality going in. I got good in silence. Nobody was paying attention. The scene isn't good at cultivating upward mobility in new comics.

Niles Abston: That's the thing. You got good in silence. You probably never thought you were going to be on TV anyway because of what you were talking about, so you got good at it. That's why I'd go to The Garage.

Johnny Mac: The better you are the more fun it is, so just get good at it.

Niles Abston: If you are willing to spend Saturday night from 9 pm to 2 am playing in a garage across the street from somebody putting a needle in your arm, you want to be good at stand up. If your goal is to be an actor or famous, you are not going to be in some garage working on jokes. The people there were either degenerates, or wanted to be good at stand up. You didn't see people trying to be famous on Instagram there because The Garage was not going to help you do that.

Johnny Mac: Because of technology, social media and The Internet we are the first generation that can take our picture and say, "I'm a stand up comic." Nobody knows if they are good or not. Back in the day you just did it, you went to the shows and then you ended up on TV. The best of the best went on and that's why Johnny Carson's five minutes really mattered. "He's a stand up, I saw him on TV," is now, "He's a stand up, I saw him on Instagram holding a microphone."

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