Monday, May 2, 2022

"Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE" - Comedy

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 line...as 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."


You can buy tickets for Y'ALL HAD TO BE HERE over at:      

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/yall-had-to-be-here-tickets-310166435157?aff=ebdsoporgprofile

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Barbara Gray - Comedy

One of the most intelligent, hard-working, funniest professional stand up comics working in Los Angeles, California. That's Barbara Gray. She's written the perfect Hollywood stand up comic joke. It's about surviving a break up and going out on a new date at a local restaurant. It also reveals a personality to the audience any casting director would love to see in film. I won't give her joke away...you'll have to find it yourself...just trust me. It's a funny story that combines genius, heart, soul, talent, character and comedic logic into one single ICBM of a joke. Any stand up comic who wants to make it in Los Angeles should study her career with admiration and wonder. I enjoy interviewing comedians. It's an honor to contribute to their success.

Barbara Gray started doing stand-up comedy in Los Angeles back in 2008, shortly after studying film at the University of Utah. “I was obsessed with comedy. I wanted to be in L.A. and do it. I threw myself into the scene doing improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade.” After performing stand-up at a local open mic, she was hooked. “I completely went headfirst into doing stand up and have been doing it every day since then.”

Gray has been performing for audiences throughout her life. “I had done a lot of theater growing up. I have an incessant need for attention. As I get older I realize how much attention I need to survive. I used to feel bad about it, but it is who I am.” Why does she do stand-up comedy? ”It just felt right the first time I did it. I was meant to do it. It is cheesy but making people laugh is incredible. It is a weird, physiological response that tickles your brain. I love getting this weird noise out of their body. It is amazing to be able to do that without touching them physically.”

The young, gorgeous comedian has already appeared on critically acclaimed shows like Viceland’s “Flophouse”, Hulu’s “Coming to the Stage”, Comedy Central’s “Deadliest Chef” and has been a writer for the hit show, “Billy on the Show.” Success has been sweet, but for Gray the real award is getting better at making people laugh.” I feel like I’m getting better. I’m pushing into the next phase. I’m willing to go up there and just see how it comes out. I can go up onstage and trust myself. I can talk about anything. I am getting good at comedy and that is its own reward.”

Sauce is a stand-up comedy show organized by Gray featuring cutting-edge comics performing in the back room of a real-life pizzeria, every Friday night at 8pm. “I really feel special to have that show with my friends.” One of her friends discovered the place and told Gray about the opportunity to host a show there. “They had not even been open a year yet.” DeSano’s Pizza, located at 4959 Santa Monica Boulevard, was a perfect venue for the group. ”The owner seemed interested in us bringing new business. The pizza is really great, I have it every week!”


Lady to Lady is a podcast featuring Tess Barker and Brandie Posey, two friends and comedians that have been performing longer than Gray. She describes the show as, “Pee-Wee Herman mixed with The View and David Lynch.” “The podcast has taken off,” she says. “We’ve been doing stuff with Comedy Central.” The three comedians bring on a guest, usually a woman but men have been on to, who are usually performers like musicians and other stand-up comics. “The live show is a parody of a talk show. We’ve even hired a real Oprah impersonator to take over the show,” Gray says.

While she has had fun with cannabis, Gray warns that self-control is the best policy. “I used to be a big stoner, but it turned on me at some point. I had to pull back a lot. It kind of gave me panic attacks. You have to be careful with it.” She’s glad that the medicinal plant is becoming legal in more states throughout the country, because she’s met people with genuine ailments who have benefitted from its use. “There are so many people who need it,” she says.

Her website: www.myjokesareuphere.com

The podcast: www.ladytoladycomedy.com

FunnyorDie: www.funnyordie/babsgray

Twitter: www.twitter.com/babsgray

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/babs_gray/?hl=en