Jake Kroeger is a comedian, producer, and writer. Nobody knows what’s going in comedy in Los Angeles better than Jake. He created and runs The Comedy Bureau, the central source of information of everything happening throughout Los Angeles comedy for stand-up, sketch, improv, film, podcasts, clowns, and even puppets. With a reputation as LA’s foremost comedic expert, Jake has written for Vulture, Nerdist, and LA Weekly, consulted at Vin Di Bona Productions and Super Deluxe, produced a comedy album, and even gives a premium exclusive tour through the LA comedy scene via Airbnb Experiences.
Listen to Episode #90 here:
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Curating Comedy with Jake Kroeger
Our guest is Jake Kroeger. Jake is a comedian, producer and writer, and nobody knows what’s going on in comedy in Los Angeles better than Jake. He created and runs The Comedy Bureau, the central source of information on everything happening for stand-up, sketch, improv, film, podcast, clowns, and even puppets. Jake has written for Vulture, Nerdist and LA Weekly. He’s produced a comedy album and even gives an exclusive tour through the LA comedy scene via Airbnb experiences. Welcome, Jake.
Thanks for having me.
Jake, we’ll see if you did your homework. If you weren’t working as a comedian, producer, writer or tour guide, what would you be doing?
I’d probably try to make good on that USC film degree that I have.
You’re one of an exclusive group.
That’s a weird fun thing about me. A lot of people in comedy, comedians, they have this idea or story of like, “I was watching Richard Pryor live on Sunset with my dad and that’s when I knew,” or “I was the class clown.” None of that ever happened to me. I was a serious child. I went to film school with these notions that I was going to be an Alfred Hitchcock type. Definitely, I didn’t want to perform on stage and didn’t want to do comedy.
You’re going to be a director.
That was my whole thing was to be a writer, director. When I got out of film school, I did every film job you can imagine, whether I was driving a thing, getting food for things. It was a lot of moving things from place A to place B. Sometimes there were plugs. Sometimes it was edible, but it was mostly moving things for little money. What I found was, I was tired from doing all that stuff, all this idea of writing scripts and my downtime never happened. It just so happened that a friend that I had at the time wanted to get into comedy, and he also didn’t have a car. I’m a good friend and I found an open mic where you could do comedy, poetry or music, anything.
When was this?
This was years ago.
Do you remember the place?
This would have been 2008 because I didn’t even do stand-up for a year. It was Portfolio Coffeehouse in Long Beach. It was great because it was close enough to Cal State Long Beach. You got all these Cal State Long Beach people who are good musicians.
You often don’t get a good crowd or a good audience for an open mic.
Especially in LA. The further outside of LA proper that you go, when you start getting to Pasadena or Manhattan Beach, there’s nothing else to do, and people are like, “They’ve got some Snickers, they’ve got comics or whatever, I’ll stick around.” In LA and Hollywood, you’re going to perform for a bunch of comics. A lot of people are hustling and getting up. Sometimes they think Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours is one of the worst things to happen to stand-up because people think if they do 10,000 hours of bad stand-up.
Not every hour is created equal.
[bctt tweet=”The further outside LA proper you go, the less you find that you can do.” via=”no”]
After that, if you keep going up and not questioning yourself and pushing yourself artistically, you’re going to learn to speak into the microphone clearly and then move the mic stand out of the way.
That matters, because my first time ever attempting stand-up, I did that poorly. I disconnected the mic from the chord, which I’ve never seen someone do.
It happens more than you think it does. It’s venue dependent. Sometimes there’s shoddy equipment at the venue, and it happens.
You drove a friend down the Portfolio.
He was a child of divorce and had little direction in his life. We’re not friends anymore, but that’s not why.
Is he still doing comedy?
I don’t even know. I remember seeing him not hate it and I’m like, “We could do this.” They allowed anything. I was driving, I didn’t want to just drive, buy coffee and watch a bunch of people. I had played guitar for a long time.
You signed up.
I signed up to do one of two things, annoyingly long Bob Dylan covers like Gates of Eden, anything six minutes and above.
Is there no timer on this thing?
This is the painful thing about music open mics, they’ll say one song. They don’t tell you how long it is. Sometimes music open mics are stupid enough to do two songs.
That could be fourteen minutes.
It also includes your stupid intro where you think you’re going to be funny and you’re like, “I wrote this song.” Play it.
You sound like someone who’s run open mics.
I ran an open mic for a year. That is almost a prerequisite as part of doing comedy. You should run some open mic, improv jam or sketch workshop something like that.
Give back and get practice.
If you run an open mic, that’s the easiest way to get comfortable on stage. The mere fact that you’re bringing up people and bringing them off stage, you’re not even trying to be funny. You’re letting your hands not shake, and getting the whole sense of it.
A previous guest, David Nihill. I don’t know if you know David. He was down in LA. He got his intro into comedy by hosting an open mic. He talked about the value of learning to host and how important a skill that is. The fact that this has come up within a few episodes, it’s great.
You get to have a thing that’s yours. You get a sense of what it’s like having a show, but it’s not a show. In fact, there are zero expectations. One of the first pieces of advice was given to me by this 50-year-old guy who switched between doing spoken word and stand-up. I switched between Dylan covers and spoken words. I wrote poetry in high school and I won awards for it and I’m like, “I could read this at the open mic and that would count.” I was not looking to sit there, that was the goal.
That says something about you.
What do you think it says about me?
This is for the audience. Jake and I were chatting and we got talking about my other show, Solo. If you haven’t heard about it, the title is Solo: The Single Person’s Guide To A Remarkable Life. One of the things that I talk about is the importance of improving your creation to consumption ratio. The average person’s ratio is 1 to 30. For every hour of creating what they do, they consume 30 hours of material. The average creative individual, it’s almost flipped. It’s probably ten hours of creating the one hour of consuming. I want people to sit at 3 to 1. Every three hours that they spend creating, they can spend an hour consuming. The average person though is happy to sit in the open mic. It’s terrifying to go up on stage, and the fact is that even you who already had a reason to be there, which is to support your friend, couldn’t just consume says something about you. Much so that you’ve created The Comedy Bureau. You can’t even consume comedy, you have to curate it. You created this platform that serves the community. What do you think your ratio is?
It might be 1 to 1.
That makes sense to me.
There’s a lot of time where I’m creating and consuming at the same time.
What does that look like?
That would be watching Steve Martin’s interview and then writing about it. I remember watching it and like, “This harkens back to Johnny Carson days.” This is fun. This doesn’t seem a producer talks through Steve like, “What have you been doing lately? What do you want to promote?” They try to create this weird arc in this 10 to 20-minute interview that will be edited down to seven to seem interesting and digestible online. Steve Martin obviously came in like, “We’re going to do all these bits. You’re not even going to bring me on directly. You’re going to say my name and then you’re going to be like, ‘He’s not coming out. What’s going on?’” He gets a taxi and like, “I forgot to say, the Steve Martin. I’m so sorry, everybody.” Maybe it’s a little precocious to call the Late Night appearances in an art form, but there is an artistry to it when done well.
That’s the key. To me, comedy can be art when done well.
It can be transcended into beautiful even.
That’s performance. Bad text creates performance.
[bctt tweet=”Everybody in Los Angeles keeps complaining that they can’t get good audiences.” via=”no”]
It was wire-to-wire. There was a genuine moment where they talked about my python but for the most part, they were going bit. A lot of interviews sit in this puddle of like, “What’s the next thing you’re going to talk?” They meander, “Here comes a story about you getting lost in the airport, or clothes at the dry cleaners.” We’ve never heard that before. There’s this weird transparency where Late Night has been around long enough to be like, “We know that you’re not friends. Why are you talking about this?” Conan does this sometimes. “You’re here to promote a movie or TV show. Why don’t you guys go out into the world and have an experience that’s weird and fun?” One that I can remember off the top of my head, Conan took Steven Yeun to a Korean spa and they both did that.
They have a fun one with one of his assistants driving with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube.
The one where she was getting her license. That feels more organic and real. That obviously isn’t as “produced” as a conversation necessarily, like a lot of the time it is. If Kevin Hart is coming on to Colbert and he’s there to promote the Jumanji movie, am I going to see Jumanji because he’s on there? I know that that’s the reason that they’re there, but that’s not the reason I’m going to see the movie.
It’s a reminder for the person who wants to see Jumanji.
Is that worth, all that time and effort that people put into Late Night appearances?
Is this what you were writing about?
I didn’t go into all of that, but I was celebrating the idea like Steve Martin, Stephen Colbert, having a lot of fun in a way that isn’t often seen in a lot of Late Night interviews, because mostly it’s just promotional.
Whenever it’s not lazy, whenever there is intention behind and creativity. It is the thing that it’s supposed to be and it’s not that a lot of the time. It’s a delight to see whatever happens. It is part of the reason I love Desus and Mero. Desus and Mero is different from everything in Late Night. Every aspect of it is different. Have you seen Desus and Mero?
No, I haven’t.
That’s Showtime’s Late Night show. They started out of Vice. They were these two guys who had this podcast called the Bodega Boys. They riff, whether it be news, politics or WorldStar videos. When they had their show at Vice, they didn’t have writers. They sat in Vice’s conference room, put a camera on and they had these graphics that were like PTI, and they went down topic by topic. They’re on Showtime. All the trappings of Late Night, they’re all gone. There’s no desk. There are two chairs. They’ll have one guest, but they usually interview them remotely. They wore a bunch of streetwear. There are no suits.
They’re breaking all the rules. It’s about time.
It’s clear that they’re having fun. Not this fo-fun, Jimmy Fallon.
I want to like Jimmy Fallon, but I don’t believe that he’s truly that enthusiastic.
There was one of the games that he plays, it’s a game where it’s a quiz and you win puppies. Is that connected to anything that any of the guests have? No. I remember seeing that once. Jimmy won, but because of how hollow so much of that show is, he gave the puppies to the guest because he thought it would look better. It’s like, “What is the point of any of this?” It’s clear that Desus and Mero are having a lot of fun. It’s out of the norm. I enjoy it.
Let’s get back to the open mic because it says a little something about you. You drive down there and you’re like, “I can’t sit here. I need to participate.” You have a guitar with you, did you brought the guitar? Did you borrow a guitar?
I had a guitar. After the first week where I saw it and it was like, “This is what this is.” I think I can and want to do that. I can’t sit here. I would bring my guitar and play Dylan covers, or I’d even solo on the guitar for five minutes. You could also do that. I remember the first open mic performer I ever saw, it was at that place. He brought an electric guitar on stage. He plugged it into a pedal and to an amp. He strummed the guitar open hand. He didn’t put his fingers on any of the frets for six minutes. I’m sure it sounded great in his head because he was having a great time. No one else was having a great time.
That’s too bad, and a little too indulgent.
That’s an open mic. My friend didn’t hate it. I wanted to keep going and taking him and then being part of this. Throughout a year, what I found was, I loved hanging out with comedians. There was something pure about their drive to do it. They don’t know whether they’re going to make it big or they’re going to be great.
Chances are they’re not.
Chances are they probably know that too. All that aside, they need to do it and I love that. I didn’t feel that way like I did in film school. I had a conception of what a director did and then that got upturned when I had to direct actors. I could finagle my way through it, but I didn’t understand performance the way I do now. After the mic, I would hang out with the comedians because my friend was a comedian and I want to hang out with all these people and I got along.
This is going to be a condensed version of the story. Part of the reason we’re not friends is he’s a jerk. Why is he a jerk? One time he didn’t want to go to this open mic because he didn’t want to, and I was like, “Do you want to be a comedian?” He’s like, “Yes.” “We should be probably doing more than one open mic a week.” He’s like, “I know.” “Why do you not want to go?” He’s like, “I don’t want to.” “Are you sick?” He’s like, “No, I just don’t want to.” I kept prodding him until he’s like, “If you ask out Elise, I’ll let you drive me to the open mic.” He’ll allow me to let him give him a ride to this open mic. Elise was this record store manager that I haven’t had a crush on. I would hang out at her job and we traded mix CDs and stuff.
You never have the guts to ask her out.
No, but I was pissed off that like, “You don’t want to go to this one open mic? This is the only thing you do with your week.” Otherwise, he plays video.
Did you feel it was a betrayal of the craft? Is that what upset you about it?
It was a betrayal of the craft and a path that we were on.
You two were together. This was every week and this was your thing.
That is our thing, otherwise, our lives felt nebulous.
That’s what you had.
I had my drive to do other things on my own. I valued his friendship at the time so I wanted to have us do something together. I was like, “I’ll go and ask her out.” I sincerely went to the mall and went to this record shop. It was dominantly manic. I went in. I wandered around for twenty minutes. I picked up a full-price CD and I brought it to the counter. She was not even working at the counter. I had to ask, “Is Elise here?” She’s like, “Yes, I’ll go and ask for her.” I didn’t even need to do any of that. She comes up and she’s like, “Jake.” I’m like, “Would you want to get coffee sometime?” She’s like, “I’d love to,” and gave me her number. Here’s the kicker. Two weeks later, we went on this coffee date. We had a great time. We talked for three hours. We were planning to do karaoke next. I got a text the next day, it said, “I’m getting this vibe that you’re into me. I want to let you know that I am a lesbian with my roommate. I hope that’s okay. If you want to be friends, that’ll be all right.” I now would give a much different answer because the connection is valuable. Just because you can’t have sex with somebody or romance, it doesn’t mean that you should throw that away.
The overlap in qualities for a friend and a lover is 75%.
I didn’t know that before. I sent her this long message that was like, “I could say that we’ll be friends, but nine months down the road when you’re still a lesbian then I’ll probably get mad because I’m into you. I’m going to end it.” She’s like, “I understand.”
I see how you see how it’s a missed opportunity. It’s hard to find people you connect with.
I’ve not made that mistake in years subsequent to that. Needless to say, I was not in a good mood. I was like, “I want to talk about this on stage.”
How comedic of you.
I did a rookie mistake by typing out this whole set in Microsoft Word and even trying to predict reactions in parentheses. Pro-tip, do not do that. It will never happen the way you want, and then, of course, practicing it in the mirror by myself. That’s also not how it works. At this open mic, what was great is that you got seven minutes, which is a lot. This would probably also say something about me. I am committed to doing my time. I’ve seen a lot of people at that open mic where if they are new or they got their first set, minute two and they’re like, “What do you guys want to talk about?”
They wrap it up.
Even if I got to that point, I’m like, “I’m going to do my time.” The next time I got there, I wrote a whole set. I get up on the mic. There were a lot of great people that went to that open mic. One, in particular, was this band that had a Zooey Deschanel-esque lead singer, who I also have a crush on. For whatever reason, when I got on stage, she came into the coffee shop and decided to sit upfront. For the next seven minutes, I get only one laugh. It was a recognition laugh. Sometimes when you use a reference in a joke, somebody will recognize it.
It’s a-ha laugh.
It’s not that it’s funny, it’s like, “I know what that is.” I mentioned Phil Collins in the air because I was talking about suicide. There was this 50-year-old guy who is the only laugh I got. My friend at the time, he taped the set. He made this auteur decision around minute three to shoot it like an episode of The Office. Zooming in, zooming out, willy-nilly, and I’ve got to give it to him as painful as it is for me to watch.
It’s fun for others. Does it exist?
It exists somewhere. It’s not online. He zooms in on this other girl like they rehearsed it. As soon as the zoom stopped, she looks at the camera and frowns. That hurts every time I remember that. The set doesn’t go well. I make it to seven minutes. I get off stage and then this girl comes up to me and she says, “Jake, I thought you were going to do comedy? What happened?” I have never physically been stabbed.
You know what it feels like. Let’s fast forward ahead. Obviously, you were undaunted.
As terrible as that was, I still love the camaraderie of comedy more than anything I have gotten filmed on TV. I kept chasing it. I kept going out to more places.
You start to figure things out, you talk into comics and you start to learn these things.
That was the impetus of The Comedy Bureau.
I do want to get to that. You’re here because of The Comedy Bureau.
That’s how I get most places. What happened was, in trying to go up to more places and trying to figure stuff out, there wasn’t a central source of information. Everything was word of mouth, and because of that, it’s also unreliable. Even if you were to go to the open mic at a club and try to figure out how to get in the club, like the Comedy Store or the Laugh Factory, everybody would give you the runaround, “You’ve got to talk to Tommy.” “Where’s Tommy?” “You missed him?” A lot of that. I like the idea of comedy being a meritocracy, but at a certain level, why are you hiding information like this from people?
Everybody in LA complains that you can’t get good audiences. You need to advertise. Make it easy for people to find out what’s going on.
I don’t know if you’ve thought about this or not, but there’s a perceived high barrier of entry for audiences. Maybe they watch 1 or 2 Netflix special and they’re like, “That seems fun. I want to see some live comedy. Where do you even start?”
I agree with you. It’s tough. You don’t have enough experience to vet these things.
A lot of people have this idea that they’re going to be set up front. They’re going to be made fun of, after paying $20 and buying two drinks. It’s like, “That doesn’t sound like fun.” Why would you get a sitter and do that? There’s so much comedy that isn’t that, and I would love to change the perception of that. Where there are all these local comedy shows that have been close to your house, people tend to be nice.
They’re happier there.
95% of the time, you do not have to buy two drinks. There isn’t this big investment financially and emotionally, you can have a good time.
You have a web page. You have a Twitter account, which has every night of the week. Do you have everything?
I don’t have everything but I have a lot. For the open mics, they try to cover as much as possible. In rare cases, if I’ve been to a mic and I feel like, “This is unproductive.” I won’t tell people to go to that. That’s an extreme case.
You’re not collecting, you’re curating.
It’s about being curated.
That’s good. That’s what people want. People want curation, they don’t want collection.
I’m at a point when people tell me about new open mics and they’ll give me some garbage like, “People can get three minutes for two drinks.” I’m like, “I’m not going to tell people to go to that. You need to lower it down to one drink.”
They’ll violate some rule.
It’s arguably arbitrary, but I said to myself at a certain point why I did these open mic listings for a while. I feel like a comic shouldn’t be spending more than $1 per minute of stage time. I felt that was fair.
It’s a reasonable rule.
When you ask for two drinks for three minutes and then it’s like a lottery on top of that, you don’t even know when you’re going up. I feel that’s such a waste of your time. That puts you in such a negative headspace.
It’s bad for business.
It’s not good for you. It is greedy and it’s short-sighted.
I agree with you. It bothers me to know this.
The open mic I ran for a year was great because I knew that they had a great happy hour. They had $2 beers and $2 fish tacos from 3:00 to 9:00. I didn’t enforce a minimum. It was a list and people could sign up and they could know where they can get up. I was willing to run the open mic from 6:00 until whenever. People could come in and sign up early and come back and do it. It was a thing that would run for a long time. We made them so much money because people were like, “We don’t have to buy anything,” and we like this mic. Let’s support it. Not only can we support it, but I can also get a beer, maybe a couple of beers and some fish tacos and not even break $10.
It’s predictable. You know more or less when you’re going to go on. That’s neat.
More people running open mics should be cognizant of that.
I like the fact that you’re curating this because that’s what people want. It’s fine if there’s a place that listed everything. What people are looking for is some guidance.
It’s already intimidating thinking about go to see comedy in general and where to start. If I were to list everything, that would be too much work for me. If you were to see everything, it will be overwhelming. There are almost 100 events a night.
Is that right?
If you count stand-up sketch and improv and everything else. There are even art gallery exhibitions that are comedic, or people will do these things where they make satirical action figures and they’ll rent a space and they’ll do a pop-up gallery. That’s the thing. If you take all of that into account, there’s so much. If somebody sees that, they’re like, “I don’t know half of these people or what this is.” My hope is that when I curate a list of shows, if you like any of my tastes, and I have a wide range, maybe you would like some other stuff. If you’re like, “This one is a little closer to me.”
My previous guest, Emily Pendergast, who was wonderful, I got to know her from seeing her on Cookin’ With GAS which is the Thursday night Groundling show. I’m 95% sure, I found that show through Comedy Bureau. It has to be the case because it’s a fantastic show. It’s an expensive show, but it’s fantastic. They provide value. It’s a long show. The laughs per minute are high.
They also have been around almost as long as the Comedy Store.
It’s an institution.
They have that history.
I learned about the Comedy Bureau via word of mouth.
I’m sure I’ve heard about it more than once. I heard it when as this sabbatical where I’m living in Los Angeles was approaching, I was making an LA to-do list. Someone told me there’s a Comedy Crawl or something like that. In that same breath, they told me about the Comedy Bureau. I put it onto my Google Doc that I was creating and sharing with a small group of people. I had heard about it years ago too.
To quickly answer the inception and creation of this, a year and trying to find other places to perform, to find out more about comedy, it was a lot of dead ends. Going to billiards halls, I’m like, “We haven’t had a comedy here in three years. What are you talking about?” I lived in Downey at the time, which is in LA County.
It’s 30 miles away.
I saw him traipsing around in the entirety of LA County every night, trying to find anything.
You’re looking for some stage time.
As I slowly got to find it, and I got to meet more of the comics that were in the scene that were doing the same of going out every night and also going into all the shows that were supposedly Indian underground and finding that they weren’t amateur at all, that these are people that are good. Sometimes they’re running Conan sets. There’s no central source of information. The LA Weekly doesn’t want to write about it. The LA Times doesn’t want to write about it unless it’s a famous person. All the stuff is great, and there’s a thriving scene. I feel there should be something that is a central source of information, a hub that people could know about.
There’s got to be a better way. It’s classic.
In October of 2010, I didn’t know where it was going to lead but after a month of thinking of a name, I came up with Comedy Bureau. I started a Tumblr, Twitter and a Facebook page and like, “These are shows that I know that I think are cool, they’re coming up and here are the open mics for the night.” Quickly, from month to month, I went further down this rabbit hole of reporting on the scene, going to shows. I knew, in coming up with the name, that like, “Yes, I was a stand-up, and I’m still a stand-up.” I primarily went to stand up shows, but I didn’t ever want it to be limited to anything. It’s not called the Los Angeles Stand-up Bureau.
It’s the Comedy Bureau.
It can be many different things. I legitimately watch as much of any different type of comedy as I do stand-up. It doesn’t necessarily have to be limited to LA, even though that’s my purview because I’m only one person and I can only do so much. Also, it could be anything that it wants. It acts as a legitimate resource of information. I’ve gotten to produce an album. I had a record label. I’ve gotten to produce live shows. It can be any number of things under that banner.
This has turned into your brand. You have new opportunities, opportunities you might not have if you were just doing stand-up.
[bctt tweet=”The LA Weekly and LA Times don’t really want to write about comedy unless it’s a famous person.” via=”no”]
I’ve gotten to consults and scout for production companies and networks and stuff. I’m this local expert. I enjoy being that person. When people pontificate the idea of a man about town, I’m literally that.
This is perfect because you look like that. People will see this if they see the picture, but one of the things that are striking about you. Maybe we met before but we met when I did a show with Shane Mauss, called Stand Up Science at Largo. I met you in the lobby. You have a look. You’re carrying a cane. You wear a hat. You wear a sport coat. I don’t know if the word dandy is right.
It’s in the realm of dandy, for sure.
It’s somewhat like that. It’s a great and noticeable look. As someone who tries to dress well, I’m appreciative of it. I like that you cut through the clutter. How did that happen?
I got a big gift card of Banana Republic from my grandma. I went to Banana Republic and I found this shawl collar cardigan that very much looks like something Daniel Plainview from There Will Be Blood will be wearing. That was the thought, it’s like, “That’s that thing. I like that. I’ll buy it. I want to wear it.” I did, and it was nice. I remember putting it on and I’m like, “I bet the button-downs that I only wear for interviews would probably look nice.” I did that and I’m like, “Those ties that I never wear, I bet that would also look nice.” I was right again.
When you say you were right, you were getting compliments, or you just felt good in it?
I felt good. I was looking in the mirror and I didn’t hate what I was seeing, I’m like, “This is nice,” thus started this descent into a rabbit hole of men’s accessories.
You have a pocket.
I’ve got a pocket square. I’ve got this little pin.
It’s the shape of a flower or star.
I got rings. I have a hat and hat feathers.
You have gold sneakers on.
I got to the point and it’s still true, I haven’t ever worn the same exact outfit.
That’s great because you can mix and match and accessorize.
If I’m at a show, and I’m not particularly enjoying a certain segment of the show, I’ll think about what I’m going to wear the next day.
Are you dressed like this when you perform?
I’m always ready to perform.
I have to imagine, you get compliments all the time. Emily was leaving and she commented on how good you looked. What is fascinating is I’ve taken steps more than 2008 or 2010 whenever you started doing this, to start dressing better. It’s been this slow progression. First is wearing clothes that fit, which as a man is often difficult to do.
No one tells you how to do that.
Clothes that fit feel weird because you’re used to things swimming on you being big. Moving to the traditional checking the boxes of this sport code and the flat fronts instead of pleats. Matching stuff well, and then getting to the point, and I’ve needed help to do this, what I would call fashion-forward. You’re even more forward than fashion-forward. What I noticed is, whenever I wear my fashion-forward outfit that I might feel a little bit uncomfortable in, that’s when you get a compliment. No one ever gives you a compliment when you wear a normal thing that looks fine, no reason to do that but when you wear something that’s interesting, and that’s one thing I love about LA. It’s a casual town, but people work. Not everyone, but there are enough people out there who work hard. As I like to say is that good fashion is the art you wear. They think of art as a sculpture or a painting on the wall or a tapestry or a joke, but I think of it also as being furniture and clothing, things that are functional.
They see Paris Fashion Week or something and they see a lot of these runway outfits and they seem inaccessible, uncomfortable and weird. They describe that as, “That is fashion.” Thus I am going to not engage with fashion. I’m going to go to Ross and get what fits.
I understand it’s fine to be utilitarian about the clothes you wear. They should keep you warm and they should cover my hairy legs and all that stuff. If you want to make life interesting and if you want to be appealing and if you want to create an image. It would be fine if the creator and the curator of the Comedy Bureau wore cargo shorts and a t-shirt like a stand-up that would be fine, but it works so much better. People will remember you.
I don’t know if this was the intention behind it, when I tell people I’m the whole person behind the Bureau, they’re like, “Of course you are. You dress like this. You know everything.”
“A man about town.” For that phrasing, where did you come up with that?
I heard it in my childhood, and probably watching a movie or hearing an adult talk.
There’s probably some literary reference to a man about town or a song.
Maybe in a Dickens novel or something.
I know exactly the person who knows the answer to that question. I’m going to find out and I will let you know.
You said you wanted more help with being fashion-forward. In my understanding and estimation of fashion and how people that are not fashion designers or models can be more self-actualized in style. To realize there are certain colors that look good on you, certain cuts and fits that look good on you based on your body type, your face shape, all those things. There’s the stuff that you like. Maybe you like a jean jacket. Maybe you like a leather jacket. Maybe you like short sleeve shirts or you like unbuttoning the collar, or maybe you like turtlenecks. If you can find the intersection of those two things, things that look good on you objectively and then what you’d like, that is the start of you finding your style.
That’s good advice. I’m going to ask you what yours is and I’ll tell you what mine is. Mine is a button-down shirt that has some interesting element to it. Buttonholes are colored in a certain way or something like that, and then a well-fitted suit jacket, well-fitted suit pants, no tie. That works well for me because I’m long and lean. The neat thing about a suit jacket is it works well for a guy who’s not long and not lean, but it works especially well for a long and lean guy. When it’s cut well, it’s comfortable. People always think of suits as not being comfortable, but when they’re good quality and when they fit well, they’re comfortable. I like that for me and I have that little bit of swagger and confidence. I teach in that.
That would be a commanding look.
I like it because I feel like I’m putting on this costume that I’m going to go and perform. It’s aesthetically pleasing for my students to see. It says to my students two things, one it says is Pete cares. Also, these poor people have to look at me for hours on end, I might as well make the best view possible.
Also, you feel good about yourself. Whatever you got it going on internally, if you put together an outfit that looks good on you and you feel confident about it, for better or for worse, you fool everybody.
For me, blues work well in terms of my skin color, eye color, and gray hair and so on.
Do you have a lot of blue suit jackets?
I imagined it would be cool for you getting a double-breasted blue blazer maybe out of velvet and get some peak notches.
There are probably three steps before I get to that. What is your intersection? Obviously, accessories seem to be something that matters to you. I don’t accessorize much.
I don’t think everybody needs to either. Anytime I talk, especially guys about style like, “You don’t need to copy me. Do what you want to do.” If you’re not about having a watch or rings, you don’t need to do that. I love how fussy some people get about denim weights. They’re obsessive about denim. It’s not anything that’s crazy, but it’s obviously well-made selvedge Japanese denim. They know where it’s made.
I can imagine the audience thinking, “What is he talking about?”
I love anybody who’s obsessive about their particular style and how they do it.
I like to say, “Have a plan.” If it’s cargo shorts and a t-shirt, that’s fine, but at least have a plan.
For me, it’s necessarily an intersection anymore. What I like to do is be dapper but still disruptive. People always say that I dress well, but there are a lot of these arbitrary menswear rules if you look back into the history of men’s wear, they’re stupid and restrictive. It even got down to the point if you’re wearing a sport coat versus a blazer, the differences between that is a very gray area. You would have to wear a Derby versus an Oxford. That’s dumb. Along those lines, I like wearing Oxford shoes with denim jackets, or I’ll wear a tuxedo jacket and I’ll have a high top on. It’s this balancing act of still being classy and put together, using color coordination, all these things, and certain hats and ties, whether it be a bow tie or ascot. Figuring this stuff that seemingly wouldn’t go together.
Here’s what I like about it, you know the rules, you follow the rules for the most part but you find the rules to break. It’s very comedic.
Sometimes I break them big. One of my favorite outfits that I’ve ever put together, I have this rodeo shirt. It’s this is thick buttoned down, it has all this woven detailing on it like a rose. It has red stitching and these white pearl buttons. I had this giant golden statement necklace on, and then on top of that, I had a cape and then I had a red hat. On top of that, I wore these designer track pants that had patterns on it and white leather running shoes. I walked around and went to the Comedy Store stage like that. It was great.
Do you do comedy about your dress, or do you let it speak for itself? I can imagine doing an opening joke about it.
I haven’t specific bits about it so much as I’ll work it in. It will accent things that I talk about.
That’s fine. I was curious about it. I’m glad we got to talk about it. You mentioned something in passing about you had a strange heckler.
I was doing a stand-up show at a bar, which happens a lot in LA.
I have a book coming out, called Shtick to Business: What the Masters of Comedy Can Teach You about Breaking Rules, Being Fearless, and Building a Serious Career. It’s an entertaining business book. I had an idea for the book that never made it in.
There are fourteen lessons in the book and they all have these fun names, one is create a chasm, one is called third thoughts, one is called work hard or hardly work and so on. It wasn’t a good name, it was called nicely confident. In hindsight, if I had more time, I would have been able to fit it into the book. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, this is an LA thing, is that oftentimes the most accomplished, capable people are the nicest. The aspiring people are the coldest. Have you had that experience?
I wouldn’t say that I had that experience across the board, maybe off the top of my head, but definitely, it resonates.
I was like, “Why is that the case? Why is it that most successful people can be the friendliest and most magnanimous?” Some of it comes from this, like, “I don’t have anything to prove anymore. I’ve done it.” I was thinking about this within the world of comedy, like, “How is it that a comedian can be on stage and be friendly and warm with the audience and confident when what they’re doing is incredibly scary?” What can make that scary is that you have a heckler who’s going to try to undercut you.
What I realized was, the most accomplished comedians can handle a heckler. Not only do they have the advantage of a microphone, a PA and the security, but they have the experience. They’re smarter than the heckler. What they will do is destroy the heckler, but they’re not doing it for themself, they’re doing it for everyone else in the audience. They’re acting with the purest intentions. I never did anything with that idea. As I was researching it, I was asking comedians about hecklers. What they told me was, it happened surprisingly infrequently. There are other problems with the audience. Todd Glass, in an episode, said, “The problem with an audience is not a heckler, it’s table talk. It’s people chit-chatting with their friends.” When I hear there’s a heckler story, I’m like, “What is it?”
It’s interesting you said all of those things. For the most part, that is the common narrative with dealing with hecklers. This one is particularly strange for a certain number of reasons. There were many stand-up shows that happen at bars in LA and I was doing one of those. In getting to the venue, I was crossing a street and as I finish crossing the street, out of nowhere I hear, “Do you have $1? You look like you have $1. I’m a psychic.” They were weird string of sentences to say. It’s definitely not something I instinctually want to engage with. As I keep moving, I look over and there’s this youngish woman who clearly does not look homeless. She’s in a red hoodie and black tights, and I’m like, “I’m sorry,” and then I keep moving. She continues to mutter, and I thought that was going to be it. As I got in the bar and I check-in, the show starts and it’s going along, I noticed somewhere halfway through the show, and I’m later on in the show, she wanders into the bar and I’m like, “I don’t know. Maybe she lives around here. Maybe she’s weird.”
Of course, it’s LA. It’s filled with quirky people.
They mostly just want to be heard. I’m about to go up and then I noticed that she’s sitting upfront and I’m like, “I hope this isn’t going to be a thing.”
Your Spidey-sense is going off.
I start off and I’m doing well. I never think of myself as a crowd-work comedian, but I’ve noticed I chat with the audience a lot. It’s not even a segue into bits, I want to interact with them and have these jokes.
As an aside, you had a show, Jake Kroeger Dates the Audience. You had the audience sit across from you at a little table.
We went on an actual date where there are drinks. Via screen, we got to go to a museum anywhere in the world because you can do that. I’ve been doing stand-up for years. It’s interesting you say destroy hecklers. Whenever I’ve dealt with hecklers, I usually try to be nice and try to guilt people into shutting up.
I think of Joan Rivers or Bill Burr.
That fits in with their persona but I have this charm and I’m nice. If someone gets a little too chatty, I’m like, “Excuse me, can you please be quiet because you’re going to ruin the bit?” They look around and they notice that everybody’s looking at them.
It shows there’s more than one way to do this.
People have thanked me like, “You didn’t escalate any of the situations. They shut up and everything went back to be nice.” “That’s how I want to keep things.” Everybody is with me and on my side as I’m going through this, but when I open with a bit where I ask the audience this question and she immediately pipes in not one answer, but three. Usually, people take a while to answer this question, “Why don’t you hold up and let everybody else participate?” She kept chiming in. I’m trying to get through my act which I, for various reasons, like keeping flexible and open. As I’m trying to deal with her, she won’t be quiet, and I’m like, “Will you please be quiet?” She would pipe up and say, “That’s a bowler that you got there.”
She was drawn to your look.
That explains a little bit of it.
Where it got weird was, I wasn’t even wearing a bowler, I was wearing a fedora, and I’m like, “You’ve got the hat wrong. You need to be quiet now.” She started saying words, she was like, “Misogyny. Hats.” She’s like a word generator spitting out words and I’m like, “This person wants to ruin my set.”
She might not even have full control.
It may have been that she’d been on drugs or something. Also, I have the wherewithal to know that she wants me to be combative. She wants me to lose it and yell at her. I don’t want to give that to her.
It doesn’t seem it’s in your nature.
That’s where I step back and like, “Does everybody want to hear the end of this joke?” I would get applause from the audience. I would get to the end of the joke and then she would chime in and again, I’m like, “Does anyone want to hear that I lost my virginity at 32?” People are like, “Yes.” I got enough hooting and hollering from the crowd that for me, that superseded her being a pester and an annoyance. I had dealt with hecklers that would pipe in, be asinine, but then they’d end up being quiet.
It’s because of the power of the crowd.
Someone with an agenda to be like, “I’m going to follow this guy in.” The reason I say agenda is after I got off stage, the next two comics, she didn’t move her seat, she didn’t say anything.
That’s fascinating. There was something about you that drew her.
That was weird to experience.
You could tell you’re still processing it.
Everybody enjoyed it. Also, it’s tainted because I had to deal with her. It was weird.
That’s too bad. It’s a learning experience.
As weird as I feel about it, I still came out ahead because I didn’t lose my cool.
In the long run, you’ll be better off for it. I’m going to adjust my normal ending question. My normal question is, what are you reading, watching or listening to that’s good? I’m going to change it because you are the creator and curator of The Comedy Bureau. What comedy that’s happening in LA that is good? If someone was coming to visit or here I am on sabbatical, where would you point me to something that you feel stands out?
How specific do you want? Are you the type of venue wise or show wise?
The 2 or 3 things that you think would be worth the trip.
If it’s out-of-towners coming into town, I would definitely point them to Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen at The Virgil. That’s every Monday, at 8:00 sharp. One of the only Indie shows if you check your watch, it happens 8:00 on the dot, every single Monday.
It’s well run. I’ve been to that show. It’s a neat venue.
The bookers and producers are good about getting a great balance of new people, people in town and established people on top of having Kurt and Kristen doing whatever they want to do. That’s a great Indie stand-up show and you get to be in this cool venue that isn’t a comedy club, although sometimes they have comedy seven nights a week if the schedule permits it.
It doesn’t feel like a comedy club. It feels like a theater bar kind of thing.
I would urge people to check out something weird and cool at the Lyric Hyperion.
That’s new to me.
Lyric Hyperion Theater and Café, it’s on Hyperion Avenue in Silverlake.
What’s it called?
That’s the venue. If you want to see the boundary-pushing performance or the comedy you would see at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, you’d have to go to Edinburgh for that. This has become a hub, or you’d have to go to UCB after midnight when they have midnight shows. That’s when they do their experimental comedy. This place, the Lyric Hyperion, when people are developing solo shows, as the years have progressed, the term solo show has gotten less and less stigma attached to it. People are trying different weirder, darker, more interesting things whether they’re more personal or more absurd. It becomes a space and a hub for that thing. It’s defying genre and definition. It’s trying to be something else. That’s why I’m just saying look for something at the venue. They have many interesting things that happen there all the time. There’s a show on Valentine’s Day, you’re going to love this, and the whole premise of the show is all these female comedians doing a presentation on some guy they dated, telling them what they would like.
It’s like Star Wars, you’re going to love it, and they’re like, “I sat and watched all the Star Wars and I’ll tell you what.” It’s a whole show. They let me do that weird show where I got to date the audience at that place. I love that.
Give me one more. I know there’s a lot.
For improv, do you know who Heather Anne Campbell is?
Heather Anne Campbell, to me, is one of the funniest improvisers of all time. The new iteration of Whose Line Is It Anyway? she’s certainly done. She’s written everywhere, whether it be SNL, she writes on the Twilight Zone.
I might recognize her.
She is a cohost of a podcast called How Did This Get Played?. She’s funny in many different ways. Heather, whenever she does improv, it’s some of the funniest stuff of all time. You’ve seen improv in LA, are you familiar with Cage Match?
Only the name.
Cage Match is this weekly mini tournament where these two teams meet up and the audience votes on which improv team is better.
Is it like a short-form comedy sports?
It’s two long-form improv teams and they go head-to-head. They do twenty minutes each. The winning team gets to return. Heather has been on a team that has gone 78 weeks in a row, undefeated and a team that’s gone 74 weeks in a row, undefeated, separate from that one.
She’s like a linchpin.
Those are going to be my three recommendations.
Those are great recommendations. When is Cage Match and where is it?
Cage Match is at UCB Franklin, 11:00 PM every Wednesday.
That’s why I haven’t seen it.
It’s late. That’s the fun thing. Long-form improv, which I happen to like more than short-form, because people get to be a little more expressive, a little crazier and there are less boundaries. You have time. Because it’s 11:00, it’s almost the witching hour. You’re in the mood to like, “Let’s get a little weird.” That’s where you get to see people break rules in improv and they’re pimping people out and killing each other in scenes.
It’s all the things you’re not supposed to do. Jake, this was long overdue. I’m glad you got in under the wire. I appreciate your time. Comedy Bureau, what is the Twitter handle?
If you’re in LA, or you’re coming to LA, you know the place to look. Look for the dapper guy with the cane.
The cane and the hat, usually in the back.
Thank you so much.
Thank you so much, Peter.
- The Comedy Bureau
- Solo: The Single Person’s Guide To A Remarkable Life
- Bodega Boys
- Todd Glass – past episode
- Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen
- Lyric Hyperion
- How Did This Get Played?
- @TheComedyBureau – Twitter
- Facebook – The Comedy Bureau
- Instagram – The Comedy Bureau
- Tumblr – The Comedy Bureau
About Jake Kroeger
Jake Kroeger is a comedian, producer, and writer. Nobody knows what’s going in comedy in Los Angeles better than Jake. He created and runs The Comedy Bureau, the central source of information of everything happening throughout Los Angeles comedy for stand-up, sketch, improv, film, podcasts, clowns, and even puppets.
With a reputation as LA’s foremost comedic expert, Jake has written for Vulture, Nerdist, and LA Weekly, consulted at Vin Di Bona Productions and Super Deluxe, produced a comedy album, and even gives a premium exclusive tour through the LA comedy scene via Airbnb Experiences.
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