Imagine showing up to a secret location (probably a warehouse of some sort) where two hours of variety and comedy performances showcase some of the best underground names in modern performance culture, and then instead of going home at show’s end, a gigantic entertainment orgy breaks out and a rave carries the audience until the first rays of morning sunlight. You couldn’t handle it, man. I can’t even handle it.
This is the brainchild of Alex Hooper, a standup comedian in Los Angeles who came up with the idea for CRAVE — a comedy rave that occurs monthly in secret locations. Only those on the mailing list are admitted, and there is nothing to prepare you for what the night’s events my entail. It’s a primo gig that everyone from Reggie Watts to the hippest nightclub DJs want to be a part of, but it all depends on what fits with Hooper’s macabre creation.
I interviewed Alex Hooper to determine what it takes to throw the wildest party in comedy, on how to hire flame-eaters at discount, and why the band Fartbarf isn’t yet a household name.
Mr. Hooper, how’d you get into standup?
I’ve always been weird and loved being the center of attention. Growing up I would watch standup but never thought about doing it myself. I joined SAG [Screen Actors Guild] while I was in college and moved to L.A. to be an actor. One of my closest friends out here was getting into standup so I went to watch him on a show at the Comedy Store. And it was awful. It was a pay-to-play show filled with people who had no idea what they were doing. That was my moment. I thought, “These people are at this club? I know I can be funnier than this.” So my friend pushed me along until I did it myself and after that first time, it was over. I knew I could never not do this. That raw feeling of pure vulnerability was something I had been searching for. I’m still terrified every time I walk on stage no matter what size crowd it is. I don’t think that will ever go away. Its that energy that makes it so addicting.
One of my favorite things about you is your openness about doing day job work while maintaining this career, which is something not many people are willing to do. You did a show with me the night you got a watch for working your job for seven years. What’s it like to pursue comedy in L.A. and to have to work, just to have the ability to do the work?
Work sucks. Thats not news. But it’s necessary. Standup in L.A. will not make you money. You get a little bit here and there, but mostly you are working towards bigger opportunities. Since I’ve moved here which, was a little over seven years ago, I’ve had the same job. I only work during the day so it doesn’t interfere with standup. And its exhausting. I wake up around 7, work till about 4, come home for an hour or two to take care of my dogs, and then I’m back out until sometimes 2 a.m. Wake up. Repeat.
A lot of people hate having a job, but it’s allowed me to never worry about how I will pay my bills. Even when I get extremely frustrated that I still have it, I tell myself that I am extremely lucky to have a job that supports my dreams. There are nights when I will do a huge show with incredibly famous people. I’ll sign autographs after the show, take pictures with fans, and genuinely feel invisible. Then six hours later I put on a uniform and a name tag and do the most mundane tasks imaginable. It’s humbling, which is important in this industry. I’ve had people recognize me at work from standup or TV and say things like “What are you doing here?” The general public has no clue how hard it is to actually make money in this town.
You’re known for producing comedy shows that are more than just a show. There’s spectacle and a cool angle. Why don’t more people do this?
I think it’s mostly laziness and fear. The laziness comes from the amount of physical and emotional work it takes to produce something truly original. Its time-consuming and difficult to always have new ideas and actually put in the work for them to come to fruition. But I’ve always worked against the grain in everything I’ve done. I want people to experience things they’ve never felt before. Everyone in the arts should strive to create the things they wish existed.
People ask me a lot how to throw a successful show and my response is always the same: Be fun. Be different. Thats the only reason to ensure an audience comes back.
Tell me about the roof show you produced.
The roof show happened out of circumstance. I was looking for a place to throw a show, asking local bars and art galleries and getting a lot of blowback. At the time I lived in Culver City in a building that had four condos, two in the front and two in the back. I had gotten my neighbor into comedy as well, and one day he suggested that we throw the show up there. It was private, comfortable, could hold over 100 people. Everything just seemed right.
So we built a stage and started hosting shows. A lot of my friends in L.A. are not comedians and don’t really know who they should be paying attention to so they look to me for guidance. The roof provided a way for me to showcase my favorite up-and-comers. Before long, we started getting huge names because the show had caught so much attention. It was a gorgeous stage with a beautiful view, and the people that came were super excited to be there leading everyone to have a great time. We named the show “Long Way Down” and had 10 of them before the cops and fire department got wind of what we were doing and shut it down. Everything that happened up there was truly special and anyone who performed or sat in the audience was privy to something really amazing and unique.
Where did the idea for CRAVE come from?
I had a friend named Diana Cruz. She constantly inspired me to not just throw shows, but events. Give people more of a reason than just comedy to come to shows. Have art, music, food trucks, etc. And she helped me push the idea along and create something bigger after “Long Way Down” was over. She tragically died in a car accident a few months after helping me produce a couple of events downtown. Events that had everything she talked about. It was devastating. I had never lost someone so close to me that was around my age. That experience brought me closer to all of my friends. We bonded together, vowing to continue on in her spirit.
So I stepped up. My friend Mari had been introducing me to the after-hours Burning Man scene in Los Angeles. In going to these events, I found like-minded people that were interested in original concepts and art. So I met with the venue owners and created the party that I wanted to go to. We would start with comedy (C) and end in a dance party (RAVE). Put them together and boom: CRAVE. Life is all about finding your people, and I continue to do so every day. My circle of people keeps getting bigger and more and more people want to help. Its not science. If you are friends with awesome people, then all of their friends are going to be awesome people as well. So the circle grows and as you find your people, your ideas become unstoppable.
How has CRAVE evolved over the years?
In the beginning, CRAVE was two separate events. It was a regular comedy show followed by a dope party. But after the first couple shows I started having in-depth conversations with the owner of the venue. He explained that the people that come to his space, don’t want a comedy show and a party. They want an immersive event, which is what Diana has been pushing for all along.
So I started to write scripts. I would come up with themes and instead of hosting the show as normal, I would play characters. In between the stand up there would be a complete story happening through sketches and we would weave the comics in as part of the story. Suddenly things became a lot more interesting. I could incorporate weird acts and variety, involve friends that wanted to act in sketches. I’m extremely fortunate that Ive surrounded myself with brilliant artists of all types. So I would write, book, and star in the show. My co-producer/best friend Mike Grimm would handle all tech, voiceover, and DJs. And then we would bring in a slew of other friends to help out through vending, art, DJing, acting, marketing.
What started as as a party for my friends quickly became one of the most popular comedy shows in L.A. because we had a team of like-minded people with totally different skill sets working together to achieve a common goal: to throw the most unique, epic, most outrageous party ever. It’s truly beautiful how it’s morphed and changed over the last three years. And we have nowhere to go but up. My dream is to one day make it a festival and only throw it once a year, but on a massive scale. And the way things are going, we will definitely get there.
Why isn’t Fartbarf a household name yet?
Question of the day! Fartbarf is incredible. The first time I saw them was at a house party in Hermosa Beach. The cops came and told them to stop, and the owner of the house said “Fuck that, I’ll pay whatever fine I have to so this continues.” Hardcore, right? I loved this band instantly. I loved their costumes; I loved their sound; I loved their personas. It’s like grunge electronica and you can’t stop dancing when they play. They have gotten a ton of recognition over the past couple years and I have no doubt that if they continue, someone will find them and market them correctly. When Jonah Ray asked me if I wanted to be on his new label and record a 7” with Fartbarf, I jumped at the chance. I freaking love those guys.
What’s the dream CRAVE lineup for you?
I’ve had it! On every show. People always comment on how great our lineups are and its something I take pride in. I always book the most diverse lineup possible and I mean that in obvious gender and ethnic demographics but also in comedic styles. I want my audiences to be wowed by everyone they see. A lot of people that come to CRAVE don’t see a ton of other comedy so they don’t need huge headliners to blow their faces off.