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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

IRON COMIC: The Time I Wrote A Joke With Kumail Nanjiani!

by Kari Tervo

Monday nights at Largo in Los Angeles have become legendary, primarily due to Tig Notaro's comedic confessions about her very difficult year in 2012. Even prior to Notaro's touching and talented set, Largo was known as a comedy laboratory: Monday nights are when comedians like Sarah Silverman show up to massage some new material. And it's a celebrity comedian oasis, too. One night, Ed Helms appeared on stage without any pre-announcement or fanfare. In this intimate small-theater setting, it's like a private party: It's impolite to gawk at the celebrities, and we're all on our best behavior. Any night you're at a Largo comedy night, you're probably going to feel lucky to have been there.


The same went for Iron Comic. It's an Iron Chef for comedy! It looks like the last it ran at Largo was October 2013, but I hope they'll start offering it again in Los Angeles. It goes like this: Before the show, audience members are asked to submit joke ideas (a word, a concept, a set-up). During the show, topics are picked via a combination of the emcee (who will derisively toss ideas that suck), audience reaction, and the comedians themselves. That's how you might get a shocking set-up about 9/11 that results in a joke you have to think about for a minute: "In Germany, they call it "No Eleven. . ."

At the end, there's a flash round with the remaining two competitors, who have to dash off jokes without much time to think about them! The winner gets. . .jack shit! Bragging rights, though, are pretty important in the often low-paying world of stand-up comedy.

One night back in August, I went to Iron Comic. It was our first time, so we showed up a little early. The guy at the door handed us some little pieces of paper on which to write our joke ideas. I was excited for this opportunity, but, as I dug around in my purse, I realized I didn't have a pen. The door guy graciously allowed me to borrow his, but I saw it was the only pen on the stand. I had to think fast. I thought of the first funny word I could think of, and scrawled it on the sheet, handing the door guy his needed pen back just as comedy fans started streaming in the door.

During the show, there was a ritual mocking of terrible ideas and a screening of several worthy candidates by the emcees (including Nato Green, who came up with this shebang), comedians, and audience. Then, the comedians agreed on an idea. They were given five minutes to come up with a short set based on that idea, and then they would be awarded points by judges. One of them happened to be Iron Comic participant Kumail Nanjiani's wife Emily, but given the low stakes, nobody really minded.

During the comedians' off-stage brainstorm time, DJ Doggpound would treat us to a fun DJ set, playing with the ideas of mixing and having a hype man. DJ Doggpound makes the hype man kick it real.

Most of the audience ideas were really good! They were comedy on their own. It was fun to see the comedians come up with what they could, essentially on the fly. Some of the material bombed, but some was shockingly good, especially for the time limit.

My idea hadn't come up by the final flash round. I hoped it wasn't one of the ones that was tossed immediately as horrible. Kumail Nanjiani (comedically smug about his chances, his wife as a judge) and Brent Weinbach had been declared the finalists. The flash round began! As the emcee shouted ideas and started a timer, the comedians reached for whatever funny they could find.

Finally,  my entry came up! The emcee read my word with the exaggerated seriousness of a game show host. The audience laughed.

Kumail Nanjiani thought for a few seconds, the clock ticking. Finally, he assumed a classic cowboy stance, adopted a moonshiner accent to his Indian lilt, and declared:


The audience roared (at least that's how I remember it). I "collaborated" on a joke with Kumail Nanjiani, and it was a hit! Kumail, like, he really felt what I was saying, and he totally performed my vision. He is a true artist (that's how we talk in LA, except when we don't).

After a hilarious flash round, the winner was decided in some way that I am not sure of, because I really had to pee. But when I walked back in, the winner was declared, and it was. . . BRENT WEINBACH! Kumail had lost, and I have a feeling his wife voted against him for laffs!

Currently, it looks like there are no upcoming Iron Comic shows in Los Angeles, but they'll be at San Francisco Sketchfest in January. I recommend this loose, low-key comedy experience! Even when--and perhaps because--it fails, Iron Comic is iron-clad comedy.

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