When Comedy Central was developing “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail,” a TV show based off the weekly standup showcase at Meltdown Comics, co-host Jonah Ray knew that there was only one place the show would work. Any time someone suggested the show could be filmed in a different studio or a larger venue, the response was always the same: They had to do it in Meltdown’s back room.
“We couldn’t take the show to TV, we had to bring TV to the show. The low ceilings, the way the sound was in there, the intimacy of the crowd being right up against the comic and the fact that it was almost this speakeasy idea, people having to go through a comic book shop to get to a comedy show,” Ray told IndieWire. “The idea was to almost treat it as if it were a documentary, showing people what comedy is like to us is like right now. We wanted to represent the show as we knew it.”
The NerdMelt Showroom, along with the Meltdown Comics store that housed it, closed on Saturday. A casualty of a planned move to convert the venue into new real estate, the space isn’t closing for lack of support.
Aside from being a regular venue for live comedy, the NerdMelt room was home to tapings of all kinds. The stage hosted recordings of standup albums from comedians like Ray, Bob Odenkirk, and Hampton Yount and Netflix sets from comedians like Morgan Murphy. It was once the home for Dan Harmon’s live “Harmontown” shows. The venue even helped make artist Dave Kloc a local legend in the poster world, with his creations regularly available after many of these one-of-a-kind events.
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As the Showroom’s Program Director Caitlin Durante explained, there were a variety of shows besides “The Meltdown” that got their literal and metaphorical starts there. The Guy Branum-hosted “Talk Show the Game Show,” now in its second run of episodes on truTV, probably won’t be the last series that makes the jump from NerdMelt to TV.
“There are shows that I know started here and are now in talks with networks because they’re potentially getting development deals out of them,” Durante said. “A lot of Comedy Central shows would do their test shows here, because they knew that this was a cool place that they could trust for a good audience to come and test out the material.”
The space itself wasn’t exactly a state-of-the-art facility. The green room which was featured in “The Meltdown” TV show had a threadbare couch and a ceiling that creaked when people on the floor above walked around. But up until its closing, it still boasted a framed picture of Nanjiani and Gordon, a “You Made It Weird” sticker on the desk, and posters and other artifacts from the many shows that once called NerdMelt home. Each show that originated in the back room with the oddly placed pillars and army of folding chairs carried with it a little of the NerdMelt DNA.
“The podcasts that were recorded upstairs, you’d hear audio, applause from down here bleeding into up there and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s just Harmontown downstairs.’ Pretty much any comedy medium you can consume, someone’s mentioned this place or talked about it. [Meltdown] closing is just a huge upset to the LA comedy scene and live comedy in general,” Durante said.
Though the name of the space eventually bore half the title of the Nerdist empire that grew out of the upstairs office, the Showroom succeeded because it gave a home to people willing to try something new. While the TV and film world began to embrace the stories that lined the pages of the inventory of Meltdown Comics itself, the shows and comedians to which the store’s audience continued to flock helped set the tone of what could succeed in an entertainment world ripe with new opportunities to reach fans.
“It’s almost like all those bands that got signed after Nirvana broke out,” Ray said. “They didn’t start a band because of Nirvana. They were already doing that stuff while they were there, but then the consciousness of the culture focused on them for that moment.”
“I do appreciate that this place became synonymous with a space where nerds and non-nerds, anyone who appreciated comedy and a good fun night, could come and have a good time,” Durante said. “We came about this saying, ‘All we really want to do is be a place where anyone can watch great comedy and bond with their fellow human.’ I wanted this to be an inclusive, safe space for people to try out a new weird thing that they wanted to do. If they wanted to have a show that celebrated black pop culture, this was a great place to do it. If they wanted to do a show that showcased entirely queer comedians? Great. This was one of the first places where a lot of people wanted to pitch a show like that.”
And it wasn’t just fans who noticed. NerdMelt developed a spirit of curation, enough that it became a destination for up-and-coming comics and established favorites alike to grow their voice. Whether it was as part of an existing NerdMelt show or as one of their own creation, the space was an incubator that often caught the attention of people looking to bring that same energy to a wider audience.
“I got emails all the time from agents, managers, development people from networks and movie studios,” Durante said. “Any number of industry people who either wanted to see someone specific that they had heard buzz about or they knew a solid showcase was coming up and they thought, ‘I’m just going to come and scout for new talent.’ What better place to come see them do their thing than at NerdMelt?”
In NerdMelt’s closing, there’s still reason to believe that the guiding principles of the space will live on in other areas. Right next door, the former Nerdist School is now The Ruby, a comedy school and performance venue driven by intersectional feminist ideals.
Co-founder and co-director Jen Curran explained that the spirit of inclusivity that helped guide some of the best NerdMelt offerings will be a big part of The Ruby’s mission statement. In addition to a podcast network of its own, headed by NerdMelt vet Samee Junio, the rechristened venue’s all-day relaunch festival on Saturday, April 7 will have a lineup featuring Branum and “Women Crush Wednesdays” host Marcella Arguello.
Said Curran, “That back room was such an incredible heartbeat of this town, so we wanted to at least be able to say, ‘Hey come check us out, you might have a similar feeling over there.’ Not everybody will necessarily want to do that or thinks that’s possible. We totally hear that. We don’t want to be exploitative of this moment. But to be able to say, ‘Come do your show, come do your open mic,’ it’s exciting for us to be able to offer that.”
In addition to the NerdMelt shows currently finding new homes, Durante points to a number of venues, including The Ruby, that hope to keep this spirit alive: The Virgil, the Lyric Hyperion, and the new Dynasty Typewriter at the Hayworth Theatre. Curran knows that the aim is never to replicate a specific atmosphere, but to keep opportunities open for the kinds of shows from queer creators and people of color that used to have a home on that same Sunset block.
“Of course, we are going to open our arms up to people from next door and do our best to see if we can not recreate what happened back there, but maybe give people a sense that comedy is not dead, at least not in Los Angeles,” Curran said. “We can pivot to something that maybe addresses what everyone loved about that space and what everyone in Los Angeles continues to tell us they are hoping for next.”
Whether it’s in the physical places or in the spiritual, DIY successors around the country where people throw together a community show (like a pair of The Meltdown regulars who started their own show in their apartment), Ray says the spirit of NerdMelt will live on through anyone finding a way.
“Every time they walk into a room for the first time, any bar, any venue, any restaurant, any coffee shop, any bowling alley, any laundromat, they walk in and they scan the room and they see if it’s possible to put up a microphone and a PA system somewhere in that room,” Ray said. “We wanted people to feel like you don’t have to be stiff, you don’t have to be a dick, you don’t have to run things with an iron fist. Do something that makes you feel good, and try to do it with your friends as much as you can.”