Inside ‘The Meltdown’ with Jonah and Kumail
If you live in Los Angeles, you know that The Meltdown With Jonah And Kumail, the standup show in the back of a comic book store, is one of the best live comedy shows in town. Now it’s also one of the best comedy shows you can see on TV, and Season 2 premiers tonight! I talked to Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani hoping to learn some tricks about how to do a comedy show right. I learned that most importantly, you need a kick-ass producer like they have in Emily Gordon. (Ladies represent!) And number two, besides a cool performance space, it’s good to have two hilarious dudes like these guys take it from there.
We’re in this age of “doing it yourself” and creating your own thing if you want to find success. What do you think about how The Meltdown has influenced others to put up comedy shows in the back room of weird random places?
Kumail: Honestly, I don’t think we can take too much credit for that, because in LA I think that do-it-yourself sort of vibe was actually happening. I think maybe we’re the first one to put that kind of thing on TV, but… wasn’t there a show in a laundromat, Jonah?
Jonah: When I was coming up, that’s where most of the shows were in LA. No bars really, besides the M Bar, which would be the show that would become “Comedy Death-Ray” and then “Comedy Bang! Bang!” No bars really wanted comedy shows there. There was a show at Lucy’s Laundromat where there was a mic between the two doors of the bathroom. There were always weird spots. There was the Borders Bookstore that had a comedy show…
Kumail: That show was so bad that even Borders Bookstores has gone bankrupt now.
Jonah: …and this like, Hookah lounge in Westwood. Yeah, so we can’t take credit, because it was just something that was happening already from just the “alternative comedy scene” from the late 90s in Los Angeles. Just find a place.
So there were shoes banging around in the dryer while you were doing comedy?
Jonah: Yeah, you know, it was on the eastside of LA. It was in Echo Park. There were a ton of people there who were just there to do laundry. The TVs were on with Telemundo, there were a ton of distractions, people watching and people irritated that you’re there. It was a real weird show.
Kumail: Yeah I’ve probably done comedy shows in restaurants where people didn’t expect comedy shows to happen. Nobody goes to a laundromat for a fucking comedy show, you know? People are just there to do laundry. I think there were non-traditional venues, because people want to do comedy and they’re going to find places to do it. So that was going on before us, I believe. We were just lucky enough to get it onto TV and get it a bigger audience that way.
So with these alternative venues, what kind of advice would you have for comics out there?
Kumail: When I was looking to do a show before Jonah and I were talking about it, I always wanted it to be a venue that you could have a great comedy show at. I don’t think you can have a great comedy show at a laundromat, right? When I think of the best shows, “Invite Them Up” and “Death-Ray” or “Bang! Bang!” after that, I never thought of it as, “Oh this is a show that I want to be like that,” but I would always think of those shows as the gold standard. I would say if it’s a space where you can do a really great comedy show, go for it.
Jonah: Yeah, I mean the space itself, even though it’s the back of a comic book store on Sunset is weird, in essence it’s still just a space. It’s a performance space. There’s a spot to put a small stage and that’s kind of all you really need. You need a place where people can focus on the performer and the performer can’t be near an exit or an entrance, and just have people near or around a performance and just watch them without being distracted by other stuff that’s the main thing. So, in essence the space we have at Meltdown is the perfect performance space. Because it’s dark, it has low ceilings, and you can just focus on the performer, which is the most important thing.
I know that you guys have said that you weren’t necessarily looking to turn this into a TV show when you started it and now it’s obviously evolved to that. Are you interested or open to it growing into more than just a TV show or getting bigger? What are the goals?
Kumail: Like a video game?!
Jonah: Like a mini-series or a movie?
Kumail: A video game! I think that Jonah and I have talked about how we’d love to do a tour the way Comedians of Comedy did. Doing a movie the way they did, for us doesn’t make sense, because we have a TV show. Maybe a special or something, but like doing a tour, again Comedians of Comedy, I think those guys did a great job of capturing what being on tour is like in a very funny and interesting way. That was another one of our inspirations. That show was such a great show and brought standup comedy to an audience that wasn’t really going out to comedy as much. All those guys kind of made comedy cool, a little bit. Going back before then even, there was [David] Cross, and [Janeane] Garofalo, and all those guys. We’re sort of trying to see what was cool about those guys, what was interesting about them and try to do that.
Obviously you riff a lot and go with the flow, but how much do you preplan or outline the topics you’ll discuss when you host the show?
Kumail: For the live show we don’t plan it at all. In the beginning we would sort of pick topics and discuss it, but now we don’t plan it at all, unless it’s like, “Hey, something weird happened to me. Let’s talk about this.” For the TV show, with the first season I was nervous, because I was like, “How are we going to be sure to get stuff.” So we talked about it a little bit more in season one, about what we were going to discuss, what stories to tell. With season two we were a lot looser. I was just more confident, because I found in season one that we did have enough stuff. Season two, I think our hosting is better, because we kind of plan it less and the stuff we use in the episodes is truly stuff that was in the moment that we hadn’t scripted or planned at all.
Jonah: Yeah, so it was a bit more chaotic and fun this season for sure.
Did you two always just have chemistry together? Do you ever disagree or fight at all?
Kumail: Umm, no we don’t really fight that much, really. I don’t think we fight. It’s interesting, because Jonah and I have very different approaches to comedy. I really, really prepare a lot and write everything down and get nervous. Jonah is a much more in the moment and looser. I think doing the show together maybe helped, it certainly helped me just be more comfortable with just going off script and stuff.
Jonah: Yeah, we got along when we met, we riffed just hanging out like friends do. It wasn’t one of those things where we were hanging out a party going, “This is something. This could be a thing.” Nothing like that ever really happened. It wasn’t a big plan. It wasn’t meant to be like, “Alright, time to start our comedy duo!”
Kumail: Yeah, we don’t really think of ourselves as a duo.
Do you collaborate outside of the show?
Jonah: We don’t even talk outside of the show.
Kumail: That was really a very strict rule for me, because I just wanted that energy to be on stage for me. I didn’t want it to go to waste off stage, so I don’t want to hear about your life, Jonah, unless it’s onstage. Like he called and…
Jonah: Once I really needed a ride. My car broke down and that…
Kumail: Aghh!!! Save it for the stage, buddy.
Jonah: He wouldn’t even… he was like, “Listen. I could pick you up, but then we’d talk and we wouldn’t… just save it for the stage. Get AAA you idiot.”
Kumail: Yeah. He called. He was having trouble. He was kind of down and I was like, “Hey, this doesn’t feel like comedy right now.” Have we worked on anything together? I wrote on a pilot that Jonah had for Comedy Central before this.
Jonah: It was a couple years before the Meltdown show. We were doing a pilot, but I guess, no we don’t really. We both kind of do our own things. We like our working relationship within the show. It’s a lot of fun. And it works that way. It’s a fun dynamic that I don’t really have with anyone else, for sure.
I wonder too if it’s easy, because you aren’t doing the producing side of it. Because you’ve got Emily [Gordon] there doing, as you’ve put it before, the hard work. I can’t imagine it would be the same if you were also producing it in the same capacity that she is.
Jonah: Oh yeah, 100%. We would’ve punched each other out.
Kumail: We just show up and do the show. The easiest part of putting on a show is performing on the show. We’re lucky in that we sort of get to be the face of it and not really do the really hard, difficult work. Emily does that. Emily books people. Emily says no to people. Emily makes sure that there’s audience in there. Emily makes sure that there are lights and sound and everything’s good, and then we show up and hopefully get laughs.
What’s something that would surprise us about the other person?
Jonah: Oh… the thing that people wouldn’t necessarily know about Kumail is that he hates video games. And he’s never even once seen an episode of X-Files. It’s crazy.
Kumail: Yeah, it’s just part of my brand. I branded myself as that guy. I don’t like that nerd shit. And Jonah hates music, and doesn’t pride himself on knowing obscure 90s punk rock bands.
Jonah: (laughing) Pride is a strong word.
Photo by Mark Davis.
The Meltdown With Jonah And Kumail airs tonight on Comedy Central and features Andy Daly, Cameron Esposito and Hampton Yount, as well as and Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer who temporarily take over hosting duties for Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani.
Episodes of “The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail” will be available the day after air on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, Xbox Video, Sony Entertainment Network, Vudu, Verizon Flexview and Google Play.