Inside the Raucous Standup Parties of ‘Flophouse’ with Lance Bangs

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VICELAND, the new 24 hour cable channel from Vice Media and A+E Networks, launches Feb 29th. A sweeping expansion on Vice’s brand of online offerings, the channel will feature targeted interest shows like Weediquette, Gaycation, Noisey, and Fuck, That’s Delicious. Speaking about the creative forces behind the network, VICELAND co-president Spike Jonze said, “The exciting thing about my job is handing over this channel to artists and filmmakers who inspire us, both here inside Vice and in the outside world.” One of those artists is noted filmmaker and music video director Lance Bangs. Bangs, in addition to his vast resume of music videos and documentaries, has kept close ties with the comedy world, directing specials for comics like David Cross, Marc Maron, Todd Barry and most recently, Hannibal Buress. In the new VICELAND series Flophouse, which premieres March 3rd at 10:30 pm, Bangs turns his camera toward toward lesser-known comedians in bustling scenes all over the country. Each episode focuses on a different house or non-traditional comedy venue where the shows are known as much for their standup as they are for their raucous party vibe. Shows have already been shot in LA, San Francisco, Denver, New Orleans, and Atlanta with more on the way — check out our exclusive look at the first trailer below. I talked to Bangs about the creation of the show, his fascination with interesting characters in comedy, and his other upcoming projects with VICELAND.

Let’s go back to the inception of Flophouse. I got word of a house party show you shot a couple of years ago in LA. Was that what kicked off the idea for the show?

Yeah. In the Fall of 2014 Spike Jones and Eddy Moretti asked me to help put together a television network for Vice. We started kind of secretly assembling ideas for things we could make that had a point of view or personal perspective that weren’t scripted. None of us like or watch reality television. We wanted to make shows where we would find interesting, compelling characters that had a different life experience than what’s normally on TV, sort of enter their world and shoot interesting television shows with them. I kind of started in the background making personal films, then music documentaries, and music work when I was younger. I was hanging around the Mr. Show guys when they were doing stuff in Los Angeles in the mid-90’s; David Cross, Bob Odenkirk, the stuff that was happening at Largo and before that, at Un-Cabaret where Paul F. Tompkins, Patton Oswalt and all of these great comedians were doing alternative work. I felt that it really overlapped with my interest in underground music at the time. There was a shared sensibility. I wasn’t thinking of myself as a really funny person or a comic. I never did standup or anything like that, but ended up making documentaries and specials with some of the comedians who didn’t want to go through the typical format of how an HBO or Showtime special would have been made in the 90’s. From that it grew into doing the kind of standup specials that deconstructed the typical format of specials to try to make something that was a little more interesting.

So when I was putting shows together for this network we were making I knew that there was a wave of young, interesting comedians scattered across the country. There was this circuit that no one had really tapped into or talked about yet where Sam Tallent in Denver is sharing information, contacts, booking advice, and warnings about mean bouncers at certain venues with people in Chicago, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. There was this sort of route that was being built up. In Portland there was a great wave of comedians over the past few years where you had Ron Funches, Ian Karmel, Amy Miller, just a great gang up there as well. While the Bridgetown comedy festival was going on I was getting a chance to meet and socialize with younger comedians from all over the US and started putting on my own show called Come Laugh With Us where I booked people that their work stood out to me. I kind of ended up in this network of younger, unrepresented, unmanaged comedians. It was almost like when Black Flag would tour in the 1980’s and they worked out a circuit. The same information was now circulating among young people. The way that Sam Tallent refers to it is that standup comedy is like the fourth wave of American punk rock. That made me excited to go out and try to build a documentary series across the United States that showed and reflected the subculture and throw these house parties and film them in a way that wasn’t intrusive and didn’t contaminate what naturally happens there. That’s what I set out to do.

The first one we did happened in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with Solomon Georgio, Eric Dadourian, and James Austin Johnson. The three of them lived in a house called Babe Island, which another comedian, Josh Androsky, named. It was this unique scene of young comedians who were all supporting each other. I started shooting within that world among those characters, finding ways to organize these events and book the comedians I was interested in. Sometimes when I wanted to show what a scene was about I would bring in people who had left there. A lot of people leave Atlanta or New Orleans and go to New York or LA to make an impression and try to break into the bigger comedy industry. I wanted to bring people back to the town they were from. Like, I made sure to get Sean Patton back to New Orleans. I’m not a party person myself, historically. I’m more of a quiet, non-extroverted person. But I do enjoy the process of controlling an event an enabling other people to have a great time.

When you were looking at expanding the show to cover other scenes, how did you go about choosing who you were going to take on the road with you as party facilitators? You obviously work to make sure everything runs smoothly, but you also bring people with you to perform and mix it up with the guests as well.

That’s an interesting thing that I’ve done for a long time. I’ve always been compelled to go to the people that I thought were the most interesting or end up with a camera at the things that I was sort of curious about at that time. If someone puts out a great record, I want to find a leg of tour dates and tag along with them. If someone is making a great album somewhere, I’ll wind up getting invited to go into the studio and shoot that process. I love that aspect of my life. Once you’re in motion on that… like I knew I wanted to go make an episode in New Orleans and at the same time I’m also helping to build an entire cable network. The other ideas I have for shows… there’s a show I’m making with Brandon Wardell and another show I’m developing with Clare O’Kane. These are two young comedians that I found during the process of making Flophouse. I would invite them to come tag along so that while we’re driving around we can come up with ideas for what we want to do with our own shows. Neel Nanda, who had performed in Atlanta, wanted to ride with our crew and come to the party because he had such a good time at the other shoots. Then like I said, I brought Sean Patton down. I’d worked with him on a couple of projects in the past. I needed someone I could rely on to be the heart and soul of the New Orleans episode.  

I know something you were really interested in was making sure that the local lineup for each show was as diverse as possible, even if the city’s comedy scene isn’t broken down evenly.

That’s my own personal taste. I’ve always been interested in the margins that are underrepresented. There’s no point in me going and booking a club guy who does college events and dumb wacky accents in a baseball cap. I don’t need to highlight that guy.

What other shows are you working on for VICELAND?

There’s one that’s going to debut most likely in the Summer called Party Legends. It’s an animated series where, again, I just sort of approached most of my more interesting conversationalists, storytellers, and friends that I run into and had them tell their best, craziest, worst, most fucked-up party story, awkward thing that happened, drinking story, drug story, sex story and then have them animated through young artists and animators who I would find through Starburns Industries, which is Dan Harmon and Dino Stamatopoulos’ production company. They would help me find all of these interesting people who were doing work on Tumblr, or had just come out of Cal Arts, or were doing weird online art pieces and I would match them up with what I wanted out of specific stories. I would do sound design and direct the animation for what I wanted each piece to be. That series I’m really happy with. We’ve also been developing a show with Fred Armisen through Red Hour, which is Ben Stiller’s production company, with a great producer named Mike Rosenstein. Then a ton of other shows that we’re not ready to announce or talk about yet.

Your background was more musically focused, but so many of your latest projects have been related to comedy. Was that a natural shift in your career or was it a conscious decision?

It wasn’t by design. Having shot stuff with the Mr. Show performers, it kind of spread from there. I really enjoy working in comedy. It’s been really rewarding and fun to find interesting characters in the comedy world whose brains are on fire and go work and collaborate with them the same way I would have with bands or musicians over the years. You’ve got more interesting characters doing comedy now than there was in ’87, ’88 or when the club scene was going on.

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