On the evening of Monday, September 21, I was able to fulfill a longtime dream of mine: To be an audience member at one of my favorite live podcasts of all time, “Kill Tony,” at the Comedy Store in Hollywood.
The pandemic had made that dream seem almost impossible, but the cast and crew of this show were determined to make it through the chaos. It was rough going for a while, but they’re back in real-live action at their original home with a cute, cozy, and COVID-friendly set-up.
Although I’m fascinated by the diaspora of Los Angeles comedians that’s happening right now amid COVID-19 and uncertain about what the future holds for stand-up comedy, I was floored and delighted by the way this very special podcast Tim Gunn’d the heck out of this pandemic – man, they made it work.
While COVID did not jive well with the podcast’s original set-up, which involved a whole lot of people being in very close quarters, the cast’s show must go on attitude paid off. They are now back at the Store, albeit in a different format – but the joy of the show remains the same.
Comedian Tony Hinchcliffe of Youngstown, Ohio has been working at the Comedy Store since 2007, eventually working his way up from open-micer to a seasoned headliner. He is, without a doubt, one of the top young rising comedians in the world.
Since 2013, he and fellow comic Brian Redban have hosted “Kill Tony” (KT), a weekly podcast that streams live on YouTube from its filming location at the Comedy Store. That’s seven straight years that the Store was packed wall-to-wall with aspiring comedians who would wait to put their name in “The Bucket of Destiny,” hoping they might get lucky enough that Tony would pull theirs during the show.
If he did, they would stand on stage in front of a full audience to perform a minute of (hopefully-not-terrible) stand-up comedy.
After their minute, aspiring comics would get to speak with the always-in-character Kill Tony Band (AKA “the best damn band in the land”) who, along with Hinchcliffe and Redban, would deliver thoughtful analysis about the comic’s set (and sometimes some light roasting, if it’s deserved).
The band includes exceptional improviser and pretty-good saxophonist Jeremiah Watkins; hilarious trumpeteer Jessie “Jetski” Johnson; drum master “Joelberg” Joel Jimenez; and the silent-but-deadly “Chroma” Chris Dillon.
There are currently three paid regulars on KT, all of whom proved themselves as true comedy killers after being pulled multiple times from the Bucket of Destiny. They include the fearless roasting prodigy David Lucas, the wildly unpredictable and hysterical William Montgomery, and the always-hilarious Second City legend, Michael Lehrer.
When the pandemic hit, the live show, like many others, had a major problem to face. But to the joy of many fans, the cast and crew immediately adapted the show to a new, experimental format that would help them keep the fun going.
Instead of having an audience, the main cast members sat in a private studio and live-streamed the show as they watched video submissions instead of live comics.
But just recently, when the Comedy Store was able to reopen under the condition that they function as a restaurant and bar, KT was able to start back up in the Main Room of the Store, with audience members sitting at socially-distanced tables on the outdoor patio.
‘Kill Tony’ absolutely killed it
Kudos to “Kill Tony” for meeting the moment and providing a unique and fun experience for their fans that works for the current COVID climate.
When I arrived on Monday, masked fans were already lined up at the door on Sunset Boulevard. We were directed to the back lot, where several tables were available at COVID-appropriate distances.
People started trickling into their seats. I chose one in the back corner, with a good view of the TV that played a football game prior to the show’s start.
The venue itself is a gorgeous homage to the greatest comedians of all time, their signatures lining the black walls of the outdoor patio, their energy inspiring you to embrace the buzz of excitement that surrounds the Store.
Strings of lightbulbs lit the patio in a cozy glow as the sun set over the crowd on Sunset Blvd, and “Kill Tony” came to kill it once again.
‘One of the best experiences of my life’
Adding to the intimacy of the evening was Hinchcliffe himself coming outside of the Store to speak with comics he had given spots to in past weeks. I was able to speak with one of those folks, Camden Pace, an L.A.-based actor and comedian who’s made it on the show, which helped to launch his comedy career.
Pace’s name was pulled from the Bucket of Destiny the second time he went to “Kill Tony” in June of 2019, so he was able to experience the podcast prior to its new-ish format. It was Episode #375, and Dane Cook was the guest of honor. You’ll see Pace get his time on stage at about minute 52:34.
“Magical, is the only way I can describe that night,” Pace said. “The whole crew was so much fun. The band, themed that night as The Red Hot Chili Peppers, were amazing, and it was a packed house with a very lively crowd.”
Pace said that after his set, Hinchcliffe was sweet in an “edgy” way.
“He tried to throw me out of my comfort zone with some shocking questions, but it was all good fun. Redban and Dane were graciously inquisitive and the Peppers were curiously amused.”
Hinchcliffe is skilled at keeping the show interesting by digging deep into the lives of his interviewees. If you plan to go on stage, it’s wise to be ready to share some of the most intimate and titilating details of your life.
“It was one of the best experiences in my life. It was also only the third time I had been on stage,” Pace said. “That one performance launched my successful comedy career both as a stand-up and as a working actor.”
Pace now has auditions and stand-up opportunities flowing in like never before in his comedy career.
He also said that prior to the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for 150-200 people to sign up for the show. Of course, it would always sell out.
“People of all imaginable types would show up,” he said. “A crowd unlike any you’ve seen. Imagine Mardi Gras but with clowns from all walks of life wanting to expel their demons by giving the gift of laughter.”
While the crowd has been forced to shrink, the laughter has not. In fact, the new set-up, according to Pace, has some upsides.
“The new adapted set-up is nice in a lot of ways. It makes for a very pleasant evening to socialize in a relaxed and un-cramped way. That’s what I like best.”
Indeed, the evening felt extremely relaxed. It was nice having room to move around and enjoy the cool California breeze (luckily, Monday evening, the smoke from the wildfires had mostly cleared).
While no one knows what the future holds for comedy right now, this show has figured out a way to keep me and millions of others laughing. You should check it out, too!
“I feel very privileged to have had the great fortune to be on Kill Tony, and I’m looking forward to doing it again when I can,” Pace said. “I think it would be a great way to kickstart my comic rebirth from the ashes this pandemic left us in and inspire my muse as we all head into a brave new world.”