Comedy in English is an ongoing comedy show at Hostelling International Santa Monica, where people from all over the world come to enjoy free comedy and snacks, despite the language barriers and cultural differences that the audience often possesses.
The show takes place every Tuesday and Saturday night at 8:30 p.m., and has been going on since April of 2016. The two hosts, Michael Magid and Andy Ruther, encourage Santa Monica locals to attend the show, as well as the non-natives that generally fill most of the audience.
“I love having locals come out because I think that the audience becomes the show,” said Michael Magid, co-creator of Comedy in English. “It’s truly a unique experience for the locals to see these comedians, that they can see in LA clubs or touring internationally, be in this environment and see how they deal the cultural barrier. Meeting people from different cultures that they might not meet on the promenade is a lot of fun.”
The Comedy show begins with either Ruther or Magid warming up the crowd by introducing the show and asking audience members where they are from.
“The host gets the room going, because a lot of times audience members have never experienced American stand-up comedy, and we want to make them feel comfortable,” said Magid. “We do a lot of crowd work and find out where the crowd is from. As opposed to most comedy shows, this is actually really important because it really gives us a feel for who our target audience is. There are often all sorts of people from different cultural backgrounds and social graces, which makes it really fun for everybody.”
The host’s performance is followed by two to three alternative comedians who typically have 15 minutes of stage time. The comedians consist of professional and experienced entertainers, and the show has had performances from well-known comedians such as Kev Adams, Romesh Ranganathan, Ismo Leikola, and Sanjay Mankatala. Other comedians from the Tonight Show, HBO, and Comedy Central also frequently make appearances at the show.
“Comics love it because it’s so competitive to get stage time more than 8 minutes. We give comics up to 15 minutes to kind of stretch their legs,” Ruther said. “It’s not a long show, but we pride ourselves on booking an efficient show that is 60-75 minutes.”
Ruther and Magid said although the language barrier can sometimes prevent audience members from understanding the comedy, it doesn’t stop them from enjoying themselves.
“With international audiences, regardless of whether they’re laughing, they are still paying attention because they’re trying to figure out what we are talking about,” said Magid. “People still have a good time because they’re trying to understand, and for them, it’s almost like being in a funny English class.”
“Most of the people who come here are not used to American comedy, which makes the crowds reactions to the jokes hilarious,” said Jackson Ross, Santa Monica resident, and Comedy in English crowd member. “American comedy tends to be pretty edgy and it can push boundaries, so people who aren’t used to that really get a kick out of it.”
If the majority of the crowd is unresponsive due to the lack of English speakers in the audience, the comics will slow their bits and increasingly engage with the crowd. “Improvising and talking to the crowd when they don’t seem to understand happens a lot,” Ruther said. “We can’t only rely on our material, so we often just talk to them as a way to get them to understand a little more.”
Christine Emhart, Community Engagement Coordinator of Hosteling International Santa Monica, said that Comedy in English is the most popular event held at the hostel.
“Sometimes there is a language barrier, but the comics are really good at talking with the crowd so that they know who doesn’t speak a lot of English, and they will crack jokes about it. But it’s all in good fun, and it’s never hurtful,” she said.
“A crowd response will often overtake the show, and it just makes it so hilarious,” said Ruther. “We never know what we’re going to get in here.”
According to Magid, there was a woman at the most recent Comedy in English show who was translating the entire performance to the person sitting next to her. This recurring talking coming from the audience confused Michael at first, but he soon figured out what was going on.
“I would hear talking, and then all of the sudden, the person would start laughing, because they now understood what I was talking about onstage. That’s something you don’t get at most shows,” Magid said.
The hosts enjoy befriending the crowd, whether they be from across the globe or a Santa Monica resident, and will often spend time after the performances getting to know the audience members.
“I love to get to know people, especially from different countries, and a lot of times these people are looking for something to do,” said Ruther. “Sometimes after the show, the hosts and some audience members will go out for a bar crawl.”
For more information, visit http://hilosangeles.org.