Kurt Braunohler and Kristen Schaal are quite the welcoming hosts on the new album, Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen live at The Virgil. Hot Tub is a show that originally started in New York City where it won the 2011 ECNY Award for the Best Variety Show and Best Hosts. The two comics brought it to The Virgil in 2013, and it has been a weekly showcase since the move. This album is its debut recording for the comedic variety show, and the lineup consists of alt comedy’s finest.
Alt comedy, or alternative comedy, originates in the 1980s when comedians were trying to wane away from the mainstream. This collective proves that movement is closer to the mainstream than it once was with the inclusion of Eddie Pepitone who has streaming Netflix specials, Aparna Nancherla who has a starring role in Pete Holmes’ new HBO series, and Eugene Mirman who provides a voice on Bob Burgers. Most of the comedians are Los Angeles based, and nearly all them riff on LA as though the city is just another character in their comedic worlds.
The bigness of the small bar show is satirized from the start by the hosts. Braunohler and Schaal quip that the album will go viral, and they continue with a series of bits as though they are individually greeting different countries from around the world. The two display a silliness and intimacy that is clearly garnered from years of working together. Their chemistry is heard again and again with each goofy introduction. They improvise stories saying they met Beth Stelling while coal mining and Emily Heller in their second year at Yale. The way the two commit to the bits and crack each other up at the same time is enjoyable like being in on an inside joke.
Each comic’s set is about 3-6 minute. The short acts feel like a compilation sampler of “best of” the comic’s current work. Many of the comedians commented on the legality of pot and the social climate of Los Angeles. Hot Tub contains a range of comedians, six women and six men. Some playing loud and loose such as Kyle Kinane ranting about New Yorkers versus Los Angelenos. Others playing more chill and soothing such as Heather Lawless crooning over a horse. A few are adding some music in their act such Karen Kilgariff with an original tune about the overuse of smartphones. All the comedians stand out as unique and fun.
Hot Tub also includes some of the more meta bits that one expects with alt comedy. When Braunohler and Schaal reunite mid album, the track becomes a spiraled gibberish speak. A few others show off their character work. John Roberts, who is a main voice on Bob’s Burgers as well, speaks in a valley girl accent while berating the audience who backs up his poor singing with clapping. The Conan writer Andres Du Bouchet riffs as caricature of comedian whose act focuses on the LA scene and the way things used to be. The zaniness of their work keeps the album in that alt comedy world and adds a flair of anarchy.
Overall, Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen live at The Virgil is way overdue. These are acts which have been happening in small bar shows for years, and now, this recording verifies a genre of comedy which actually does strong voice even if it’s a subcurrent of what is considered mainstream.
You can snag your very own copy of Hot Tub with Kurt and Kristen live at The Virgil right here.