February 17, 2020

Improv booker has thriving lab for humor experiments

When Jamie Flam arrives at the Hollywood Improv at noon every day, he’s prepared to spend the next 12 hours booking and producing shows, negotiating deals with talent and agents, and watching live comedy. 

A soft-spoken 39-year-old from Granada Hills, Flam always wanted to be in entertainment. However, he never thought that becoming the artistic director and booker of the club would be in his future.  

“I was afraid of the Improv, to be honest,” he said. “It seemed like it was difficult to get booked at and an impenetrable force.” 

Since 2010, Flam has worked to revitalize the now-thriving Lab, a side room at the club where up-and-coming comedians can get stage time and show producers are able to experiment. When he was first brought on, the space was empty, so Flam started reaching out to producers at his former gig at the Westside Eclectic (now the Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica). Soon enough, the Lab was hosting 50 shows a month. 

While the main room will feature headliners like Dane Cook, Joe Rogan and Maria Bamford, the Lab hosts live podcast recordings, a comedy show that’s also a spelling bee, and Comedy Living Room, which started in a house in Hollywood. 

“I like shows that bring people to a different world and universe,” Flam said.

Aside from making sure that the Lab is up and running, he also books comedians for the other shows in the main room. It’s not easy, as he once tweeted: “Booking a comedy club is 1 percent booking, 99 percent apologizing.” 

 “I really don’t like having to say no, which is something I have to do all day, every day,” he said. “There is only so much stage time for hundreds and hundreds of amazing performers in the city. I’m constantly having to tell comedians and the industry that, unfortunately, I’m not able to get them and their acts up onstage.”

When Flam isn’t handling the bookings and producing other people’s shows, he works on his own. He’s one half of the comedy duo the Spanglers, with Vanessa Ragland. Together, they’re a fake husband and wife who wear flamboyant vests and riff off each other onstage. It’s in the vein of Andy Kaufman, Neil Hamburger, and Marty and Bobbi Culp, the fictional singing husband and wife that Will Ferrell and Ana Gasteyer played on “Saturday Night Live.” The Spanglers perform at Van Jam, their show at the Improv that features comedians, a live band and storytellers. 

The artistic director also hosts Gatekeeper, a podcast in which he interviews the decision-makers in comedy. Episodes have included talks with Adam Eget, who books the Comedy Store in Los Angeles; Zoe Friedman, the daughter of the Improv founder Budd Friedman and senior vice president of development at Blue Ribbon Content; and Bart Coleman, booker of “@midnight” on Comedy Central. On a recent installment, Flam chatted with Todd Glass, a stand-up comedian who performs at the Lab once a week.

 “I love everything Jamie has done,” Glass said in a phone interview. “He makes comedy an event. From the minute you walk into the Lab, you see that the room is artistically appealing. That’s everything in comedy. It’s not just a little bonus.”

Comedian Sarah Silverman, a regular at the club, also had praise for Flam’s work. “Jamie Flam has created this jazzy, alternative safe haven with the Improv Comedy Lab, and I love it,” she said. 

Flam developed his talent for booking and producing shows when he was in his 20s at Westside Eclectic. Although that was his first official job in comedy, he knew from a young age that he wanted to be involved in show business. 

“I was a musical theater nerd in elementary school,” he said. “That exposed me to performing and producing shows and being comedic onstage. I played Mr. MacAfee in ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’ It was my big moment.”  

The Flam family has been in L.A. since 1905, but he’s the first to work in entertainment. His parents own Flam’s Lock & Key in Sherman Oaks, and his grandmother had a shop called Angela’s Typewriter. 

Flam, who celebrates the Jewish holidays, grew up going to Hebrew school and had his bar mitzvah at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge. He enjoyed watching “SNL,” along with the comedy of Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey and “Weird Al” Yankovic. 

These days, he said his favorites are Silverman, Glass, Pete Holmes, Louis CK, Chelsea Peretti and other “performers who lay it all on the line onstage. I like authenticity and performers that take chances and do weirder material.” 

While having to say no to comedians and industry professionals is difficult, Flam said that seeing great comedy live at the club is inspirational. “I love watching an audience that is totally out of their own heads and connecting with the performers, and creating unique experiences that people can’t get anywhere else.” 

One day, Flam hopes to own a production company, write and produce for television, have a musical on Broadway and open up a theme park. 

“I want it to be called Flamtasia,” he said. 

Although he was only half-joking, Flam said that, realistically, he strives to continue putting ideas out into the world. 

“To always be creating is the main thing,” he said. “I want to create things and take people to another place that is enchanting and magical.”