Human and Robot Humor Get Big Laughs at AMPLYfi
MELROSE AVENUE—Greg the robot’s eyes light up on the AMPLYfi stage just east of Larchmont Boulevard and the crowd in the basement-level venue laughs before the show has even started.
Greg is a homemade robot and the host of HUMANS!, a monthly standup comedy show produced by 26-year-old Silver Lake comedian Mikey Heller.
The thinly painted Lowe’s moving boxes taped together to make the robot’s cartoonish blue body are a clear sign Heller is not an engineer. But Heller’s comedy chops shine as he works Greg’s robotic failures and emotional shortcomings into the act.
“It’s so funny. Mikey’s one of the funniest people I know,” said Matt Kiel who plays Greg the robot’s intern in the show. It is the intern’s job to reposition Greg when his wheels catch on a microphone wire or to restart the robot on the frequent occasions when it powers itself off.
These interactions between Greg and Kiel draw some of the biggest laughs of the night.
“We might go over a few jokes and bits before the show, but it’s mostly just improvised,” Kiel said. “It’s such a funny concept.”
Heller’s jokes received big laughs from the audience of about 45 at the July showing, but the robot got all the credit as Heller sat offstage operating the cardboard bot from the shadows with a radio controller.
The idea to have a robot host a comedy show came naturally to him, said Heller who has been doing standup for more than six years and is a writer with Cartoon Network’s “We Bare Bears.” He said robots have always been funny to him.
“At first when I was booking the show I wouldn’t mention that it was hosted by a robot because I wasn’t sure if it was a waste of time, or if [the comedians] would think it was stupid,” Heller said. “They all love it.”
But some comics need a moment to adjust when they get on stage to perform with a robot for the first time, said comedian Nikki Black.
“He’s kind of rude, but very entertaining to watch,” Black said about Greg.
Black is Heller’s girlfriend and has performed with Greg the robot multiple times. She was skeptical when Heller started talking about doing a robot comedy show.
“When he told me about the idea, I wasn’t sure how he was going to build a robot,” Black said. “I was like, ‘That sounds … great.’”
Making people laugh was the main goal, so Heller said realism and functionality were not important to his robot’s design. When he saw a radio controlled Minions toy on Amazon he thought, “A few cardboard boxes on top of those wheels and you got yourself a robot.”
Robotic host aside, the show is a fairly traditional night of standup with a new lineup of non-robot comics every month.
Each performance is unique with new robot bits between acts like the July performance when Greg the robot went to prom and had his first kiss.
“I liked this idea that the robot is trying to achieve these milestones to become more sentient,” Heller said about the robot prom. “But the things he thinks are milestones are all really stupid.”
Robot milestones will not include any hardware or software upgrades for Greg and Heller said he has no plans to expand or change venues any time soon.
“I’m going to do it as long as I can do it,” Heller said. “My goal is just to make every show funnier than the last.”
With an alley entrance and liberal use of tinsel, the AMPLYfi venue’s hipster-dive vibe compliments the quirk of the comedy show, but seating is at a premium in the space intended for live music and standing audiences.
There are a few chairs near the stage. Other audience members lounge on pillows piled on the floor. Others stand.
Heller calls the all-ages venue “intimate” and for $5 the show packs a lot of laughs with an eclectic lineup of comics on the third Thursday of every month.
5617 ½ Melrose Ave.