Meltdown Comics in Hollywood has turned its back room into a comedy mecca where fans can enjoy as many as 30 shows a month for the price of a beer.
One of those shows, “The Meltdown With Jonah and Kumail,” hosted by Jonah Ray and Kumail Nanjiani (who plays Dinesh on HBO’s Emmy-nominated “Silicon Valley”), became popular enough to catapult itself into a half-hour series on Comedy Central. Its third season premiered Sept. 27.
But it took some clever production tricks to take the laughter from stage to television. “We’re in a very specific space,” says producer Emily V. Gordon. “The ceilings are low, there isn’t a lot of room, and we seat 150.”
Yet director Lance Bangs, DP Rhet Bear, and production designer Gary Kordan were able to transform the spare room into a tech-heavy studio while retaining the intimate feeling for both the live audience and the one at home.
“The biggest challenge for us was having cameras in every possible spot, because the producers are very concerned about covering anything funny that happens,” says Bear.
The edited episodes don’t just showcase the stage performances; they also peer behind the scenes at conversations between the comedians backstage. Small, cameras fill every nook and cranny, while camera operators also cover the action.
“It’s important for us to make sure we have multiple angles of anything going on, which is why we end up with about 20 cameras each night,” adds Bear.
The room provides no leniency for lighting. “When I first walked into the space, I was horrified to see how low the ceilings were,” says Bear. “It’s difficult, especially because we can’t have lighting on the audience. Anytime we brought the lights up during a performance in previous seasons, people would stop laughing.”
The DP found a middle ground by adding small light fixtures so audience faces were lit during performances, but not in an overpowering way.
For his part, Kordan was able to create a space where dark, rich walls enhance the saturation of the room’s colors. Says Bear, “All the dark elements make the practical lights hanging from the ceiling pop, and show Jonah, Kumail, and the performers in a more interesting way.”
Throwing an extra kink into the production, season three recorded all eight episodes over four straight days, taping two a night. (Normally, the crew would tape two episodes one night a week.)
“It was definitely difficult, but it was really the only time everyone was available,” Gordon notes. “We were prepping weeks ahead, but we really only took two weeks for the whole show — one to finalize the schedule, the next to shoot.”
Once the comedians showed up, the crew worked with no breaks.
Stationed nearby, Bangs and Bear are able to see all the action from the multitude of cameras. “If Lance sees something inside a room we’re not getting, he’ll grab a camera and shoot it himself,” says Bear. “Our job is to capture as much of the comedy as we can. If the audience at home finds it funny, we’ve done our job.”