LOLs on Wheels: How Jam within the Van’s cellular music hub turned a comedy heavy-hitter

When the COVID-19 pandemic all however shut down reside occasions, Jam within the Van co-founders Jake Cotler and David Bell panicked. Not solely did they work in reside occasions however their complete enterprise mannequin revolved round, properly, reserving acts to play and report in vans. “Our bread and butter was going places, putting people in a tight space and filming bands,” Cotler recollects. “And that wasn’t a thing that you could do for a minute there.”

Based in 2011 with investor Louis Peek, Jam within the Van had reworked from a grass-roots yard undertaking to a totally purposeful content material studio the place artists from across the nation would play in a hippie-ish cellular recording studio. (Assume: NPR’s “Tiny Desk” live performance sequence however extra music pageant drum circle vibes.) Since its founding, JITV has welcomed greater than 1,000 bands and even deliberate “Van” occasions at South by Southwest, Coachella, Bonnaroo, Americanafest, Life Is Stunning and Telluride Blues & Brews.

However, that every one got here to a crashing halt in early 2020. Like different reside music shops, JITV rapidly pivoted to livestreams and charity fundraisers. “We kept ourselves relevant for, like, six to eight months,” Cotler says. They held socially distanced concert events within the yard of their Los Angeles headquarters on Pico Boulevard. Although some musicians like Suzanne Santo and Guapdad4000 had been up for in-person performing, Jam within the Van discovered an unlikely savior in comedy.

The shift in programming began innocuously when Cotler observed YouTube character Andrew Callaghan asking his social-media followers for assist with turning an RV right into a studio. Cotler and Bell had achieved that precise factor in 2011: Their very first JITV RV was a Craigslist junker-turned-recording studio that Cotler parked in his Venice yard. “I was like, ‘Yo, why are you disrespecting us? We’re the guys!’” Cotler laughs, recalling how he invited Callaghan to the subsequent out of doors Jam within the Van evening. Not solely did he attend however Callaghan introduced alongside native comic Ali Macofsky. “While I’m talking about studios, I was like, ‘Ali, do you want to do a stand-up show here?’ And she put on a comedy show,” Cotler says.

The present stage arrange for Jam within the Van comedy reveals. Initially JITV began by filming musical performances inside a cramped van house.

(Christy Linder)

After Macofsky’s stand-up set, Cotler and Bell realized they may be on to one thing. With most comedians being unable to tour, L.A. was teeming with out-of-work comics hungry for stage time. “I just started DMing people like Neal Brennan and Iliza [Shlesinger],” Cotler says. “Comics were all about it. They have this sickness where they need to be onstage. They need to perform. Musicians were really more shook by the pandemic. Our music shows cooled down, [and] it was a lot tougher to get musicians to come out and play these socially distant shows.”

Bell additionally factors out how unusually nice it was to attach with and e book comedians. “With musicians, we were dealing with their agents. With comedians, we’re dealing directly with them. They were so much more appreciative. So much less hassle. It opened our eyes to a more pleasurable world to deal with, to be honest with you.”

Cotler and Bell have come a great distance from the early days when all they wished was a van to pack into for his or her annual pilgrimage to Bonnaroo, which they’d been attending since faculty. “Dave and I started running RVs with our group of friends,” Cotler says. “We’d fly to my parents’ house in North Carolina and drive the RV from there, go to Bonnaroo, and have a big party in the RV. We did that for a couple years.”

The pair ultimately landed in California, the place Cotler attended regulation faculty and Bell labored at a manufacturing firm. Whereas chatting on-line, they talked about renting versus shopping for an RV for his or her subsequent Bonnaroo journey. “Renting an RV isn’t cheap, but Dave started googling ‘s— RVs’ on Craigslist. He was like, ‘Hey, let’s do this. Let’s bring the festival to us.’”

At first, they primarily discovered inspiration in “The Black Cab Sessions,” a U.Okay.-based franchise the place musicians carry out and report songs behind a taxicab. After procuring a used 1983 RV (with defective brakes), Cotler and Bell refashioned the inside to be a totally purposeful studio and welcomed musicians to report there. It remained parked within the yard of Cotler’s place in Venice, although he ultimately managed to drive it to native venues just like the Satellite tv for pc and finally to South by Southwest in Austin. (It died on the return journey.)

Over almost 10 years and a number of vans, Jam within the Van has hosted musical performances by numerous acts, from the up-and-coming to marquee names: Wyclef Jean, Milo Greene, Gary Clark Jr., Lukas Nelson, the Revivalists, Deer Tick and Cherry Glazerr, simply to call just a few. As their live-music automobile grew in native reputation, Cotler and Bell secured sponsorships with alcoholic beverage and marijuana corporations and launched a YouTube channel, which now has almost half one million subscribers.

From the start, Bell and Cotler wished Jam within the Van to be not solely an offbeat venue for bands to play but additionally a supply of music discovery for audiences: “We knew what we wanted, but more importantly, we knew what we didn’t want to go after when we were starting,” Bell says. “We booked Mt. Joy when nobody knew who Mt. Joy was, and now they’re selling out stadiums. … I think we’ve done about four or five sessions with Marcus King — we’ve even joked that he’s our house band.”

A woman holds a microphone onstage

Caroline Rhea performs at Jam within the Van.

(Christy Linder)

Cotler and Bell additionally envisioned bringing comedy to the Van from the beginning, although it didn’t take off at first. “We always had this idea to have comedy be a part of this, back when it was just the backyard sessions in my backyard. In 2011, we invited out Mo Mandel, Erik Griffin and Theo Von. This was before [Griffin] was famous for ‘Workaholics.’ We did a comedy roundtable in the van.” Reduce to 2020, and Cotler and Bell started calling up comedians in earnest and had been shocked by how rapidly they needed to broaden their house. “We were the only place to see live comedy in the world during that winter,” Bell says.

Because the pandemic wore on, “That little bungalow lot became too small,” Cotler continues. “I remember we had a Neal Brennan show one night, and these kids had rented the property next door. They decided they’re gonna throw a party on the night of Neal Brennan’s show. He had Ali Wong out, and Blake Griffin was there, and James Blake. And these kids were making so much noise. So the next day, we called their landlord and we’re like, ‘Yo, what are the odds you want to kick those kids out and let us rent that property?’ So we took over that other space, and we ripped down the fence and we doubled the size of our lot. It just kept getting bigger and bigger. Then we moved to the space we’re at today because we got a good handful of noise complaints.”

The founders additionally lured comedians in with a top-notch inexperienced room, which got here stocked with a considerable quantity of pot, a full bar, ping-pong, foosball and online game machines. “We really went out of our way to make sure that the green room was very hospitable and had a lot of amenities for the comics to enjoy,” Cotler says. “That was always how we endeared ourselves to bands even when it was in the back parking lot in Venice in 2011. I had my buddy cooking pizza rolls, making sure that the cooler was full of beer.”

Three people posing for photo in a backstage green room

Comic Eric Andre, from left, JOITV co-founder Jake Cotler and comic Tiffany Haddish on the inexperienced room at a JITV present.

(From Jam within the Van)

At the moment, reside music has picked again up, and Jam within the Van hosts weekly occasions in Austin and Los Angeles; ultimately, the founders need to e book occasions in Nashville. They’ve additionally hybridized Jam within the Van programming to be a combination of music and comedy. Arising, Skyler Stone and Sarah Silverman are doing back-to-back units on July 29 at 7 and 9 p.m. Later, on Aug. 27, Jam within the Van has organized “Comedy for a Cause” with Shlesinger; ticket proceeds go towards the Nationwide Abortion Entry Fund.

Typically, Cotler and Bell encourage comedians to discover their musical sides. “We just started a podcast with Pauly Shore where he interviews musicians — he just had Jesse [Hughes] from Eagles of Death Metal and Fred Durst from Limp Bizkit in,” Cotler says. “Pauly, in fact, just did a session with his band the Crustys, which is Pauly fronting a bunch of senior-citizen guys on instruments. It’s a whole routine, and it’s fantastic. We’re up for all of it.”

In a significant comedy market like L.A., Bell and Cotler finally need to spotlight the singular nature of their venue. “It’s its own unique experience,” Cotler says. “Craig Robinson will come in and just play songs all night with our sound guy and do karaoke with him. We’re not trying to be the Comedy Store. We’re trying to be Jam in the Van. And we’ve figured out pretty good what Jam in the Van is.”