Angelenos love a rooftop — especially one with tropical vegetation, expansive views and Technicolor cocktails. Add food and entertainment and it becomes an irresistible place to sip sangria while the sunset clouds are flushed with streaks of pink and coral. That’s the setting at Caitlin and Maxwell Benson’s Can’t Even Comedy, a live, live music event at Hollywood’s Mama Shelter Hotel every Tuesday and Thursday. The husband and wife team envisions a new kind of environment for stand-up that is a far cry from the dark, diffuse and often intimidating atmosphere of comedy clubs.
“We decided on an experience,” says Maxwell, whose work producing music, concert films and documentaries was given to the production of Can’t Even Comedy. “You go to most comedy shows and it’s like, ‘Here’s the show. Now get out. At Mama Shelter, it’s free, you sit on the couch, you’re relaxed. It’s on a roof. There is good food. I book some of the best DJs to open and close the shows.”
“And there’s no drink minimum,” Caitlin adds cheerfully—even though neither she nor Maxwell drink.
Caitlin, the duo’s stand-up comedian, began her career more than seven years ago doing novelty shows at the Comedy Store. In love with the art form, she performed wherever she could—small clubs and backyards—and hosted open mic nights. But when the pandemic engulfed LA, many comics were left without a stage. Caitlin wanted to create a performance space and even considered hosting an open mic in her backyard. It was at this time that she met her future husband.
“We literally met next to a dumpster behind a 7-Eleven,” she says with a laugh. “Then he came to the open mic night I was hosting and it was like a degenerate town. That’s when I decided to open my open mic.”
Caitlin and Maxwell’s relationship quickly blossomed, as trips to Delicious Pizza in Sunset became their pandemonium pastime. In one of these outings, restaurant owners Mike and Rick Ross, who are friends of Maxwell’s, mentioned the financial strain their businesses were facing. They decided to host the open mic in the Delicious Pizza parking lot rather than Caitlin’s backyard. Combining the allure of fun and pizzazz, Can’t Even Comedy was born.
“We were trying to create something different,” Caitlin says, adding that Can’t Even Comedy is “curating culture and community. Here’s a woman running the show. The energy is positive. If you’re funny, you’re funny and you deserve to be validated. Word got out that it was an open mic where you could leave feeling good versus lower than when you walked in – it just took off.”
The couple’s monthly event at Delicious Pizza often sold out. When Andrew Jay, the general manager of Mama Shelter, came to an event, he immediately saw their potential and in March 2021 they moved to the roof of the hotel. Now twice a week, the event sees a potpourri of burgeoning comics and celebrities, such as Willie Macc, Ian Bagg, Erik Griffin and Iliza Shlesinger, who was particularly impressed by their ethos.
“I’ve done a lot of independent shows, and I’d put Caitlin and Max at the top in terms of professionalism,” says Shlesinger. “They have a passion for creating a great environment not only for comedy, but also treating comics with respect. They’ve also done a great job of curating the experience over time so that when you come to their show you know you’re getting a professionally run show in a great setting. It’s a great experience.”
Can’t Even Comedy has also held events in Austin and New York. The end of 2022 will mark his 100th appearance at Mama Shelter. In addition to stand-up shows, she has also partnered with Annenberg PetSpace, hosting pet adoptions on the first Tuesday of every month. She’s holding a ticketed event at the Regent on Wednesday co-headlined by Shlesinger and Trevor Wallace. There will be musical performances by DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Anna Krylova and R&B singer Luck. That same day sees the premiere of Caitlin’s first 30-minute special, which will air on Can’t Even Comedy’s YouTube channel.
“A lot of people didn’t understand our vision,” says Caitlin, describing the event’s growth. “It didn’t pay off immediately, but we knew it would in the long run. Now we’re on the other side of the hump of building it and it’s paying off.”