Angelenos love rooftops, especially ones with tropical vegetation, sprawling vistas, and Technicolor cocktails. Add food and entertainment, and it becomes an irresistible place to sip sangria as the sunset clouds blush with streaks of pink and coral. That’s the vibe at Caitlin and Maxwell Benson’s Can’t Even Comedy, a stand-up and live music event at Hollywood’s Mama Shelter Hotel every Tuesday and Thursday. The wife and husband team envisions a new kind of environment for stand-up comedy that’s a far cry from the dark, dive and often intimidating atmosphere of comedy clubs.
“We put together an experiment,” says Maxwell, whose work producing music, concert films and documentaries lent itself to producing 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 couches, you’re relaxed, it’s on a rooftop, it’s got good food, I book some of the best DJs to open and close the shows.
“And there’s no drink minimum,” Caitlin happily adds — even though neither she nor Maxwell drink.
Caitlin, the comedian of the duo, began his career more than seven years ago doing promising 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 swallowed LA, many comics were left without a scene. Caitlin wanted to create a performance space and even considered hosting open mics in her backyard. It was during this time that she met her future husband.
“We literally met next to a dumpster behind a 7-Eleven,” she laughs. “Then he came to the open mic party I was having and it was like a degenerate town. That’s when I decided I was going to make my own open mic.
Caitlin and Maxwell’s relationship blossomed quickly, as walking around Delicious Pizza on Sunset together became their pandemic pastime. On one such outing, restaurant owners Mike and Rick Ross, who are friends of Maxwell, mentioned the financial difficulties their businesses were facing. They decided to host open mics in the parking lot of Delicious Pizza rather than Caitlin’s backyard. Combining the appeal of entertainment and pizza, Can’t Even Comedy was born.
“We were trying to create something different,” says Caitlin, adding that Can’t Even Comedy “goes for culture and community. Here, there is a woman running the show. The energy is positive. If you’re funny, you’re funny and you deserve validation. We learned that it was an open mic where you could come away feeling good rather than lower than when you came in – it just took off.
The couple’s monthly event at Delicious Pizza has often started to sell out. When Andrew Jay, 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 medley of booming comics and celebrities, such as Willie Macc, Ian Bagg, Erik Griffin and Iliza Shlesinger, who have been particularly captivated by their ethos.
“I’ve done a lot of independent shows and I would put Caitlin and Max at the top in terms of professionalism,” Shlesinger says. “They have a passion for not only creating a wonderful environment for comedy, but also treating comics with respect. They also did a great job of curating the experience over time so that when you come to their show you know you are getting a professionally run show in a beautiful environment. It is an elevated experience.
Can’t Even Comedy also held events in Austin and New York. The end of 2022 will mark her 100th show at Mama Shelter. Besides stand-up shows, he has also partnered with Annenberg PetSpace, holding pet adoptions on the first Tuesday of every month. He is hosting a ticketed event at The Regent on Wednesday co-led by Shlesinger and Trevor Wallace. There will be musical performances from DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Anna Krylova and R&B singer Luck. That same day is the premiere of Caitlin’s first 30-minute special, which will air on Can’t Even Comedy YouTube Channel.
“So many people didn’t understand our vision,” says Caitlin, describing the growth of the event. “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 its construction, and it’s paying off.