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 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 husband and wife team envisions a new kind of environment for stand-up that is far removed from the dark, divey and often intimidating atmosphere of comedy clubs.
“We provide experience,” says Maxwell, whose work producing music, concert films and documentaries has contributed to the production of Can’t Even Comedy. “You go to most comedy shows and you’re like, ‘This is the show.’ Now get out. At Mama Shelter it’s free, you sit on couches, relax. It is on a roof. There is good food. I appoint 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 up-and-coming shows at the Comedy Store. In love with this art form, she plays wherever she can – small clubs and backyards – and organizes 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 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 says with a laugh. “Then he came to the open mic night I was putting on and it was like a freak town. That’s when I decided I’d start my own open mic.”
Caitlin and Maxwell’s relationship quickly blossoms as trips to Delicious Pizza on Sunset together become their pandemic pastime. At one of those outings, restaurant owners Mike and Rick Ross, who are friends of Maxwell’s, mentioned the financial strain their business was facing. They decided to hold open mics in the Delicious Pizza parking lot instead of Caitlin’s backyard. Combining the appeal 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 “builds a culture and a community. There’s a woman running the show here. The energy is positive. If you’re funny, you’re funny and you deserve to be recognized. Word got out that it was an open mic where you could leave feeling good, compared to lower than when you walked in — it just took off.”
The couple’s monthly event at Delicious Pizza often sold 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 potpourri of burgeoning comics and celebrity comics, such as Willie Mack, Ian Bugg, Eric Griffin and Iliza Schlesinger, who was 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,” says Schlesinger. “They have a passion for not only creating a wonderful environment for comedy, but also for treating comics with respect. They have also done a great job of organizing the time experience so that when you come to their show you know you are getting a professionally run show in a wonderful setting. It’s a sublime experience.”
Can’t Even Comedy also hosts events in Austin and New York. The end of 2022 will mark his 100th show at Mama Shelter. In addition to stand-up shows, he also partners with Annenberg PetSpace, hosting pet adoptions on the first Tuesday of every month. He organized a ticketed event at the Regent on Wednesday, led 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. The same day is the premiere of Kaitlyn’s first 30-minute special, which will be released on Not even Comedy’s YouTube channel can.
“So many people didn’t understand our vision,” Caitlin says, describing the event’s growth. “It wasn’t an immediate win, but we knew it would be in the long run. Now we’re on the other side of the hump of building it and it’s paying off.”