LA PRESS CLUB AWARD WINNER: The godfather of LA’s Black comedy scene is plotting his comeback


Michael Williams is battling a series of
personal traumas to bring African-American comedy back to L.A.

Michael Williams (front row, right) with comedians, including Jamie Foxx (far left) | Courtesy Michael Williams

Michael Williams (front row, right) with comedians, including Jamie Foxx (far left) | Courtesy Michael Williams

Editor’s Note: This piece is a finalist WINNER for the 2014 National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards granted by the Los Angeles Press Club! Check out our updated piece with audio from Michael Williams and his fellow comedy cohort.

On any given Thursday night in the late 1980s, Michael Williams would watch from the wings as up-and-coming Black comics, including Jaime Foxx, Martin Lawrence, Bernie Mac and Chris Tucker, performed at the comedy club he founded in South Los Angeles.

The Comedy Act Theater was one among the first comedy clubs in the country to cater to the Black community and was the launch pad for many successful Black comedians.

For 12 years, comedy fans packed the house. The first night, 200 people crammed into a room that could accommodate only 160. Within a few weeks, the place regularly sold out — a streak that lasted five years. Williams opened outposts in Atlanta and Chicago.

Williams, who had worked for six years as a stage manager and event producer, started the club after being frustrated by the way L.A.’s comedy scene failed to speak to Black patrons like himself. [Read more…]

#TBT South LA: Wrigley Field, 1955

Fans are pictured here watching a baseball game in LA’s Wrigley Field. | Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Fans are pictured here watching a baseball game in LA’s Wrigley Field in 1955. | Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Before Chicago made Wrigley Field an internationally recognizable Major Baseball League landmark, a minor league team called the Angels was playing at another ballpark with the same chewing gum name in South Los Angeles.

The field was located at 42nd Place and Avalon Boulevard, back when the area was known as South Central Los Angeles. According to the National Pastime Archives, the field was dedicated on Sept. 29, 1925 with a crowd of 18,000 attendees. The Angels won their opening game that day against the San Francisco Seals, Los Angeles Magazine reported. [Read more…]

Zumba boom in South LA’s concrete desert

A new crop of Zumba studios have taken root in South LA,

helping people lose weight and transform their lives.

Students get some air time while jumping in a Zumba class. | Daina Beth Solomon

Students get some air time while jumping in a Zumba class. | Daina Beth Solomon

This article was recently featured in the Huffington Post’s “What’s Working” campaign. It originally appeared on Intersections on October 30, 2014.

“She used to be fat!” a woman said after Patricia Campos’ class on a recent weekday morning, nudging her elbow at a fellow student.

“No, I used to be fat!” a friend chimed in.

“I was fat, too!” added another.

Just minutes prior, the trio of 30-somethings were among 20 women clad in black leggings and neon hued tops twisting side to side as a Dominican cumbia song blasted from the stereo.

“Get movin’!” commanded Campos in Spanish, pointing to one women’s waist with a mock serious expression of indignation.

Patricia Campos

Patricia Campos tells her students: “Forget about your kids, about your husband, forget about your work. Give yourself up. This hour is yours, enjoy it.” | Daina Beth Solomon

Campos herself bounced with energy, demonstrating each routine without resting between numbers. She paused only to snag a paper towel with her foot and wipe it across the floor to soak up flying beads of sweat.

Nearly 40 Zumba studios have cropped up in the 50-square-mile region of South L.A. over the past few years, offering homegrown exercise facilities in an area that had long lacked affordable options. In an area of Los Angeles where the population faces a surfeit of obesity, the classes may be one way Angelenos in South L.A. can work toward shrinking their waistlines. [Read more…]

Watts Towers makes list of America’s Endangered Landscapes

wattstowerThe Watts Towers was declared an endangered site last week by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. The iconic South L.A. art piece was one of 11 landscapes that made the “Landslide” list of at-risk landscapes. The foundation cited “thermal effects, vibration and earthquakes” which have cracked the cement case around the towers’ wire structure.

According to Lucy DeLatorre, a tour guide at the Watts Towers Arts Center, Simon Rodia singlehandedly made the towers of recycled materials, including steel bar, wire mesh and cement. [Read more…]

First-person: “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” showcases search for identity


Certain themes struck a chord for me in “Dreaming Sin Fronteras” (Dreaming Without Borders), a performance last week at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. These stories conjured the struggles and complexity of being an undocumented immigrant growing up in the United States, and the search for identity in an adopted country that rejects us because of our status. Some of the individual stories resonated more than others, but I made a rooted connection with the idea of having to assimilate, being uncertain about whether I could attend college and the transformation from powerlessness to empowerment when I went from being a member of a disenfranchised group to becoming an activist on behalf of immigrants.

The character named Gabe, played by local actor Jose Julian, reminded me of my privilege benefiting from policies like AB-540, a law that has helped me pay in-state tuition; Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival (DACA), which grants me temporary legal status; and the California DREAM Act, a law that is helping me pay for college. Because he is from a different generation, Gabe did not grow up with all these benefits and a college education to him seems like an impossible dream. But these limitations do not define Gabe. [Read more…]

Thousands eat, dance, support Crenshaw at Taste of Soul



Monte Hayes,71, had only to walk down the street from his home to check out the Taste of Soul festival for the very first time.

“To me it means, all people of all races are here and it’s like, ‘taste me, I’m good,’” he said.

The 9th annual celebration was held Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and took over a mile of Crenshaw Boulevard from Stocker Avenue to Rodeo Road, where families and friends from all walks of life danced in the street. Attracting 350,000 people this year, the street festival presented by The Sentinel newspaper bills itself as L.A.’s largest.

Signature South L.A. restaurants provided the “tastes,” including What the Funnel, Dulan’s on Crenshaw, Southern Girl Desserts, Post and Beam and Yo Halal’s popcorn.

The festival also brings out a unique blend of soulful sounds and artists each year. This time, the lineup featured Tyrese, Angie Fisher, AKNU, Michelle Williams and many other performers across four main stages, along with young artists featured on the “StarQuest” stage. [Read more…]

Untold LA: West Adams homes through a photographer’s lens

Jett Loe set out to document the architecture of a

South L.A. neighborhood’s past eras in an e-book



A home built in the “Queen Anne” style. | Jett Loe

Conspicuously absent from tour books and commercial tours of Los Angeles is South L.A. Photographer and television director Jett Loe thinks that needs to change, and has created a new book on the West Adams district to highlight some of the architectural gems in the area.

Loe has documented the treasure of Craftsman, Victorian and Tudor homes of West Adams and their histories in an innovative electronic book, Untold LA. (For now, available via for Mac and iPad via iTunes, where you can download the first chapter for free.)

The book takes its viewers on an interactive neighborhood tour, with more than 500 photographs, 70 oral history audio clips and two hours of behind-the-scenes video commentary that bring the homes to life.

Loe’s wonderment about the homes and the people who live in them made his time on the project stretch from two months to two years. He spoke with Intersections about how the idea for the book came about and how his background influenced the project.

1914 Guasti Mansion Foyer

The foyer of the Guasti Mansion, built in 1914. | Jett Loe

Intersections South L.A.: What is your connection to West Adams?

Jett Loe: I encountered the amazing homes of West Adams upon moving to Los Angeles in 2012 from Northern Ireland, where I was directing shows for the BBC. My wife wanted to live in a communal household and I started looking in the Harvard Heights neighborhood of West Adams. In my search, conducted by foot and bus since I didn’t have a car yet in the United States, I was amazed by the beauty of the homes in the district. Following my discoveries, I was astonished to find that no one had done a “coffee table” book of photos about them. I then launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book and raised $9,000 in 25 days from supporters who were excited that someone was finally documenting the neighborhood’s architecture.

What were the historical changes that contributed to the evolution of West Adams from the original wealthy section of Los Angeles into the neighborhood it has become today?

West Adams was home to the wealthy and powerful of Los Angeles during the late 1800s. If you were a doctor, banker or lawyer it was convenient for you to live in West Adams and take the streetcar Downtown. Of course, with the invention of the car people could live farther away. The rich created areas such as Beverly Hills, leaving the large, beautiful homes of West Adams to other folks. Once the original owners left, the powers of L.A. stopped focusing on the area and the media paid less attention to it. However, Japanese, African-Americans, Hispanics and others moved into the neighborhood, establishing vibrant communities. For a time it was the locus for Black political, economic and cultural power which is why West Adams was home to such greats as Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles.

1880s Victorian Home by Jett Loe

A Victorian Home from the 1880s | Jett Loe

What types of people have you met as a result of doing this project?

All types: From African-Americans who’ve lived here for many decades, to Japanese families who almost lost their homes during the World War II internment, to young folks who live in communal homes. The mixture of interviews and photographic portraits in the book was intentional; I wanted to show a whole spectrum of people to reflect the diversity the way I experienced it.

What made you decide to make it an e-book?

I always like to experiment with new things. An ebook allowed me to combine the interview skills I’d accumulated during my time directing television with my photography and interactive production abilities. The illuminated screen of an iPad or computer allows photographs to really ‘pop’ and for me evokes the illuminated stained glass windows that you see in so many West Adams homes.

Day of the dead celebration in west adams

A Mexican Day of the Dead celebration takes to the streets in West Adams

Do you think this is the future for photography and books?

For photographers in the U.S., making a living is an ongoing challenge, in no small part to the effects of the Internet, which seems to melt like water so many established business models. Many job positions for photographers have disappeared due to the development of Internet photography. For example, jobs that a newspaper would have had a decade ago no longer exist because now there is always someone on a news scene with a mobile phone. So being a working photographer is a continual challenge. Doing a project like Untold LA with its mix of private funding though a site like Kickstarter combined with selling a version of the project through iTunes is an experiment for me in new models of photography production.

How has Untold LA changed your relationship to West Adams?

When I moved to L.A., I had never heard of West Adams. But I feel that the district deserves to be just as famous outside of Los Angeles as well known spots like the Griffith Observatory. The homes and culture of West Adams are rich, unique and beautiful. I feel privileged that I was able to document a part of it.

1940 lukens home

Comparatively modern next to other West Adams residences, the Lukens Home was built in 1940 | Jett Loe

Like Intersections on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and sign up for the Newsletter to stay in the loop on news and views from South L.A.

#TBT South LA: The Shrine Auditorium

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

Even as University of Southern California students bike past the Shrine Auditorium and Angelenos attend the venue for its frequent raves and award shows, many are not aware of the long history of this distinctive building.

The Shrine Auditorium was first built in its location off of Jefferson and Figueroa in 1906 as a civic center. The Al Malaikah Shriners, a fraternal organization founded in 1871 that contributes to the community with hospitals and other charities, intended the auditorium to be used as a temple and meeting place for the organization. [Read more…]

Undocumented youth dream with music, without borders

By Danielle Charbonneau and Ana Gonzalez


Dreaming Sin Fronteras on stage in Denver, where the show originated. | Dreaming Sin Fronteras Facebook

Dreaming Sin Fronteras, which comes to the University of Southern California on Oct. 16, blends music, art and theater to explore the narratives of young people who call themselves “dreamers” — undocumented youth who dream big, but battle obstacles.

Approximately five million undocumented children and young adults live in the United States, and about a million of them live in California. Most of them have grown up in America their entire lives and consider themselves American. But without legal documentation, they are often unable to pursue higher education or legitimate employment. As of 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program has helped some youth under thirty to work legally and avoid getting sent out of the U.S. — at least for two year-periods.

See also: Why I should get in-state tuition as an undocumented student

Still, many of these “dreamers” fear deportation and many are actively seeking a pathway to citizenship. (A version of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, or DREAM Act, has passed in California as well as in 14 others states, but has yet to meet federal approval. The California act assists undocumented students with financial aid.)

[Read more…]

Luis Rodriguez named LA’s poet laureate

“To truly love L.A…. you have to see it with different eyes.”

always running

“Always Running,” Rodriguez’s best-known work.

So said Luis Rodriguez last week upon accepting his post as L.A.’s new poet laureate, a term that will last two years and have him bringing poetry initiatives to the most far-flung corners of the city.

Rodriguez saw L.A. through gang-member eyes growing up in South L.A., the San Gabriel Valley and East L.A. Then, after a six-year stint in prison, he changed his outlook. Rodriguez became a Chicano activist and prolific poet and author, penning about a dozen books and launching the Tia Chucha cultural center along with Tia Chucha press to promote other writers. A fixture in Southern California’s Chicano literary landscape, Rodriguez has also dipped into politics, most recently with a bid to become California’s governor representing the Green Party.

Hear more of Rodriguez’s comments in a story from Annenberg Radio News: