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INTERVIEW: Comedian Jonah Ray Hosts VR’s Big Awards Show

on Tuesday, Aug. 25th

The nominees are out for the second annual Proto Awards, which “honor the efforts of trailblazers in immersive media.”

Hosting this year’s ceremony in Hollywood is comedian Jonah Ray.

Jonah is the co-host of The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail on Comedy Central and of The Nerdist Podcast with nerd impresario Chris Hardwick. I spoke with Jonah Ray over the phone yesterday, about the hosting gig, VR, and what surprises have come from hosting a show in the back of a comic book store.

The first thing I was curious about was how Jonah Ray—who in addition to The Meltdown and The Nerdist is busy in the writer’s room for a new show—got the hosting gig.

“I work with the producers on this really awesome show they do in Echo Park and they asked if I was interested at all in virtual reality. I said ‘ever since I saw the movie Lawnmower Man I’ve been very interested in it.’”

Jonah’s interest isn’t just that of a fan of 90’s science fiction films.

“As someone who makes stuff it’s kind of interesting to see what kind of comedy or entertainment will be happening though these devices,” said Jonah Ray. “Even with the show I do, The Meltdown, it’s even come up. Would it be kind of neat to do a thing where we put people in a seat inside one of the shows? So they could put on [a headset] and look around and feel like what it would be like to be at a comedy show.”

Jonah is into VR, but he doesn’t worry about it putting him out of a job. Every new innovation, as he sees it, causes a dose of fear in the entertainment industry but we’re past that as a culture now.

“All the lines are blurred. It just depends on how you personally feel like you want your media consumption coming to you. Some people just like podcasts.”

The TV version of The Meltdown has raised Jonah Ray’s profile. The show is Comedy Central’s edgy, nerdcore alternative stand-up show. It happens to take place in the back of the Meltdown comic book store in Los Angeles. The TV version does a damn good job of catching the often manic, sometimes uncomfortable energy in the room… even though the room seems bigger on TV than it does it real life.

Way back in 2011 I did a photo essay and interview about the show, pre-TV, as it went from a monthly to a weekly. This was right after Kumail Nanjiani and Emily Gordon joined Jonah Ray in running the show. I asked Jonah what had surprised him about the show in the years since.

“Having been doing a show in that room for so long, it’s so hard to say what’s surprising.

“We got our audience pretty early on. The second show was already sold out because we had kind of established a monthly show there and the audience just kind of came over. We didn’t start with the intention of it being a TV show or having it be anything more than just a weekly opportunity to perform and put up some friends. So I guess anything that’s happened with it outside of the show itself is pretty surprising.”

I also wondered if the show would live on even if the TV show runs its course—not that I want that to happen, because the TV show is easiest way to access the usually sold out live show.

“I mean we don’t really know why we would stop. Or how we would stop. It’s our weekly hangout. We’re all so busy, and we’re adults, and it’s kinda hard to hang out. So it’s kinda nice to have this weekly thing were I get to see my friends and we get to just hang out backstage and do a show.”

That vibe, which is captured by the TV show so well, is what makes The Meltdown so special. If we’re lucky, Jonah Ray will bring along some of that hangout cool to the Virtual Reality Foundation’s Proto Awards this September 22nd. That’s on the eve of the Oculus Connect developers conference, when VR’s pioneers will be invading Hollywood.

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