Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Comedy Store

The Comedy Store is a comedy club located in West Hollywood, California, on the Sunset Strip.  The club has an interesting Hollywood True Story like history and an extensive alumni list.  It was opened in April 1972 by comedians Sammy Shore and Rudy DeLuca. The building was formerly the home of Ciro's, a hugely popular Hollywood nightclub owned by William Wilkerson, and later a rock and roll venue, where The Byrds were discovered in 1964. When the venue reopened as The Comedy Store in 1972, it included a 99-seat theatre, where Johnny Carson was one of the first comics to perform. As a result of a divorce settlement, Sammy Shore's ex-wife Mitzi Shore began operating the club in 1973, and she was able to buy the building in 1976. She immediately renovated and expanded the club to include a 450-seat main room.  

Beginning in 1979, The Comedy Store served for many years as the host location for the annual HBO Young Comedians specials. Also that year, stand-up comedians formed a short-lived labor union and demanded to be paid for their appearances at the Comedy Store.  For five weeks, several famous comedians staged a protest in front of the club, while others crossed the picket line. The comedians involved formed a union called Comedians for Compensation and fought for pay where they had received none before. They eventually picketed in front of the club when their demands were not met. Jay Leno and David Letterman were amongst those on the picket line.

The job action was not legally a strike as the comedians were classified as "independent contractors" and were not under contract with the club.  Mitzi Shore argued that the club was and had always been a showcase and training ground for young comedians and wasn't about profits. She alleged that comedians came to the club and could work on their material in front of casting agents and other talent scouts who would possibly hire them as professionals if they were good enough. The comedians at the club became unhappy when the club was expanded several times and it was perceived that Shore's profits were quite substantial. Shore also paid the rest of her staff, including waitresses and bartenders. Several of the young comedians who had moved to Los Angeles to make it big were so poor they could not afford 3 meals a day or even housing. Jay Leno briefly lived in his car upon first arriving in LA and performing at the club.

After the strike some comedians were no longer allowed to perform at the club, including Steve Lubetkin, who committed suicide in front of the building by jumping off the roof of the Continental Hyatt House next door. His suicide note included the line: "My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store." Lubetkin hoped that his suicide would resolve the labor dispute. He also cited Shore as the reason he no longer had a job.
The union ceased to exist as of 1980, although from the time of the job action onward, comedians in Los Angeles were paid for their shows. This included the Comedy Store and the Improv.

In 2005, Sammy Shore's son Pauly Shore starred in the TBS reality show Minding the Store. The series followed Shore as he pretended to take control of The Comedy Store and attempted to "revitalize" it. 

The alumni includes many of the greats: Tim Allen, Robin Williams, Damon Wayans, Bob Saget, Eddie Murphy, and many more.

We went on a Wednesday night for their 9 o'clock stand up show.  The charge is $15 but we actually ended up getting in for free through a facebook promotion that Liz found.  The show is 16 headlining comics and goes well into the morning, usually until around 3.  The comics started off entertaining.  We actually had a surprise show by comedian Sarah Silverman who was trying out some new material.  The night before John Stamos was unexpectedly there to do the same thing.  As the night wore on, the comics got less and less funny and we left after the 13th performer.  Overall it was a good night.  Even if we did have to pay, it would have been well worth the money. If you're in town and have time this is a show worth checking out. 

Note: History of The Comedy Club courtesy of Wikipedia

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