The lights dim, the crowd hushes and the spotlight makes a bright, oval circle on the small, slightly raised stage.
Overhead, at ceiling level, a floppy clown mannequin gyrating on a mechanical swing clicks to a sudden stop.
Then up to the microphone steps a funny guy--a really funny guy. Someone like Harry Anderson, maybe, Mort Sahl, Jay Leno, or even Robin Williams, all of whom have performed here. Is this heaven? Perhaps not, but for avid comedy junkies it’s a pretty good imitation.
The reason? This is the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, a nightspot on the town’s main drag where 300 comedy fans from around Los Angeles gather nightly to “die laughing” over the latest jokes hatched from the crazy brains of world-renowned comedians and their gag writers.
It’s a Practice Field
But these guys--the jokesters--aren’t here just to tickle funny bones. The club is their practice field, a testing ground for working out new and timely routines, the material they will use on their next countrywide tour.
“It’s easy for us to get all the big names,” said Jim Miller, the talent coordinator. “The comedians tell us our crowds are the greatest. They’re alive, awake.
“We have a steady clientele on our mailing list, which includes about 40,000 people. We sold 2,200 seats when Robin Williams was here the last time. He was developing his concert material.”
On this night, the club was almost full by 7 p.m., but people, ages mid-20s to energetic-mature--all mostly dressed in casual, designer rags--were still picking up tickets at the sidewalk booth out front and searching for a table inside. Seating is first-come, first-served; you need to make ticket reservations several days ahead.
Earlier arrivals had grabbed the dozen seats pushed up against the stage. The rest sat on pink upholstered chairs at tables just large enough for a couple of beers and a plate of appetizers. The club has a two-drink minimum whether you eat or not, but a fat cheeseburger and a steak are among the choices on the American-style menu.
At 7:30 p.m., while some were still eating, the lights went down and emcee Gary Brightwell came out for a 15-minute warm-up. He was followed by 20 minutes of magic.
And then came the main attraction, Thom Sharp, star of the new TV series “First Impressions.”
Celebration With Friends
Fred and Shirley Lyles, newlyweds from Long Beach, were celebrating with friends and had ordered plates of hot appetizers.
“We thought it was really funny,” Shirley said after the performance, “and reasonable too. We spent $80 for the four of us.”
Outside the showroom, patrons can stop at the bar on the way out. The bar is all glass, blond oak and chrome, under a frowzy but recognizable Marilyn Monroe swinging jerkily overhead.
Tickets for a table inside are $6 to $15, but there’s no charge to sit and sip and watch the show on the TV monitor hanging overhead. This makes the bar a popular spot.
Brightwell, who had opened the show with his short comedy routine, was sitting there, telling club patrons about his joke addiction.
“Being emcee is sort of a stepping stone to doing comedy,” he said. “I can’t explain it. When you tell a joke and 300 people laugh it’s the biggest high in the world, but when the joke dies, it’s the pits.”
The Comedy and Magic Club, 1018 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. Show times are 7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Fridays; 6:30, 8:45 and 11 p.m. Saturdays, and 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays. Reservations: (213) 372-1193.