50 Comics Share Memories of the Comedy Store: ‘It’s a place you go to get dark and find your light’
From the day it opened on April 7, 1972, the Comedy Store became something special to Los Angeles. For any comic looking to evolve from an open mic newbie to a bona fide monster, a chance to step on stage and crush at the Sunset Boulevard venue is still the brass ring that inspires comedians to improve their craft. It’s no wonder that 50 years later, even through the many ups and downs the club has endured, it’s still the place people flock to from all over the world to find the funny. The careers of countless comedy greats have been traced back to the club over the decades, and anyone who’s ever performed there has a story to tell. In honor of Store’s 50th birthday, 50 comics shared memories of a time within their laughter-soaked walls.
Pauly Shore — Around [age] 10, my first job at the Comedy Store was to clean the cottage cheese and yogurt out of Lenny Schultz’s Speedo’s. He was my favorite comic to watch in the ‘70s. He’d strip down on stage and say things like, “There are a lot of people who want to lose weight, but they put food in their mouth. With the Lenny Schultz Diet, I put the food on my body parts.” He’d play music and it was a big production. Then we’d go to the parking lot, and I would hose him down. The wiping down part I didn’t love so much, but I was the owner’s son. I had to pay my dues around the club. I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Bill Bellamy — The Comedy Store gave me one of the most incredible moments in my career when I performed in front of Richard Pryor. It was one of his last performances and he said, “Give it up for that funny m—.” I’ll never forget it. I got my flowers from the king!
Sandra Bernhard — I would not be the performer I am today without those years of observing the incredible talent that came in and out of the Store. My dear friend and mentor Paul Mooney, Pryor, Letterman, my friend Taylor Negron — people were breaking the rules and setting the stage for what is now a completely transformed world of comedy.
Alan Bursky — I went to the Comedy Store opening night in 1972. I wanted to be a comedian, but Rudy DeLuca, Sammy Shore’s partner, wouldn’t let me in because I was 17. After hours of begging, I went up at 1:55 a.m. A year later, I was the first comedian from the Comedy Store to do “The Tonight Show.” It drove all the comedians crazy.
Steve Byrne — I love the Comedy Store. It’s the biggest club in L.A. for a comedian where on a nightly basis, the biggest stars in Hollywood will sit in a chair, slugging their two drinks, and watch us do something 99.9% of them can’t do. Best feeling.
Jade Catta-Preta — I started bartending there in 2008 for five years, so it’s been 14 years. That’s wild. It’s such a dark yet beautiful place because it’s a mirror into how you feel about yourself and your comedy. You can come out either feeling incredible or worse. It’s like that dad you want validation from so it always keeps you hungry.
Bobby Collins — Coming from N.Y. to pursue comedy at the Comedy Store was magical. Observing the different styles of some of the most famous comedians — David Letterman, Richard Pryor and Garry Shandling was so rewarding! Mitzi’s vision and advice gave me the wings to fly! Thank you for 50 years of laughter!
Dave Coulier — I was 20 years old. I had just finished my set in the Original Room when Argus Hamilton came up to me and said, “Hey, Dave. Robin saw your set and wants to meet you.” Suddenly, there was Robin Williams, who said, “Son, you’re going to be a big star.”
Tommy Davidson — I owe my comedy career to the Comedy Store. They forced me into a legitimate comedian. It took me three years to break in there. Mitzi wouldn’t put me on and then out of the blue one night, “Mitzi wants you to play the Main Room.” Two shows for two nights, I went in between Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy.
Dean Delray — In 2010, at age 44, I decided to try stand-up and went to the Comedy Store open mic. The host was trashing my age, and three years later, I became a paid regular. Still the greatest day of my life. It’s the greatest club in the world.
Joey Diaz — The Comedy Store was everything to me, period. I walked into that place in January of ’97 and immediately knew I belonged there. I wasn’t a good comic, and I was lost, but Mitzi showed me the gift of comedy and the love that came with it. And today, I’m a comedy savage. Congratulations to the Comedy Store.
Andrew Dice Clay — I flew from Brooklyn for a three-minute audition at the Store. I did 28 minutes. As I’m leaving the stage, some MC is screaming how I’ll never do the club again. I said, “I didn’t fly 3,000 miles to do three minutes, get out of my way.” The next day, I got a call from the booker Steve Moore telling me to come to the club. I was a paid regular.
Nick Di Paolo — On a Saturday night in the Main Room, I followed Pryor. He was in a wheelchair at this point and was talking but kept flubbing. So I go on and 10 seconds into my first joke, I stumble on my words. I go, “Is that shit contagious that he has?” Half the room laughs, the other half boos.
Fifi Dosch — When I transitioned and did my first set as Fifi, I remember every comic in the place wrestling around to find a spot to watch me because they were curious about what I’d do and because they wanted to support me. It really warmed my heart. That place has been a family to me.
Greg Fitzsimmons — I was onstage and did a joke that was so dark and troubling, nobody laughed. Then I heard one guy in the corner doubled over and slapping the table. I looked over and it was Quentin Tarantino. He then held court with the comedians outside for hours. Felt like he knew more about the history of stand-up than I did.
Steve Furey — The secret comics bar is where all the magic happens. Hidden and secluded, a place where if you could get in, everyone was equal. Punkie Johnson would pour drinks strong enough to start a car while we drunkenly debated life with the likes of Dave Chappelle, Johnny Depp and Sean Payton.
Ron Funches — The Store is magical! I found myself, friendships and my wife there. My first time performing there, I was almost struck by a car trying to get there (driven by Brody Stevens). Then I was bumped by Chris Rock and Chappelle. I learned I could follow anything that night!
Tom Green — Performing at the Comedy Store is a rush for any comedian. The greatest comics of history have honed their craft on these stages. If you are spiritual, even in the slightest, you can feel the ghosts of Carlin, Pryor, Kinison and the rest laughing along with you. Laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Dom Irrera — The Store was a big deal coming from New York. I went there for the first time and Mitzi passed me, which was unusual. Back in N.Y. I’m talking about it, “Yeah first time. No big deal.” I go back to L.A. and Mitzi had no clue who I was. She had to see me again and then I passed.
Maz Jobrani — When Mitzi made me a regular, she said to wear the “hat and gown” (turban and thobe). I thought, “This’ll ruin my career.” I crafted a story that if dressed in traditional Muslim garb, we could be targeted for a terrorist attack. They bought it and I wore a T-shirt and jeans.
Punkie Johnson — The special thing about the Store is anyone can pop in at any given time. And through the universe, I was on stage, I had a killer set, and then I got to bring up my hero, Dave Chappelle. It was such a special moment, and it lives in my heart. I’ll never forget it.
Eleanor Kerrigan — I waitressed 12 years at the Store before I wanted to do stand-up, so I knew how Mitzi felt about that. After my first showcase, Mitzi said, “What you’re doing is cute, honey. Keep it up.” Most people would be pissed hearing “cute,” but I knew I was on the right track. It was the most exciting thing.
Bert Kreischer — In 2003, Louie Anderson invited me on his Sunday night show in the Main Room. I ecstatically accepted. I walked into the greenroom and in one glance, Chris Rock, Roseanne Barr and Louie Anderson were sitting on the couches while Andrew Dice Clay held court. I felt so lucky, I couldn’t believe my eyes. No one asked me to leave; instead, they offered me a seat.
Bobby Lee — In ’95 I started in La Jolla and Mitzi saw me open for Pauly. When I came to L.A., she told me two things. It’s a sin to support mediocrity, and to be star, half the people have to love you and half have to hate you. It really stuck with me, and I appreciate it.
Jay Leno — The Comedy Store was a magical place coming from New England. I’d never worked anywhere where real celebrities came in. Johnny Carson, Carl Reiner, Richard Pryor — it was an unbelievable time. To meet your heroes like that, it gave you something to shoot for. I made lifelong friendships with Robin Williams, David Letterman and writer-director Mike Binder, just to name a few.
Sebastian Maniscalco — The week after Mitzi passed me, I showed up to do a set in a full-blown suit. I saw Mitzi in the bar area, and she said to me, “Oh another agent is here.” I thought, from then on out, I was never going to get another spot again.
Marc Maron — The first time I stepped in the Comedy Store, I knew a part of me lived there and belonged there. So, I basically moved into the place for a year. I was a 22-year-old kid. I worked the door and absorbed everything I could. It was a lot. Maybe too much. It definitely defined a lot of who I am comedically.
Bonnie McFarlane — The Store was packed with celebs. I was feeling some nerves, but after my first joke, I heard the unmistakable laugh of Chris Rock. It filled my soul. All those nights bombing — this made it all worth it. After my set, I floated outside where I was informed Chris Rock had never come in.
Kurt Metzger — I used to hang out in back with Jeff [Scott], who played keyboards in the O.R. He’d tell me all kinds of stories about the Store. The one I remember most is Richard Pryor Jr. having sex with Sam Kinison. They were doing coke or something and Sam Kinison goes, “I GOTTA know what it’s like to get f— by Richard Pryor’s son!” Talk about surpassing your father’s legacy!
Eddie Pepitone — The Comedy Store frightened me when I first got there a few years ago. All the monster stand-ups, the history, the ghosts, the murders when it was Ciro’s. Performing there is magic. Great crowds EVERY NIGHT. I get to see and feel all the ghosts and legends and murders.
Russell Peters — Tal Wilkenfeld, an extremely talented musician, asked me to perform for her birthday in the Main Room. I go up and do poorly for this audience, knock back some drinks in the Belly Room, and then hear music from the Main Room. It was Jackson Browne! Then the drummer handed me a tambourine and I played on stage with them!
Jay Pharoah — Getting my name on the wall, thanks to Guy Torry, my first standing ovation there in 2019, and going to Josh Adam Meyers’ famous “Goddamn Comedy Jam,” destroying, and singing “Sweet Transvestite” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” was one of the best moments. I love the Store, the energy there isn’t something found ubiquitously.
Chris Porter — I walked offstage in the Original Room one night and there’s Chevy Chase. He tells me I’m funny. I told him “Caddyshack” and “Fletch” are two of my favorite movies and he said his too. Then we just talked. Nights like that make the Comedy Store a magical place.
Donnell Rawlings — The first time I ever saw Paul Mooney was at the Comedy Store. I’ve never seen a comedian so honest that he’d walk half the audience out and then in 10 minutes, the room would fill back up with another group of people that didn’t mind being offended.
Ari Shaffir — My favorite Store memories are the hangs. Us door guys trying to spy on a big comic having sex in the back. Rogan getting me too high to drive home. Bitching about Mitzi not passing us. That friendships s— is what I miss most. Mitzi made that place a clubhouse on purpose for that reason.
Iliza Shlesinger — Validation lies on the other side of a 15-minute set in the Main Room. No matter what I’m going through, I know I can go and lay my emotions bare to a room of strangers and come out the other end of a set feeling better and, at the very least, a better comic.
Craig Shoemaker — I was fresh off the truck from Philadelphia when the Comedy Store booked me to go up before Richard Pryor. His health was declining, yet the sharp mind never leaves a brilliant comic. His opening line: “I got multiple sclerosis. God’s a m—. He gave me a disease I can’t pronounce!” He passed away a month later, a legend who never dies, and a cherished memory I will have forever.
Jimmy Shubert — At the Comedy Store, you get to create jokes and watch some of the best comics in the country. It was a great place to work on your craft and learn from these professors. It was also great to share that with another generation of comedians behind you. It’s like a fraternity. I had so much fun there.
Brian Simpson — One of my most vivid memories from the Comedy Store was shortly after I got passed. I was on sacred ground with greats like Ron White, Joey Diaz and Leslie Jones just watching them have a conversation, and no one was looking at me like I wasn’t welcome. That’s a feeling you don’t forget.
Jason and Randy Sklar — Chappelle dropped in one night and did a beautiful 1½-hour free form riff. We had to follow him. He gave us a killer intro, and we joked that his set was so long, three new iPhones came out, and we were off on a great set of our own in a room that valued comedy above all.
Doug Stanhope — As satisfying as it can be to perform on the same Main Room stage as so many great names have, I was more so moved when I first snorted cocaine in the greenroom off of the iconic mirror-topped, piano-shaped coffee table used by those same legends.
Judy Tenuta — My indelible recollection of the Store was in 1988 when I did “Women of the Night” with Paula Poundstone, Rita Rudner and Ellen DeGeneres! I did a fantastic set, but more importantly, Sam Kinison was in the audience and insisted on taking me for a spin in his Pontiac Grand Prix. Thank you to Sam and the Comedy Store for that unforgettable memory!
Guy Torry — The Store was the Statue of Liberty of comedy. It accepted comedians other clubs didn’t dare to allow on their stages. I created Phat Tuesdays, the urban hip-hop style of comedy, to be one of those kind of shows. It was bold, it was Black and it was the best damn comedy show, period. It was a movement!
Sam Tripoli — The Comedy Store is the last of the indie studios. It’s truly where the wild things roam. My favorite time at the Store was “The Dark Days,” when the club was dead. It was the purest comedy because it was only about comedy. We’ll never see anything like that again. Long live the Comedy Store!
Duncan Trussell — Mitzi Shore loved comedians more than anyone I’ve ever met, and the Store is a testament to this love. That place has given me, along with countless other comedians, lifelong friendships, a career and mild PTSD. I’ll never forget the wonderful years I spent in that magical, haunted building.
Jimmie Walker — Some of my favorite memories of the Comedy Store took place while on their basketball team. Hanging out and playing with Tom Dreesen, David Letterman, Tim Reid and John Witherspoon plus Roger & Roger and the Mooney Twins. Those were some really fun times. And I must admit, I did OK.
George Wallace — So many people would come through. Richard Pryor, Billy Crystal, Rodney Dangerfield, Redd Foxx — and then you had to follow them, which was so much fun. We just wanted to get on stage and learn. If only you could’ve been there to see the late ‘70s and ‘80s at the Comedy Store. What fun we had!
Jeremiah Watkins — I was on stage in the O.R. and there were like, eight audience members. I was giving 1000% but getting a few laughs back. I stood on this table and yelled at a woman, joking, “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?” Then the host came up and asked the woman, “Miss, are you Janet Jackson?” She nodded. Under that fedora was Janet Jackson.
Marlon Wayans — I grew up in the Comedy Store watching my brothers perform. I have so many memories — Letterman, Kinison, Paul Mooney, Byron Allen before he was a billionaire. It was a part of my development as a comic and a truth teller. The stage at the Store isn’t just a stage, it’s a place you go to get dark and find your light.
Ron White — The most amazing thing about the Comedy Store is that they always embrace the insanity of great comics. They understood crazy, and they gave you an open invitation. Whatever vices or faults you have, bring them with you. At the Store, you were free to create without any boundaries.
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