Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times | Terms of Service | Privacy Policy

The House of Humor, a long-running Costa Mesa costume, magic and novelty shop, readies for its last laugh

After decades of providing a one-stop shop for costumes, magic supplies and a fount of novelty and gag gifts, the House of Humor in Costa Mesa is getting ready for its last laugh.

Saturday will be the final act for the store, housed in a strip mall near the corner of Baker Street and Fairview Road.

The reason it’s vanishing is fairly simple: It’s time for longtime owner Sherry Newberg to retire.

But that doesn’t mean the decision to close up shop has been easy.


“I’m going to cry,” she said when asked how she’ll react on closing day. “I’ve had wonderful employees. My employees have been so devoted to me.”

Newberg, 75, worked at the business for years before she and her husband, Richard Willis, assumed ownership about three decades ago. The Santa Ana residents took over from Inger Stevenson — who previously managed the House of Humor chain in Orange County — and moved the Costa Mesa branch to its current digs a few years later.

“It’s been a long run; we’ve had a good time with it,” said Willis, 69.

With closing day approaching, all of the House of Humor’s wares were on display. Prop scythes and staffs were piled below a mask-lined wall with faces ranging from classic horror movie monsters to King Tut.


Display cases packed with makeup, jewelry, temporary tattoos and stickers butted up against plastic bins overflowing with rubber snakes. On a nearby wall, a folded fake skeleton partially obscured a framed 2004 Daily Pilot profile of Newberg and her clown alter-ego, Molly Malone.

“Right now everything we own is out ... I’ve got Santa outfits right next to Easter Bunnies,” Willis said with a chuckle.

Newberg and Willis have routinely tweaked the store’s selection to bring in year-round business and compete with temporary costume shops that pop up around Halloween. Over the years, they’ve added magic supplies and began renting out outfits rather than merely selling them.

Although the business has remained in the black, the two said they’re ready to enter the next chapter of their lives.

“Even though it’s a labor of love, it’s a lot of effort,” Willis said, “and it’s just getting to a point where it’s too much stress on her.”

“I want to go play,” Newberg added from across the store.

Indeed, there’s plenty of that on tap for the couple, who will celebrate their 34th wedding anniversary this year. Though they will primarily split their time between California and Florida, plenty of other destinations are on their desired retirement itinerary, including Italy, Spain and a “bucket list” trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

Looking back, Newberg said running the House of Humor has been “an honor.”


“I love my store. I love my people,” she said. “I’m going to miss it. But I’m going to enjoy my grandchildren and I’m going to go to my condo on the beach … and I’m going to have a good time.”

Right now, though, the focus is on winding things down at the House of Humor. Everything that remains is being offered at a discount, and whatever goes unsold will eventually be put up for auction.

Tucked away among the eclectic collection of false faces and associated accouterments is a seemingly unassuming coffee mug on a shelf near the front entrance.

It’s emblazoned with a saying — simple, but appropriate all at once: “The good life begins at retirement.”