8433 W. Sunset Boulevard is a legendary address. It is the home of The Comedy Store, the greatest stand-up comedy club in the world. The Store was founded April 7, 1972 on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood by comedian Sammy Shore, his wife Mitzi and comedy writer Rudy DeLuca. It started because Sammy needed a place to work out when he wasn’t on the road. Sammy was the longtime opening act for Elvis Pressley. It was the first all stand-up comedy nightclub in the world. In the beginning, since Sammy was frequently on the road, his wife, Mitzi assumed the nightly operations of the club and selected and scheduled the comedians that performed there.
It was Mitzi who coined the name “The Comedy Store.” It quickly become a hot club on the Strip where the famous comedian friends of Sammy and Rudy, such as Redd Foxx, Tim Conway, Buddy Hackett, and Jonathan Winters could “work out” new sets or just relax among friends before setting out on their national and worldwide tours. For newcomers starting a career in comedy, The Comedy Store was a one stop shop to watch all the greats on stage. As luck would have it, the Comedy Store was born the same month that Johnny Carson moved the Tonight Show from New York to Los Angeles and a flood of comics immediately followed Johnny out West, hoping to get their shot on his show. Mitzi possessed a special quality of being keenly able to spot raw talent and of the importance of nurturing and understanding the needs of creative artists. It was Mitzi who determined that the showroom walls where the comedians work should be entirely black so that once the stage is lit, the audience is fixated entirely on the single performer on stage. It was Mitzi who deemed this place to be more than just a nightclub, but rather an “artist’s colony” designed to develop the unique art form of stand-up comedy and to create a family-like environment where stand-ups can develop their craft and then “pay it forward” by mentoring newer comics that follow behind them. That philosophy continues today.
The location itself has long been considered world famous and iconic, as it was previously the home of Ciro’s supper club. In the 1940s and 50s, Ciro’s was the hangout for movie people and was one of “the” places to be seen. On any given night, Ciro’s was frequented by powerhouse celebrities of the time.
The Comedy Store would become entirely Mitzi’s to own and operate as the result of her divorce settlement with Sammy in 1974. Mitzi never looked back. She was an artistic genius who scheduled the comedians who performed each night and placed them in just the right order. Mitzi created this world as an artist’s colony and the comedians she selected made it world famous.
During this time, Mitzi was selecting and supervising a whole new generation of stand-up comedians to perform at the Comedy Store. This group of future stars included Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Garry Shandling, Paul Mooney, Jimmie “J.J.” Walker, Andy Kaufman, and Michael Keaton. It seemed as if every new sitcom star of the era could trace their career roots to The Comedy Store. This was the Comedy Store’s Artist’s Colony period, an era heralded today in comedy histories, documentaries, biographies and television shows.
The Original Room, as the name suggests, was originally The Comedy Store’s single stage as the portion of the building which now houses the Main Room was rented to other establishments until Mitzi purchased the entire building on Sunset in July of 1976 and created the multi-stage venue which The Comedy Store is today. The Comedy Store on Sunset became so successful that Mitzi expanded The Comedy Store to Westwood in 1974, to Pacific Beach in 1976 to La Jolla in 1977 and in 1984 to the Dunes Hotel main showroom in Las Vegas, Sin City’s first all-comedians show. By 1976, The Comedy Store was well established as the “Mecca of Comedy.” Each comedian sharing the same dream to be personally chosen by Mitzi from all the hopefuls who showed up every Open Mike night. These chosen few were allowed to use The Comedy Store stages to develop an act, learn from those who came before them, showcase for the industry, and build a career.
In the 80’s and 90’s The Store rocked with explosive new voices like Howie Mandel, Louie Anderson, Jim Carey, Arsenio Hall, Sam Kinson, Sandra Bernhard, Bill Hicks, along with a housewife brave enough to appear at an Open Mic known as Roseanne, and an explosive talent with multiple character personas known as Whoopie. With the turn of the new Millennium, new powerful voices emerged such as Joe Rogan, Joey Diaz, Bobby Lee, Steve Ranazzisi, Sebastian Maniscalco, John Caparulo, Whitney Cummings and Chris D’Elia.
Mitzi selected her performers based on what she saw as their charisma and star quality alone, and let the time slots take care of the rest. Over time, those selected by Mitzi ultimately became known as “Paid Regulars.” Once Mitzi deemed a comedian worthy of being selected, that individual’s name became enshrined on the outside walls of The Comedy Store building on Sunset. This tradition continues today. Those bestowed with the title of “Paid Regulars” treat the designation with reverence. Polished jokes weren’t enough (and still aren’t). Those who were undistinguished from the rest of the crowd were not selected to develop on Mitzi’s stages. Still true to this day, comedians developed at The Comedy Store are easily distinguished from their contemporaries, as a Comedy Store comedian expresses through his or her act a genuineness and level of honesty concerning who they really are as individuals (or in some cases, like Andy Kaufman or Andrew “Dice” Clay, they exhibit a carefully honed multi-dimensional persona that is often near impossible to recognize as a character creation). The idea of emphasizing authenticity in comedy, perhaps best demonstrated by the late Richard Pryor, was a formula so well received by the public that the Comedy Stores are now celebrating its forty-fifth anniversary.
Today, the tradition continues with Comedy Store Paid Regulars viewing themselves as modern philosophers, brave enough to challenge authority and hold a funhouse mirror to show us perspectives we had never considered, but now can’t forget. Unique multi-cultural voices consisting of generations of Paid Regulars such as Dave Chappelle, Louis CK, Ali Wong, Yakov Smirnoff, Bobby Lee, Jeff Ross, Iliza Schlesinger, Bill Burr, Theo Von, and Marc Maron, to name just a handful, appear on our stages examining themes common to us all, will make you laugh and think.