Monday, September 17, 2007

Returning to Los Angeles- Part 1- Comedy Store

Odelaley Mijas! Okay, I"m back from LA and it's Mexican Independence weekend, so all the gringos in town are hiding. Me inclusive. But, the week was intense. I was having such a hard night last Sunday that I didn't sleep and it just took me over. I drove to LA a day early, and hit the Comedy Store-- my old home, staying at a Motel 6-- more like a 5.23-- in Hollyweird. It was a very enlightening, and cathartic visit. First, it started with a trip to the ATM which will make for a material like no other. (Parking cost 10 bucks to get 20 for the admission to the comedy store lot for 10... that's just a start).

When I worked the Store in the late 80's...Original Room, Belly Room, and Main Room were packed 7 nights a week, with Mitzi upstairs, Argus laying at her feet, and the lobby bar, the patio bar, and the two green rooms hopping with people. The back lot had a guy who would stand there and make sure that audience folks didn't sneak back and steal cars. The place had dozens of headliners every night. Monday night was notoriously wild because the Original room was open mikers, but the main room was, after 10pm, when Robert Townshend and Paul Mooney would bring in their friends, so it got really wild and you'd see things like Dice boo'd off stage so that Tommy Davison, Eddie Griffin, and Mooney could go up longer. That was a wild time. And people loved it. The place was always packed. This Monday? I got there at about 9:10, thinking I'd just miss maybe a half hour. I missed about an hour. It was one room, and the Belly Room had a smaller show going on with a more X-rated type of show, I guess.

I opted for the Original Room, because the Main Room was closed. Closed. Not even opened for business. What??? Are you kidding me? The Comedy Store in Hollywood on Monday?? It's only been nine years since I've been there. Nine years. I thought about that a minute when I said it to the guy... and I looked for my picture on the wall. It used to be on the side by the women's room in the back bar area. It was moved. It's over by the belly room side now. It's there. I saw it. They didn't take it down. My signature never made the wall... that always bummed me out. BUT I did see my friend's-- Roz Browne. Right there in back when I walked out side to answer a call..there she was! I was pretty stoked about that. Big blonde hair and bangs there, no signature..and wow No Main Room. What a change.

So I go in... there's no audience. Okay there's 12 people. I counted. TWELVE people in the COMEDY STORE. The biggest Comedy Club in the country-- the one that every comedian in American aspires to go to--- and it's echoing. I was just heart broken. Here was the place I called home for so many years. Bruce Mikelson, and Steve Moore-- Steven Kravitz, and Bruce Baum, Wild Willy, Buster Brown, Karen Haber, Lois Bromfeld, Greenstein, Steve Pearl, Piper and Tupper, (yes I dated one of them, who hasn't), Robert Townshend, Paul Mooney, Pryor, Sam, and... then... 12 people in the audience, and no one I recognized at all. Not a soul knew me and I didn't know them. My picture on the wall, and no one had an idea who I was, so I asked to sit up front, where I could just be, and enjoy...and learn. I wanted to see what has changed so much.

I did. I certainly did. I saw at least 15 people. Everyone had three minutes or so. That was it, because it was pot-luck night. Pot luck night is when comics who have passed the open mic auditions are invited back to work on stage time, to build on material until they're considered funny enough to be 'regulars'. I've been there. I'm one of those who have the battle scars. I did about a month of this myself here, in the Belly Room, though, not in the Main Room. In the Belly Room, 12 people sound like a hundred and you feel the crowd, and it's a good way to meet other comics, and you learn so much. In a room that large, that seats 100, you feel lost, and hear the quiet, and distractions can be huge- like one time during the night-- an ambulance went by the large window behind the stage, so a comic got to talk about that for a moment, and his time disappeared. When you're in the Belly Room, you could hear Mitzi in her office laughing and she'd come in to hear you if the laughs were huge, and say, "kid, you don't need this room anymore, go downstairs and tell Argus you're going up tonight" and they'd give you 10 minutes. THAT was a compliment. Or, "I want your avails by Friday or you don't work next week." Then you'd get your $25 a set and you knew you were a regular there.

But there were these young guys..and it was that...all guys... just doing one liners, and talking. No one really stood out except two people. The former waitress who worked with Dice, and whose name slipped my mind was VERY good. She has material, and is just great with audiences. She's also too funny to be doing Pot luck nights. She was looking at a table and because she was the head waitress for the Store, at one point, she kept saying "I'm getting nervous you're not being served properly." It made her personality more endearing, so she was likable right away. The laughs from her words were genuine and not forced. Another one who stood out was a young lad with glasses, who just didn't have much to say, but did have a lot of personality, and used his line of "I just got hired to play a retard" very well.

Then came my theme for the week, and the real reason for the comedy store visit. At about 11 or so, the guy who parked near my car started his set. Chris Rock is working on new material for an upcoming special. Now, when he first started doing stand up, I'm not ashamed to say, I HATED his work. He bored me to tears. Oh, geez, a black guy talking about how stupid whitey is, yawn. Right up there with a white guy hating things and a white girl doing valley talk. BORING. But, he's in his late 30's now, and he's not a kid anymore. He's got kids, he's married and he's probably a lot wiser than he was 20 years ago when he was first bouncing around on the stage in front of me, making me wish I drank.

And, he is. Much smarter. He is wearing a silk suit and now has been in Hollywood long enough to know that things aren't going to be handed to him. When I first met him, he was full of himself, and telling me how great he was, and that he was going to prove to Hollywood that he was the king of the funny, and Cosby had it wrong, and blah blah blah. Well. He's been burned a few times now, and the battle scars are starting to show. He's wiser, and he's worn. He's not as bound to be full of bravado, and instead, he's removed himself from the LA life to remain on the East Coast. Smart man. Chris grew up. And, he grew up enough to start his set with, "Here I am in a Comedy Store, where I started, because this is what you HAVE to do, if you want to do comedy the right way, you just got to do this."

I needed to hear that. He didn't know that I needed to hear that. I did need to hear that. I was having the shit-gig-from-hell nightmares all night, so much so I couldn't sleep and had to drive to LA a day early to go to the Comedy Store to find out what the hell happened to comedy, that I couldn't catch my stride. I needed to hear someone who has been in the river the entire time, swimming upstream just as hard as I was, even though he has the success behind him. He was struggling with this too. He was sitting in front of now, 8 people, because before he got on stage, the bus to Sherman Oaks must have left. Chris was going from club to club, asking for stage time, just like I was doing, and working on sets, just like I was doing, and putting on shows in whatever atmosphere he could, just getting his groove back. Just like me, he was working it out. I needed to hear that. And, I liked him better for it.

The show was great. All 8 of us, laughed hard, and all of us, were enjoying his work. He had a few premises that he was still ironing out. I didn't agree with some of them, but that's okay, he was firmly committed to them, and that's cool. They weren't the black/white things... they were the husband/wife things. He's grown up. Being in front let me be his token female/white audience member. That was okay too. He tried all that material on me, it seemed. I was okay with that. I let it play, and it was fun. Afterwards, we didn't chat, or anything. I figured, I'd see him around. And sure enough he's everywhere I was all week.

More on that later..but Yah. Coming home to the Store. What a world of changes. The people are just not the same. The club itself. ... I stayed to see what was next. Again... one or two comics afterwards... then this weird show from the Bellyroom came downstairs and amounted to ... well.. I got to see Brody Stevens for the first time in years. He looked great. I haven't seen him since Wired For Laughs days... and I think Emery Emery days.. .and the couple sitting behind me made the night kind of like living back here in it got a bit over the top for me. I was done, too tired. Hadn't slept since Friday, so I was going back to the Hotel 5.465, and hang it up for the night. Gave Mike a thumbs up via Verizon, and just called it a night. Maybe the comedy store is done. Who knows. But I guess I'm not... round two coming up

Cathe B

No comments: