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The Comedy Store

Laff Mecca South

October, 2019, while waiting in line at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard.
October, 2019, while waiting in line at the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard.

by Reviewer Rob

No thought of visiting the Hollywood Comedy Store again had occurred to me until I began following Joe Rogan’s podcast earlier this year after he famously nuked Elon Musk by talking him into smoking weed on camera.

Like millions of others I’ve found Rogan’s internet talk shows to be a source of inspiration. Things that I’d been interested in but hadn’t put a name to had been made clearer for me. For example the sciatica therapy that began years ago and recently I’d battled with doing pull ups, bar dips, and leg curls at the gym could be described by a term I’d first heard uttered by Rogan during one of his pre-broadcast advertorials: “spinal decompression”. I think it was when he was describing the effect of one of those hanging-upside-down-by-your-ankles contraption things a sponsor to his show sells. So just like that, wah-lah, I knew what I’d been doing all along, or at least now I had a word for it.

As time went on I’d hear shows where he’d revel with comic guests about the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard and how on any weekend of the month you could get the high privilege of seeing the world’s best comics hone their art form, “for only $20.”

Rogan made it sound like it’s watching Michelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel and reminded me that yeah we’re pretty lucky here in Southern California. All that Hollywood entertainment talent is in such close proximity. So I made plans to go back to the spooky black Haunted House of a building on Sunset Boulevard.

‘Everybody’s a dreamer and everybody’s a star / And everybody’s in movies, it doesn’t matter who you are’ ~Celluloid Heroes

1986; Mitzi Shore, Sam Kinison, Carl Labove, Tamayo Otsuki

I first met Sam Kinison with Mitzi Shore at the La Jolla Comedy Store, the smaller San Diego outlet of the Sunset Boulevard franchise. In 1986 Rodney Dangerfield was in top form and had a show on prime time that was showcasing the young comedians of the day. That’s where I first saw Sam Kinison. He was loud and irreverent in a way that was dangerously truthful. A former preacher, they said he was, he’d make jokes about Jesus being up on the cross and how his last words were probably, “Uhrrrrgh!” It was the Reagan era and the Moral Majority was trying to get America back into church.

Another one of Kinison’s bits was about the people who would go to Africa and film those ‘help the starving Africans’ infomercials. He’d ridicule the producers and camera people who would shoot scenes of heartbreaking poverty and not give the starving kid a sandwich, or something. Another joke was, after saying all these irreverent things, he tell the audience that people would ask him, “Sam, aren’t you afraid of going to hell?” At this point he’d do that squeaky high-pitched laugh and say, “No. I’m not afraid of going to hell. I’ve been married…” and go into his bit about how he’d die and expects to be greeted by Satan at the gates of hell, only to disappoint the devil who’ll sees he’s not terrified. So the devil reluctantly takes off his mask and gives him “the ten-cent tour” of hell.

This was 1986. Ronald Reagan was in his second term, he and Baptist minister Jerry Falwell’s religious-right “Moral Majority” ruled the political landscape. After the anti-establishment 1960’s and the decadent 70’s America was finding church again. But I’d found a different kind of church.

“Over here is where we torment the soul,” the devil says, leading Kinison around the bowels of the underworld, “and this is where we make men sell out and give up on their dreams. (the devils stops) What’s that? You say you’ve been married?” The devil turns reflective, “Hey — do you want a job?”

Kinison brought with him an entourage consisting of his hot Japanese girlfriend, Tamayo Otsuki, who I thought was super attractive but wasn’t really all that funny — maybe due to English being a second language — and his side-kick/henchman Carl Labove, who was a pretty good foil for him on stage.

Kinison was harsh, and totally hilarious. They called him “The Screamer” because he’d interperse high-volume outbursts of hollering on stage during his sets. But I called him honest. His act showed that the best humor is accessed when the one doing the delivery has the courage to reveal it.

At the tie I was in my early twenties and had it in my head that I was going to be a big important writer for major magazines, so after seeing Kinison on the Rodney Dangerfield comedy special and then noticing an ad in the local paper for the La Jolla Comedy Store where he was headlining I had to go see him. After his show I approached him in the front lobby area of the Store and introduced myself, telling him I wanted to write about him.

He said something like, Okay kid (he could see how green I was, “I’ll help you out.” Not sure if he called me kid, he might have, but he did say “I’ll help you out.”

We were sitting at a small two-seat table by the wall with all the 8x10s of comics. He asked, “Who’d this for, Playboy, Penthouse?” I was such a dumbfuck. I replied something about freelancing it to California Magazine, who since folded, I believe. Clearly disappointed, Kinison rolled his eyes. He was tired from doing the show or high, so he gave me his address in Hollywood. It was in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, a street called Beverly Terrace or something.

As people were clearing out I knocked on the office door where Mitzi Shore was with Kinison and Carl Labove in the room with her. She was seating at the desk counting the night’s cash or something with Kinison standing over her counting as well, I think. Maybe he was getting a percentage. Labove was seated by the door near me at I poked my head in. I asked if I’d be allowed free entry to the next night’s show. I was stoked to be there but was looking for a journalistic industry courtesy.

A bit annoyed she seemed to keep counting but agreed, yes fine. Then as I started to leave I turned around and asked, “Can I bring a friend?” Without missing a beat she looked up from her counting and pointed at me, “You’re really pushing it,” she shouted as Kinison erupted in laughter and Labove held his brow in his hand and shook his head in wonderment.

The next night Kinson and his crew were even funnier. Danger on stage.