The Comedy Store on Sunset Strip has one of the richest histories in the Los Angeles comedy scene. A history that started long before it became a comedy club.
Prior to it’s opening as the Comedy Store in 1972, the building was both a swank nightclub called Ciro’s and later a music venue known for being the place rock group The Byrds was discovered in 1964.
As Ciro’s it has one of the most mixed histories of any venue in Hollywood. On one hand it was the place to be seen for celebrities, all of whom were hoping to be spotted by one of the two main Hollywood gossip columnists, Hedda Hopper or Louella Parsons… though having one of them write about you could spell the death of a career as well as make it. On the other it was known as a mob controlled outfit, the site of more than one mob murder and supposedly still has bullet holes to be found.
The reputation of Ciro’s as the place to be seen by the Hollywood elite was so great that in 1974, The Comedy Store was closed to host the wedding reception of Judy Garland’s daughter Liza Minnelli to Jack Haley Jr. The Comedy Store signage was covered for the star studded event were replaced by signs reading Ciro’s. Guests included Elizabeth Taylor, Sammy Davis Jr., Cher, Johnny Carson, Goldie Hawn, Priscilla Presley and many more.
As a comedy club, it’s played a major role in developing comedic talent and launching their careers. Launched in 1972 by Sammy Shore and Mitzi Shore, ownership of the club passed to Mitzi after a divorce. Mitzi selected and supervised a whole new generation of comics and these early days became known as the Comedy Store’s Artist Colony Period. The comics from that time are now known to the world as Robin Williams, Jay Leno, David Letterman, J.J. Walker, Andy Kaufman and Michael Keaton.
In 1979 the Comedy Store was the venue used for the HBO Young Comedians specials. 1979 also brought a “labor” strike to the venue. Having watched the venue expand in size dramatically several comedians formed a union called Comedians for Compensation and fought for pay (comics at the Comedy Store received no pay prior to this). Famous comedians that picketed the club include Jay Leno and David Letterman.
While Mitzi maintained that the club was a showcase and training ground for the comics, the comedians had seen the club expand several times and noted that all the rest of the staff were paid. Yet the comedians, who were the ones that drew the crowds, were not.
The outcome of the strike was that a deal was negotiated to pay the performers a flat rate as independent contractors. It was also said to have been very difficult on Mitzi to see those she had worked with hard t help build their careers picketing her venue.
Unfortunately the main issue which comics picketed over remains a hot spot to this day with the same arguments unsettled in other clubs and for all artists. On the side of the clubs it’s that they are providing a venue for exposure and a place to develop their talent and that should be enough. On that of the artists the sentiment is that everyone else is getting paid and that they are the ones drawing the crowds (and business) and they should be compensated.
This isn’t only the comics facing this challenge. It’s ALL artists, musicians, filmmakers, photographers, writers, dancers and more. The pressure is always on talent to perform free in exchange for experience and exposure. And while there is something to be said for paying your dues, this has been abused for far too long and exposure doesn’t pay the rent.
We urge you to do what you can to support the artists that bring so much to our lives. And please don’t take this as a negative on the Comedy Store. While they were picketed, I don’t believe anyone else was paying comics at the time either. This would make the Comedy Store one of the first to do so and it has helped pave the way for artists to be compensated for their talent, creativity and hard work.
The Comedy Store is located at 8433 Sunset Blvd.