When aspiring comedians and actors make the pilgrimage West, they are often just as starstruck by the famous comedy clubs in Los Angeles littering major streets as they are the famous actors. Many of those comedic actors got their start right here in those hallowed halls. Let’s take a look at four legendary comedy clubs in Los Angeles where actors started their careers.
8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90046
There is probably no more famous comedy club in Los Angeles backdrop than that of The Laugh Factory. That technicolor logo in orange/yellow surrounded by blue/purple is seared into our brains for reasons both sad and glad. It’s the backdrop that was behind Michael Richards during his memorably awful onstage breakdown, as well as Dave Chappelle’s triumphant return to the stage after quitting his TV show and dropping off the comedy map for years.
Founded by Jamie Masada, who immigrated from Iran at age 14 with no money and no knowledge of English, The Laugh Factory has become a mainstay of its Sunset Strip location and even expanded to Long Beach, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Masada started the club with the intention of paying stand-up comics a fair wage (a somewhat controversial idea in 1979), but Richard Pryor, the first major act he booked, reportedly handed back his $100 split for the night, saying “you need this for your rent, boy.”
8433 W Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069
A black building covered in “handwritten” names of the comedians who have performed there, The Comedy Store is another Sunset Strip landmark which immediately confronts both hopefuls fresh off the bus and tourists hopping off their hop on/hop off Starline tour bus. The club opened in 1972 by comedian Sammy Shore (now better known as the father of Pauly “Hey Buuuuudy” Shore), but was quickly handed over to his ex-wife Mitzi in a divorce settlement. Far from just a lucky inheritor, Mitzi Shore became hugely influential with her non-traditional methods of financing as well as bucking the “boy’s club” trend of comedy clubs in Los Angeles at the time, devoting an upstairs section to booking female comedians exclusively and later creating specialty nights for gay, lesbian, and Latino performers.
However, not everyone felt so well cared for. Remember how the idea that paying comedians was revolutionary back in the 1970s? The Comedy Store was part of the old guard, with Mitzi Shore arguing that being on stage was an “opportunity” and training ground for comedians who would (hopefully) get noticed by casting agents — all while paying waiters, bartenders, and herself. Among the comedians who picketed against this policy for five weeks outside the club were David Letterman and Jay Leno. Feel free to thank them both when you get a check for your Comedy Store gig!
7307 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Now, for actual training grounds, The Groundlings is second to none. It’s one of the great Saturday Night Live breeding grounds for all eras of the show, with Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Will Ferrell, Chris Kattan, Cheri Oteri, Will Forte, Maya Rudolph, Kristen Wiig, and more on the alumni roll. While the name refers to the school’s humble origins (“Groundlings” were lower-class members of the audience who stood on the ground to watch plays in Shakespeare’s day), having The Groundlings on your resume today is especially prestigious.
5919 Franklin Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Similar to The Groundlings but a little edgier, weirder, and generally friendlier to the pocketbook is The Upright Citizens Brigade. What began in a tiny theater on Franklin Ave, the small size, affordable tickets, and legendary improv shows featuring well-known actors ensure that every show ends up being standing room only.
In an effort not only to expand, but allow more space for students, fans, and comedians to socialize before and after shows and classes, UCB recently opened a new, larger “compound” in Hollywood that is intended to feel less like the average comedy club in Los Angeles and more like a “college dorm” where you can hang out with the next Donald Glover, Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, or Aubrey Plaza, all of whom got their start at UCB.
So there you have it. The past and present of comedy all in one great city. All that’s missing from these famous comedy clubs in Los Angeles is the future. If you think that’s you, hop off that Starline tour bus and get to work!
Photo by Marcin Wichary