At 8443 West Sunset Blvd in West Hollywood, on the storied Sunset Strip between Beverly Hills and Los Angeles, there lies a venue whose history tracks nearly a century of American popular culture. It has been a restaurant, a dance hall, a supper club, a psychedelic rock venue, and, for nearly a half century, America’s premiere stand-up comedy showcase.
It came into being in 1935 as Club Seville, a night spot that boasted a ballroom with a crystal floor, through which could be seen a beautifully lit shallow pool full of tropical fish. Within a couple of years it was renamed after its owner Marcel Lamaze, an entrepreneur from Miami.
In 1940 the joint was remodeled and rebranded again in a more lastingly famous guise as Ciro’s. This is a brand with an interesting history. Italian entrepreneur Ciro Capozzi founded a bar by that name in Monaco in 1892. It became a sort of chain, with chic venues bearing the brand in Paris, London and Monte Carlo. There had also been earlier clubs by that name in Hollywood. The Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip became one of those trendy watering holes where Hollywood movie stars and other celebrities congregated and were in turn gossiped about in the columns of Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. Performers like Joe E. Lewis, The Will Mastin Trio (with Sammy Davis Jr), Gypsy Rose Lee, Lili St. Cyr, Liberace, the Nicholas Brothers, Veloz and Yolanda, et al performed floor shows for the likes of Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Dick Powell, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny, etc, etc.
Ciro’s folded in 1957, only to be reinvented in 1965 as a rock club called Ciro’s Le Disc, later renamed The Kaleidoscope, then It’s Boss, then Patch 2. Acts like Dick Dale, the Byrds, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Canned Heat, the Doors and others performed here until the beginning of the 1970s, when it was finally given its best known and longest lasting identity.
In 1972 comedians Sammy Shore (1927-2019) and Rudy De Luca opened The Comedy Store, a venue strictly for stand-up comics. Shore had started out performing comedy in the Catskills, eventually becoming the opening act for singers like Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, and most notably Elvis Presley, with whom he toured from 1969 through 1972. (De Luca at that point was best known as a comedy writer for Tim Conway; he went on to work for many others, notably Mel Brooks). Sammy’s wife Mitzi (1930-2018) began managing the club in 1973.
In 1974, Sammy and Mitzi got divorced and Mitzi got custody of the club. With backing from Sammy’s old Catskills cohort Shecky Greene, she expanded the seating of the club from 99 to 450. This is when it really took off, becoming the springboard for the future careers of such nationally known comedians as Robin Williams, Jimmie Walker, Billy Crystal, Andy Kaufman, Elayne Boosler, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Jim Carrey, Sarah Silverman, Brody Steven, etc etc etc.
Another comedian who got his start at the Comedy Store was Pauly Shore (b. 1968), son of Sammy and Mitzi. Pauly first gained national attention as an MTV personality in 1989, leading to the starring films Encino Man (1992), Son in Law (1993), In the Army Now (1995), Jury Duty (1995), Bio-Dome (1996) and Pauly Shore is Dead (2003), Pauly Shore’s Adopted (2010), Whiskey Business (2012), Pauly Shore Stands Alone (2014), etc.
In rapid order, the Comedy Store became the premiere place for stand-up comedians to develop their acts and get discovered. Its success led to the opening of many other branches. Naturally, cities like New York, Las Vegas and elsewhere have important stand-up venues, but the Comedy Store has attained the status of a Mecca and an institution. Like all live venues, they’ve been hit pretty hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. To learn more about the Comedy Store, and ways to support it without actually entering the building, go here.
For more on American comedy, including stand-up comedians, please see my books No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous and Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.