Notes From a Comedy Junkie West Coast Edition: Colossal Clusterfest and The Comedy Store

Sara Dahms is a comedy superfan who even goes so far as to call herself a comedy nerd. Raised on National Lampoon, John Hughes, Gene Wilder, and Fairy Tale Theatre, her life changed after her older sister showed her Eddie Murphy’s Raw in 1988. Soon after, she found and became a stand-up junkie for life. Eighteen months ago, she took her first comedycation to see Jeff Ross play in Miami on her birthday.  Since then, she’s been traveling all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere, a confirmed comedy addict, and now she’s agreed to share her travels with us. This is her column. In this edition, Sara heads to California to spend time at the Colossal Clusterfest and at the famed Comedy Store.

Read Notes From a Comedy Junkie Vol 1 here, check out Volume 2 here, and read more about her travels with Volume 3 (Chicago), Volume 4 (St. Louis), Volume 5 (Moontower) and  Volume 6 (Los Angeles).

I kicked off my summer with a comedycation to California. First stop, San Francisco for Colossal Clusterfest, then off to Hollywood to make my pilgrimage to the stand up Mecca, to the most sacred of comedy institutions, The Comedy Store!!! My entire West Coast adventure was unreal and I cannot wait to tell you about it. Here are some of my highlights.

San Francisco, Colossal Clusterfest- A Well Oiled Machine

I arrived in San Francisco, checked into my hotel and was relieved to see that it was basically across the street from the grounds in which the entire festival was taking place. Comedy Central and Superfly Productions nailed it with a layout very similar to a fairground or music festival as opposed to having shows spread out at various venues all throughout the city, which can prove to be a logistical nightmare. Clusterfest was easy. Once your bracelet got scanned and you gained entry to these accommodating grounds, everything you needed to have fun over the next eight hours had been anticipated and provided for right there in the Civic Center Plaza. There was plenty of food, drinks, indoor plumbing, quality shows to choose from, places to charge your phone and people to hang and talk comedy with throughout the entire weekend. Another detail that set Clusterfest apart is that I had never been to a comedy festival before that had entire sets from TV shows like Seinfeld, Always Sunny and South Park recreated for our enjoyment. Clusterfest came through and raised the comedy festival bar way up high. In addition to the sweet amenities and attractions, the most impressive fact is that this festival also featured some of the biggest names in the game including Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, Sarah Silverman, Bill Burr, Hannibal Buress and T.J. Miller. This is the type of star-studded lineup usually only reserved for the prestigious Just For Laughs festival… Not a bad lineup for your very first crack at it, Clusterfest!!!

Checking out the bathrooms at Paddy’s Pub…. I think I’ll hold it! 

Getting the whole band back together in South Park

Although the above named headliners were definitely a draw for me, the entire weekend lineup was impressive. Not only did I get to see a ton of my favorite comedians including Big Jay Oakerson and his hilarious show, “What’s Your F@%king Deal?!,” Dan Soder, Nate Bargatze, Yamaneika Saunders and Sal Vulcano, I also discovered some new, hilarious people that I can’t wait to see more from like Rory Scovel, Liza Treyger and Michelle Buteau and I am always grateful when that happens.

The view from my seat for the Q & A with Seinfeld and Burr

Out of all the shows I saw during my time in San Francisco, the Q & A with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Burr was definitely the Colossal event of the weekend for me. The show began with Burr introducing his favorite episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” It was the episode that featured Garry Shandling and I am SO glad they showed this one. It included Jerry and Garry reminiscing about their early days in the business and included the two of them taking a field trip to the actual Comedy Store! How perfect! Jerry later revealed to Burr that Mitzi instinctively disliked him the moment she met him. Jerry believes it was because he came from New York City and was already very strong as a comedian, so he didn’t really need her guidance. How interesting!!! Burr jokingly chimed in and said that Mitzi  didn’t like him either, but her distaste for him was because he sucked! The guys were clearly relaxed and at ease with each other and I really enjoyed seeing Jerry in this light. You got the vibe that this is the sort of conversation they’d be having at some diner over coffee and that we were being given the opportunity to be flies on the wall for their private conversation. This laid back demeanor is a good look for Seinfeld who is usually so polished and rehearsed on stage. Throughout their entertaining exchange, Jerry offered many words of counsel and wisdom to Burr and their captivated audience. Here are a few of my favorite take always from the man of the hour, Jerry Seinfeld.

I don’t have anything to say to a person unless they have good material.

Live a normal life, but with show business money. If you live a show business life with show business money, it won’t be long until you spiral out of control.

Be smart. Use your brain.

A good comic is intolerant, judgmental, cynical, and cranky. Into it, but totally out of it.

Go back to the hotel after the show. Don’t go out. Don’t go to the bar. Nothing good will come from it.

Jerry takes a bow as he closed out Clusterfest weekend 

San Francisco was a blast! If this is what Comedy Central and Superfly Productions come up with at their first attempt, I can’t wait to see what they have in store for next year!

The World Famous Comedy Store: Comedy in its Purest State of Being

I’ve always been fascinated by the history and influence Mitzi Shore and The Store have had over comedy and the entire entertainment business in general.  I completely respect Mitzi’s eye for talent and the way she was smart enough to put all of those with the spark of talent to work around her in the club. Mitzi allows her talented staff to hone their craft and work out their funny until they are ready for a showcase. Most comedians’ ultimate goal would be to get passed and inducted onto the walls of famed, paid regulars that line the establishment. l find it absolutely fascinating that so many Hollywood celebrities got their start thanks to this badass woman and her famed eye for talent. All I hoped to gain from the time I would be spending at this historic institution was a small taste of what that process looks and feels like. I was really hoping to take a step behind the curtain, deconstruct the performance and learn a little bit more about the creative process that comes before the final act. Monday night, late night at The Store proved to be everything I’d hoped and more…..

Monday started out on a high note right out of the gates with Tony Hinchcliffe’s “Kill Tony” podcast. I love Tony and the entire cast of characters he has regularly on the show. For this week’s special guests, Tony had Big Jay Oakerson, Ari Shaffir and Andrew Santino. Big Jay is literally everywhere and anywhere that’s happening in comedy right now and rightfully so. He is one of the funniest comedians out there and his crowd work is second to none in my book. Ari Shaffir is another one of my favorites and I was happy to see him back home and on stage. Ari spent his Winter away on hiatus and shortly upon his return announced that he will be releasing a double comedy special on Netflix on July 18th. Plan your streaming parties now folks! Congratulations to you, Ari! I wish you all good things! Andrew Santino has the coolest job and is appearing in “I’m Dying up Here” on Showtime which is based on the 1970’s comedy scene in L.A. at a fictional version of  The Comedy Store called “Goldie’s”. All things considered, I’d say it was a pretty sweet week to be in town on a Monday.

The “Kill Tony” crew

Kill Tony” wrapped and I hung out for a bit outside. I always enjoy a good hang after a show, but my night of spectating was only just beginning. I headed right back inside to bare witness to the greatest night of comedy I’ve ever experienced. Late night, in the Original Room, at The Comedy Store was completely surreal and I didn’t move until the lights turned on at 3:00am. The night was hosted by the mad genius Don Barris whom I only just discovered the week prior to my trip thanks to a friend insisting that I watch the movie “Windy City Heat.” I am super glad that I took her advice because I loved the movie and I absolutely loved Don Barris. In 2017, we live in a popular culture of “Impractical Jokers” and reality TV, but in 2003 the movie, “Windy City Heat” was WAAAY before its time and is due for a re-release in my opinion. It is easily one of the funniest movies I have ever seen and if you haven’t seen it, look it up on YouTube and watch it. You won’t be sorry!!! Okay, that’s all I’m going to say about the movie…. except I love the shtick with Perry Caravello’s assistant…. and….the look on Perry’s face when he first sees Carson Daly might be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life… I died!!!! Okay, back to Don Barris. How can I describe him??? He’s a bit like if Howard Stern, Don Rickles and Pennywise had a baby. Don Barris would be that baby and you would absolutely put that baby on stage in The Comedy Store because he is hilarious and totally out of his mind and you are dying to see what he is going to do and say next! Don Barris is a one of a kind mind and I will definitely make it a point to see him each and every time I visit The Comedy Store in the future.

As Barris hosted the stage, he introduced many comics who had ironed out, solid gold material and that was all fine and good….but….sprinkled throughout the entire night were comics who were coming up to use their stage time to grow a concept, work out an idea or focus on one particular aspect of their performance and those comedians are the ones I would like to focus on right now because it was such a unique experience, I fear that it may never happen again. First up, Jamar Neighbors. I, like so many others, know him from his work in “Roast Battle‘s’ ‘All Negro Wave”, but tonight he was subdued. You see, tonight was not about physical comedy or even about delivering jokes. It was about working the muscle Jamar wanted to focus on for the betterment of his performance. His speech was quiet and soft. He drew us in and made us pay close attention. He was brilliant. Tony Hinchcliffe took the stage with the quiet confidence he so effortlessly displays, but tonight was not a typical night on stage for Tony. On this night, Tony Hinchcliffe decided to work out some edgy, new material. He commanded the stage and really showed us what stage presence is all about. It was absolutely moving. Tony Hinchcliffe is onto some next level shit. Keep your eyes and ears open for him because here he comes! Thank you for putting yourself out there. Your vulnerability was worthy of a standing ovation. Ari Shaffir was up next. Shaffir will be releasing a double special on Netflix next month, I saw him do a solid hour when he came through Chicago last fall and he has a minimum of at least 20 additional solid minutes I just saw him do at The Hollywood Improv…. Bottom line, the guy has a ton of hilarious material… but he still took this time, in this room, on a Monday night to work out some new ideas. The guy’s an artist and I loved watching his process. Thank you for that, Ari! It seemed as though Jeremiah Watkins was one of the busiest comics working in The Store these days. The man was either singing original songs, playing instruments, performing as “The Wave” or taking the stage to deliver his hilarious stand up material every night I was in L.A. He has mastered the art of physical comedy in a way that reminds me of Jim Carrey or Michael Richards and yet here he was, at The Store, late on a Monday night, working out the particular muscle he wanted to focus on to strengthen his performances. Now that’s drive. That’s determination. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for all of these professionals. Watching these talented comedians work on their craft was like having the opportunity to watch Chagall add a beautiful, new image to one of his already fascinating paintings. Bravo!

My second day in town was very chill. I did some shopping, got my nails done, then headed out to The Hollywood Improv to catch Jay Oakerson’s show. He was headlining there and brought Jeremiah Watkins, Ali Macofsky and Ari Shaffir out for some stage time as well. Everyone killed and I was especially impressed by the amazing set that Ali Macofsky had because up until then I had only heard her material in increments of 60 seconds at a time during her regular performances on “Kill Tony” and she nailed her spot! Yay Ali! Jay was hilarious as always and it really was a perfect show… but… Tuesdays were made for “Roast Battle” so I headed back to The Comedy Store to make sure I got a good seat for the big show. I’m a huge fan of Jeff Ross and his roasts. I came out for the filming of “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle, Road to the Roast” in Chicago and I was at the “Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle” live finale episode when it was filmed at “Just For Laughs” in Montreal last Summer. Judd Apatow and Sarah Silverman were at the judges’ table with Jeff Ross for that unforgettable night of comedy… Epic! I’ve also been to the “Roast Battle” sister show at The Stand Comedy Club in New York on several occasions and had the pleasure of watching Mike Lawrence act as a judge before he was crowned champion. I love what they’ve done with the show over there, but I was completely thrilled to be experiencing “Roast Battle” in its birthplace, The Belly Room at The Comedy Store.  It didn’t take long before I realized that there is absolutely nothing in the world quite like it. “Roast Battle” was a bit like being at a parade and an execution all in one and I loved it!!! It’s an experience as much as it is a show. “The Wave” really set the tone and kept the energy in the room at an eleven. If you are in Hollywood on a Tuesday night, “Roast Battle” is definitely the place to be. After the show came to an end, I went right back into the O.R. for another late night of comedy, hosted by Don Barris until 3:00am. I call that heaven.

Getting ready for my first “Roast Battle” in The Belly Room

I closed out my week in California with some quality time with an old friend, Esther Ku. I’ve known Esther since high school. We met because we had home room together. Her last name is Ku and mine was Lemes, so our alphabetically ordered seats were right by each other all four years. Esther always had a killer sense of humor and she so kindly used it to make me laugh every morning so of course she’s one of my favorite people!!! Esther and I met up and went out for dinner. We talked life, love and comedy. It was really great catching up. After dinner, Esther had to run and do a spot at another club across town and I headed back to The Comedy Store. Brian Redban had told me about the “DeathSquad Secret Show” earlier in the week and I didn’t want to miss it. Esther invited me to do her podcast, “Ku and the Gang” later that evening, so the plan was for us to rendezvous outside once DeathSquad’s show got out.

I made it back to The Comedy Store and took my seat just before the show began. The comedy scene in L.A. is out of control! I think I might even be spoiled now…. I mean, Kevin Nealon, Joe Rogan, Judd Apatow, Nikki Glaser, Chris D’Elia and Brian Redban all under one roof on a Wednesday night!?!? There is nothing cooler than that!!!! We would be lucky to get all of those names through Chicago over the course of a year… but in L.A., it’s a typical Wednesday night at a flawlessly booked show I suppose. It’s official. I need to spend more time in L.A.

Esther and I- Two Leyden Eagles who always aimed high…

The show got out and I met up with Esther and the other guest she was going to have on the show, Darren Carter. We hung out for a bit, which was cool because it gave me the chance to tell Don Barris what a huge fan of his I have become throughout these past few days and then ask him to take a picture with me before we headed off to record the episode of Esther’s podcast. I was very excited to be on “Ku and the Gang” and had an absolute blast doing it. Darren was super cool and Esther was hilarious as always. We talked high school, music, comedy and family…. I’m a foster parent and it turns out that Darren was a foster child who was adopted by his foster parents. I’m always moved by how connected we all are. Complete strangers sitting in a room can have so much in common with one another, but they’d never know it unless they took the time to talk to one another. Be nice. Ask questions and you never know what connection can be revealed or lesson can be learned. This whole week on the West Coast was a huge learning experience for me. I learned that it’s the comics who bare their souls on stage that make me want to come back for more. I learned that what was always great about The Comedy Store still is. I learned to pack a winter coat the next time I visit San Francisco, even if it is June and I think I’m a tough chick from Chicago. I truly enjoyed the time I spent on the West Coast visiting the California comedy scene and oh, what a scene it is!

By the end of my week in California, I saw 21 shows consisting of more individual entertainers than I could even begin to count. The very first Colossal Clusterfest was a complete and total home run and The Comedy Store was everything I’d hoped for and more! I am leaving with a whole new appreciation for West Coast talent and their unique brand of funny. This might just be my favorite comedycation yet you guys!

See you in New York!!! #skankfest #comedyjunkie

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Sara Dahms

Sarah Dahms is a comedy superfan hails from Chicago and travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere.
Sara Dahms
Sara Dahms
Sarah Dahms is a comedy superfan hails from Chicago and travels all over the country checking out the best comedy everywhere.