It’s another edition of Notes From a Comedy Junkie as our own Sara Dahms took a comedycation out west! This edition took place back in June, but with Just for Laughs Montreal right on the heels of this trip, we held this post to dive into JFL and can think of no better way to close out the summer than sharing Sara’s reports from The Comedy Store back in June.
Sara started this adventure as a comedy superfan/comedy nerd but things have gone way beyond that- you’ll see here everywhere comedy is performed, always hanging out with the comics, chatting on the red carpet with the biggest stars, and having drinks with some of the industries biggest players. 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 Andrew Dice Clay and became a stand-up junkie for life. Just a few years 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. Read all Sara’s write-ups here, and stay tuned as she heads west to cover the red carpet at the Comedy Central Roast of Alec Baldwin and this year’s Mark Twain Award Ceremony in September!
I booked a trip to California for my cousin’s wedding and since Mondays and Tuesdays are my favorite nights to be at The Comedy Store, I decided to extend my stay and see some comedy while I was in town. I arrived the day after the 6.4 earthquake hit the town of Ridgecrest and news about the earthquake and its impending aftershocks were everywhere and seemed to be all that everyone was thinking about… It was a welcomed distraction when my friend and comedian Esther Ku called and invited me to go with her to the Deathsquad Secret Show that she was in at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena. The Ice House Comedy Club first opened its doors in 1960 and is often referred to as the oldest, running comedy club in America. I’d love to learn more about its history!
We arrived and co-founder of the Deathsquad podcast network, Brian Reichle (Redban) and his lovely girlfriend Janice joined us for a beverage on the back deck. I met Brian a few years ago at Moontower Comedy Festival and he is always one of my favorite people to run into on the west coast. The sun was setting, there was a cool breeze in the air and it was an absolutely beautiful evening out in Pasadena. Just then, I noticed the lights that were strung up above the deck were starting to swing back and forth. Then suddenly it felt like I was sitting on a boat on a choppy sea instead of at a table on a deck. We all looked at each other and were like, OMG this is an earthquake!!!! Brian suggested that we get out from under the roofed terrace and head to the back parking lot. Everyone who was at The Ice House stood together, calmly and quietly as we waited for the waves of the Earth to stop moving under our feet. It lasted a few minutes and as soon as everything was back to “normal” we headed inside for the show. Redban put together a killer lineup and I knew that after an experience like that, comedy was exactly what the doctor ordered! Everyone was super funny including Brian Redban, Sara Weinshenk, Esther Ku, Bronston Jones and Martin Moreno. This was my first time seeing Martin Moreno and I was really impressed by him. He is a pontificator and belongs in this same category of comedians I’ve put Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock into for their ability to deliver their spirit on stage and speak the truth through comedy. Mr. Moreno definitely has a new fan in me. We returned to the back deck after the show and I ran into my buddy from New York, Geno Bisconte. It’s such a small world and always a pleasure to see him! I was having so much fun! My first night in California was an evening that I will never forget!
Of all the places I’ve been to, there is no place quite like the Comedy Store. I love its history, its ridiculous line-ups and its eccentric vibe. My sisters, Lena and Marissa, were still in town after my cousin’s wedding, so the three of us headed over to watch “Kill Tony” which is hosted by Tony Hinchliffe, co-hosted by Brian Redban and his sound board and features the Kill Tony Band with Jeremiah Watkins, Joel Jimenez and Chris Dillon who were all in character as the Red Hot Chili Peppers for this episode. The “Kill Tony” guest for the evening was Dane Cook and I was very happy that we were in town on this particular Monday because we’ve been fans of his forever. Dane’s a vessel of comedy. He doesn’t have to tell jokes using a conventional formula in order to be funny because he just IS funny and this quality is almost impossible to teach. I guess that’s why he’s starred in movies, sold out arenas and made millions of dollars over the years. Despite all of his success Dane has also experienced plenty of controversy throughout his career as well, including being accused of intentionally bumping other comedians and having one of my all-time favorites, Louis C.K. accuse him of plagiarism. Although I do hope Dane is a bit older, wiser and kinder, I’m not really looking for my comedians to be candidates for sainthood. I’m all about letting the comedy speak for itself and he was a hilarious up there on the panel this entire episode. For those of you who don’t know, “Kill Tony” is a podcast where novice comedians put their names into the “Bucket of Destiny” and if they are lucky enough to get their name pulled, they get to come up and perform 60 seconds of material and then participate in a humorous, yet reflective conversation with the cast and receive feedback on their material… or as Tony told his first participant of the evening, “Joke parts over, now we just need truths” and the truth he always gets.
Tony Hinchcliffe is amazing to watch. Not only is he remarkably quick witted, he’s also extremely engaging and easy to talk to. He asked each of his guests about their lives, dreams and experience with comedy and I got the real sense that he was actually rooting for them and trying to help them along their way. Everyone who came to the stage did their best for where they were in their process and from Clifford’s “Mexican Drum-off” against house drummer Joel Jimenez, to Karen’s “newsletter,” to Nina’s “The whites” and “William Montgomery’s hilarious rant of unending lies, this was an episode for the ages! One of my favorite things about the Comedy Store is that the patio is just as much fun as the shows are so after “Kill Tony” my sisters and I got a table outside and had a blast hanging out until the wee hours of the morning. This great hang and party vibe at this place is one thing I would love to see more of in the big rooms in Chicago. We have a ton of great talent come through but I can’t think of any club that is also a hangout…. Maybe that’s what I’ll wish for when I blow out my birthday candles in a few days…
After the late night my sisters and I just had at the Comedy Store, all I wanted to do the next day was lay by the pool and see more comedy and West Hollywood is the perfect place to make that happen. The pool at the Mondrian hotel is everything and my sisters and Esther Ku joined me there. We were celebrating my birthday and the four of us turned that pool deck into a party! We scored 4 poolside lounge chairs and had the most fun mix of people around us! From sports agents, to international jet setters, everyone we met was super friendly and completely added to the enjoyment of the afternoon. After six straight hours of fun in the sun we headed upstairs to get ready for the night. My sisters were going to Tom Tom’s for dinner but I opted to head back to The Comedy Store and see Jeremiah Watkins’ show, “Stand-up on the Spot” and then meet up with my friend Zoe to watch “Roast Battle” instead because Tuesday night belongs to the Belly Room!
“Stand-up on the Spot” is a fun, interactive show where the comedians are not allowed to use any prewritten material. Instead, they must solely depend on the audience to yell out topics for the comedians to improvise comedy about, right there on the spot. I come from a city where we like our pizza deep and our comedy improvised so I always have fun at this show and with the line-up of heavy hitters Jeremiah Watkins was going to be bringing to the stage, seeing it again was a no-brainer! He had Taylor Tomlinson, Bryan Callen, Krystyna Hutchinson, Pete Holmes and Joe Rogan on the roster and I am happy to say that every single one of them did a great job abandoning the safety net of their tried and true material, being present in the moment and just going with the flow. I can’t wait until Jeremiah takes this show on the road. Chicago would love this!
After the show I went downstairs and met my friend Zoe Friedman. She and I first met in Montreal at Just for Laughs where we quickly bonded over our mutual love of comedy and dancing and anyone who appreciates those two things as much as I do is A-Okay in my book! She introduced me to the two people she was with. Their names were Emilie Laford and Julie Seabaugh and since we had time before “Roast Battle” started we headed to the back bar to grab a drink and boy am I glad that we did because that gave me the chance to talk to the talented women I was with. All three of them had a real love of comedy and all three of them have also found ways to take this love and pursue successful careers in this field. Zoe Friedman has a career in network administration, Julie Seabaugh is an author and comedy journalist and Emilie Laford helps run the biggest Comedy Club in California, (possibly the world) the Comedy Store! It felt so good to be surrounded by such fun, inspiring and supportive women! Julie even gave me a copy of the book she wrote called, “Ringside at Roast Battle: The First Five Years of LA’s Fight Club for Comedians” and was cool enough to sign it for me too. The show was ready to begin so we headed upstairs to the legendary Belly Room. Emilie led us behind the velvet ropes and we took our seats in the box behind the judges’ panel. Somebody pinch me please! “Roast Battle” is hosted by Brian Moses and round after round comedians face off and roast each other, then receive feedback from the panel of judges consisting of the one and only Roast Master General, Jeff Ross and his guests for the evening, Kurt Metzger, Krystyna Hutchinson, Frank Castillo and a crowd favorite, Saudi Prince. The show began and the judges were hot right out of the gates but that was no surprise with this panel of killers. I had recently seen most of these guys in New York during Skankfest and they always make me laugh. I was super happy to see Jamar Neighbors return to the “Roast Battle” stage during our second battle of the night, only this time he wasn’t part of the Wave, he was a contender! Jamar faced off against a comedian named Mimi Pabon and for a newbie she did a really good job! Mimi had the strongest joke of the match and ended up winning the round! I also loved the Mia Mars vs Deirdre Devlin match up… the alliteration alone calls for it to be on the marquee! I’m obsessed with the drama that Mia Mars brought to the stage. Everything about her act showed that there was a lot of time and thought that went into what she did and it wasn’t just about reciting jokes for her, it was a performance. Her opponent, Deirdre Devlin was an absolute power house and an extremely talented comedian. She had a kind of quiet control of the stage that made me think she would make a strong leader. The round ended up in a tie because neither the audience nor the judges could decide who won. The judges called for one more joke and this match went into overtime. Honestly, I thought Deirdra was going to take this one, but Mia went first and Mia hit hard with a joke that Devlin was unable to recover from. It was a knockout punch for sure and Mia Mars walked away with a well-deserved win! I love this show!
After the last battle was won, Zoe and I headed downstairs where we ran into my friend Esther Ku who was talking to the west coast king of late night comedy, Don Barris. I met Don during my first trip to the Comedy Store when I attended “The Ding Dong Show.” I remember thinking that he was completely out of his mind and I loved it! Esther, Zoe and I moved our party into the Original Room and watched the last few comedians go up before Don closed the show around 2:30. It was great seeing so many of my west coast friends during my time out here and I am super excited to continue this adventure with Zoe in a few weeks at JFL in Montreal and Esther when she comes to Chicago next month. One of the greatest things about comedy is that it’s never really over. There is always another show, another festival, or another reason to get together with the people we care about and laugh!