The King is Dead, Long Live the King: Talent Coordinator Tommy Morris Leaving LA Comedy Store
The Comedy Store is a black hole in the LA comedy scene; in every sense. It is literally a giant, dark black building in the middle of sunny Sunset Boulevard. Depending on who you ask, it’s a place that sucks all joy and light out of those who cross its event horizon, and/or it’s got a massive gravitational force within the LA scene, and/or it’s imminently about to collapse in on itself.
For three decades, The Comedy Store was Mitzi Shore. She ruled the place with absolute power, a great love of comedy and comedians, sometimes malicious capriciousness and an uncanny eye for talent. For most of the last ten years, even though running the place has moved into the hands of a group of managers, the face of The Comedy Store has been Talent Coordinator Tommy Morris. Not only did he hold your stage time fate in his hand, but he managed the showroom five nights a week while working the ticket booth.
Under Mitzi, Talent Coordinators came and went, but as she became less and less hands on due to illness, Tommy became The Anointed One. His position was unassailable (though many tried and failed), everyone assumed he would hold it until Mitzi’s death, at which point the valuable property would be sold off to developers [Note: this is the worst case scenario imagined by a bunch of anxious and depressed comedians, not a prediction based on any specific knowledge or facts] so Tommy was the de facto Talent Coordinator Forever. That’s why the transition from Tommy Morris to Adam Eget this week was a shock to everyone.
He would often remark, “The Building likes you” or “I listen to the Store, it’ll push people ahead who are ready.”
Like most comedy bookers, Tommy Morris is a strange bird. The Comedy Store was his kingdom, one he rarely left. He never went to other open mics or shows to scout talent, rather he still believed The Comedy Store was The Most Important Place for Comedy on Earth and expected comedians to come to him, and to show respect for the institution, its development process and culture. He would often remark, “The Building likes you” or “I listen to the Store, it’ll push people ahead who are ready.” And in many ways, relying on that wisdom of the crowd was correct. The Comedy Store often behaves like a single organism, collectively accepting people based on a mix of talent and attitude, or rejecting others and pushing them out like a splinter. In other ways, it was a terrible mistake. He would balk at what he considered ego and disrespect from big names, turning away people who would have been jaw-dropping pop-ins out of a mixture of pride and ignorance. He would also ignore great young talents because they didn’t come around often enough or didn’t get along well enough with the employees.
He would alternately dole out bullshit, praise, eccentric and perplexing advice or harsh smackdowns to comedians seeking spots and guidance.
He was always a fount of Mitzi quotes and stories, constantly reinforcing his lineage to the comedians and hangers on who would figuratively sit at his knee in rapt attention. He would alternately dole out bullshit, praise, eccentric and perplexing advice or harsh smackdowns to comedians seeking spots and guidance. And he would fuck with your mind like nobody else. He would often put exes back-to-back on the lineup or withhold spots from a comedian for weeks to force an angry confrontation. He would praise you, then talk shit to you about another comedian you just watched him heap even more praise on. He would make a point of telling you information or observations about your best friend, knowing you’d repeat it and he wouldn’t have to say it to that person directly. He was vulnerable to flattery and hype, but also did spot a lot of great, untapped talent over the years.
One of his greatest contributions was maintaining the culture of The Comedy Store as most other clubs turned Corporate.
But he wasn’t just perpetuating the myth of Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store for his own self-preservation. He believed it in his heart and one of his greatest contributions was maintaining the culture of The Comedy Store as most other clubs turned Corporate. “This is an artist colony” was a frequent favorite. He hired only young comedians he wanted to groom for Paid Regular status for the minimum wage phone, parking lot and door positions. He encouraged late night shenanigans from Barris/Kennedy +Overdrive, Chris D’Elia and Bryan Callen, and Adam Ray and Andrew Santino, opting to give artistic freedom a wide berth over strict set structure. He overlooked (and sometimes encouraged or instigated) hotheaded youthful outbursts from hungry young comedians, personal feuds spilling onto the stage on Potluck night or Late Night, and many comedians’ relentless pursuit of pussy from audience members, chucklefuckers and fresh meat open mikers. He believed in the family, as dysfunctional a family as it is.
To spend any time at The Store meant going through an alternating cycle of love, fear, hate, anger and peace with Tommy. It also meant trying your hand at a Tommy Morris impression. His distinct voice, mannerisms and penchant to repeat certain things almost like catchphrases made him an easy target for even folks with no skill at mimicry.
The new Talent Coordinator is Adam Eget, one of The Store hivemind’s top picks for the position. Adam came to the Store from the Tempe Improv about four years ago and has been a manager there ever since. He knows who’s in, who’s out and more importantly, who’s out but should be in. He’s genial and reasonable and knows how to handle fragile comedians’ egos and foibles. You may have also seen him as the hateable sidekick on Norm MacDonald Live. And while many an excluded comedian is currently rejoicing at “all the spots I’m going to get now,” The Comedy Store is a giant ocean liner that can’t make quick left turns. There will be an increase in diversity and sanity, but you’ll still see Chris D’Elia, Bobby Lee, Whitney Cummings and Steve Rannazzisi most nights at 10 pm.
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Amy E Hawthorne is a New York by way of LA comedy journalist and founder of ComedyGroupie.com. She's also a produced numerous stand-up shows, got a paycheck and a drinking problem from The Comedy Store and is convinced that the Big Avocado lobby are the ones who really pull the strings in this country.