Comedy and Gunfire? Yeah, That Makes Sense

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

After this past Tuesday’s show at LA’s Comedy Store, a man was shot dead in front of the club’s patio area, which several of the club’s comics had the misfortune to witness. Amazingly, the shooter was able to escape, and as far as I know is still at large. Sadly, this is nothing new at that club, but I thought that sort of senseless violence had been put to rest more than 20 years ago. I should know, since I worked there during the club’s most dangerous era, and was actually on stage once when shots were fired!

First off, No, they weren’t firing at me! OK, so let’s set the scenario for what seemed imminent for several years. The Comedy Store’s show line-ups usually showed a diversity that few other comedy clubs could boast, partially because there were three separate rooms within the one complex, and on certain weekend nights back in the day, all three rooms were running shows. There were quite often individual “theme”shows that would feature all female, all Black, or all Latino line-ups, for example.

Monday nights were, for a while, my Saturday, as the place was jam packed, and there was no cover, only a drink minimum. Because there was no cover, the owner couldn’t pay us for spots, but the audiences were so great that even well-established comics would come in and do a freebie. The bigger names would go up toward the end, and there was frequently a party afterward with lots of alcohol and other substance, but I’ve already talked about that in previous blogs.

What changed was an influx of gang members coming up from South Central LA ghettoes, buoyed over by the regular Monday appearances of their star of the moment, the late Robin Harris. Harris had acquired his following through his performances at The Comedy Act Theatre in South Central, but also had appeared in several high profile films, notably Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing.” Harris’s following crossed over gang lines, and tensions were heightened by gang members showing up in their colors, essentially lighting the fuse to the dynamite.

Harris excused himself from this mess by dying in his sleep of a heart attack in March of 1990 at age 36, but his legacy remained. Mondays at the Store became a danger zone, enough so that the club briefly installed metal detectors. I would still show up on occasion, for sometimes my knowledge of R&B music was respected by those crowds, though I did have to excuse myself from the stage one time while doing well, because some idiot called me a “White honky fag muthafucka” with no provocation whatsoever. I considered myself lucky, as some comics would get that sort of badgering just on entering the stage!

While most Monday nights passed by with nothing worse than that described above, I opted to only do it once a month on average, as I was working enough that I didn’t need to do a freebie, especially if I couldn’t be sure it wouldn’t be difficult. I acquiesced sometime in spring of 1992, and this night didn’t appear that threatening. The bill was a pretty even ethnic mix, as was the audience. I went up around 11:30, and as I was announced onto the stage, a significant number got up to leave, which had nothing to do with my entrance, or at least I’d remind myself of that.

I was on for about five minutes, and generally getting decent response, then I heard three loud claps from outside the club, and as I saw a throng of people madly rushing back in, knocking over tables, and some women screaming, I exclaimed “Oh shit, it’s finally happened.” Then just as quickly, calm was restored, and I assumed it was safe to go ahead, so I made light of it by singing snatches of a few appropriate songs (“I Shot The Sheriff,” “Shotgun,” “Janie’s Got A Gun”). I didn’t get far before the piano player took the mic from where he was seated, and in true “company man” voice, announced, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that’s our show for tonight, but keep coming back for more comedy seven nights a week at The World Famous Comedy Store!” I was upset at being interrupted, and having the plug pulled on me when I felt I was restoring order, but reluctantly had to admit the show probably shouldn’t go on.

So what was going on out there? Oh, it was indeed gang warfare. A witness who was also a part-time manager of the club told me how he saw a man yelling at a rival, “I’m gonna kill you right NOW, Motherfucker,” with gun drawn and ready to fire. Somehow the man with the gun lost his footing and fell while his intended target took off running. Three shots were fired, but into the air, and if that story is true, then it might have been out of frustration. The gunman then also ran off. So very fortunate for the club and for all the people milling about that miraculously no one was hurt. I was told later that when the club managers had to tell the owner the incident had taken place, her first response was “Who was on?” When she was told Rick Right, she immediately abandoned that line of questioning.

Somehow the club survived the tarnishing its reputation got over that time period, even though many Show Biz Industry folk were staying away from the club for many reasons apart from the violence factor. I stopped going in on Mondays, but by the end of the 90’s the club wasn’t giving me much during the rest of the week either, one of the many reasons I moved over to England, which I’ve chronicled many times before.

I don’t know many details about this latest incident, but because the circumstances seem to parallel those which existed some 20 plus years ago, it still seems rather astonishing to me, as I thought that whole scenario had played itself out. Certainly, the feuds themselves never did and probably never will, but whatever, it seems odd that a place where laughter is the key for its existence would ever have had to deal with such anti-comedy.

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