HERMOSA BEACH, Calif .– When Jay Leno thinks of his home away from home, he thinks of “The Danny Thomas Show” – the 1950s and 1960s sitcom that revolved around the life of a Copa nightclub performer Fictitious club: work, go out, meet your agent (and sometimes interact with his wife and two children).
For most of the past four decades, the Comedy & Magic Club at Hermosa Beach has been Leno’s Copa: its place to grab a bite to eat, hang out with other comics, wrestle and work on jokes – ” it was like going to a gym, ”Leno told Spectrum News.
And what a gym: the Comedy & Magic Club is famous in the world of comedy.
It’s a top-notch club just steps from the Pacific Ocean, and a place that world-class comedians are happy to come to out of the blue, just to work on material. Legends like Chris Rock, George Carlin, and Jerry Seinfeld have all come to work on material for the specials, and headline-level comics will treat it like their second home.
But for 16 months, the club has remained silent.
Like the rest of the world, the Comedy & Magic Club died out in March 2020. Ticket sales declined and the events calendar became empty. The top of the club’s website suggests it will return once the pandemic is under control and asks customers to follow the club’s social media accounts for updates.
However, her Facebook account is missing, her Twitter account is locked, and her Instagram account has not been updated since June 5, 2020.
It’s not clear that Comedy & Magic Club will ever return.
Speculation is raging. All of the comedians interviewed for this story said they heard rumors that the club was for sale, and some speculated on the owner’s health. Each of them said that if the club were to disappear it would be a huge loss to the comedy community.
Comedy & Magic Club owner and founder Mike Lacey has never been the easiest person to reach for a journalist. Typically, one had to go through the club’s box office and be put in touch with it by the club’s commercial director, Rebecca Meyer – a woman many interviewed for this piece saw as her right-hand man in operating the club. ‘company.
Even organizations seeking to honor him, like the El Camino College Alumni Association, have found him nearly impossible to find, with one person calling him “a ghost.”
But, with the club closing, the ticket office phone connects directly to a voicemail line. And a handful of sources say Meyer, along with other stalwarts at the club, are no longer employed by Comedy & Magic.
An email from Meyer to a fundraising organizer at Hermosa Beach at the end of June states: “We’ve all been let go. I’m not sure about Mike’s plans for the club.
Social media updates from other longtime Comedy & Magic associates, like longtime bookie Richard Barrett, also confirm this. Barrett’s professional LinkedIn profile was updated in July to show that he is no longer a current employee of the club.
Attempts to reach Lacey and her employees for comment were unsuccessful.
Comedy & Magic occupies a fascinating place in the Los Angeles comedy scene – to the general public it is not as well known as the Hollywood Improv, the Laugh Factory or the Comedy Store. But within the industry, the comics see it as a place where a comedian can escape the vagaries of the Hollywood audience and work in a room that is ready and willing to laugh. The jokes that work out there will work anywhere; in the past, Lacey quickly recognized that her crowd was smart and not too jaded for a laugh.
“It’s more like a road club. Trendy, edgy stuff, ‘alternative’ comedy – whatever you call it, Hollywood is always chasing that, ”said comedian Alonzo Bodden. “Now Hollywood depends on how many clicks you get. Comedy & Magic is always being funny.
Comedy & Magic has a reputation among comedians as a place where the art of stand-up is just as important as just laughing; a scene where it doesn’t matter if you swear a blue streak, but you have to have something substantial behind it. Material at surface level, shock for shock, will not fly.
“You didn’t have to be clean… but if you drop ‘F bombs’ just to do it, they’re like, uh-uh,” Bodden said.
Lacey, who opened the club in 1978 at the age of 24, is the soul of Comedy & Magic. Profiles and stories written about the club over the years attest to its desire to make the club a clean and comfortable place for clients and performers. (For example, the club has a “two-item minimum” rather than a “two-drink minimum” for shows, so as not to encourage drunkenness.)
The art of comedy is important there.
It’s a club that it’s not easy for new comics to get into; Bodden was about five or six years into his acting career when he first performed there. Jim McDonald, a Hermosa Beach resident who was part of the regular rotation of comedians before the COVID shutdown, auditioned for 10 years before he could get regular bookings there.
“It’s a very high level of quality, and you know that when you work there, you have a place, and you’re always going to be working with people that are really above the bar,” McDonald said.
Lacey is the key to it all – he has a reputation for being fair and honest with every artist in his club.
“For a lot of comedy clubs, it’s strictly a business. It’s about putting asses in seats… with him it’s like, no we’re going to make sure the show is funny, ”Bodden said. “He is a generous spirit who loves the art of comedy.”
His club is a monument to this love. The green room is lined with the signatures of comedians who performed there, like Carlin and Richard Pryor, and the walls of the main room and living room are decorated with comedy memorabilia: props that were once used by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton do not not hang. away from the costumes worn by Robin Williams and Mike Myers.
“From the perspective of people who have chosen this as a profession and want to refine and perfect it, and want a place where the audience is smart enough to tell the difference between a dick joke and a real joke,” Leno said.
And it doesn’t hurt that Lacey feeds all comedians the same, whether they’re opening act or headlining.
“I worked in a lot of clubs where they had food, but the food you got was commensurate with the quality of your act – if you’re not good you get the salad. If you’re really good, you can have anything but steak, ”Leno said. “Mike always treated comics really well, went out of his way for them.”
The club also has a generous reputation in the community – Lacey and her team were quick to hand out tickets to community organizations and youth sports teams for sale.
“The comics could come to the club with the understanding that they work for free… Mike is more than generous in this regard, not just with the community, but with a lot of the comics – they will come back to the club out of duty to Mike,” McDonald said.
There is still a possibility that the club will return. Hermosa Beach officials confirmed that Lacey had requested changes to the club’s conditional use permit because he wanted to increase the number of seating in the main hall, expand the lounge with outdoor seating and “change certain conditions of the club. the CUP which he finds too restrictive. According to a report from the town of Hermosa Beach.
Hermosa Beach’s director of community development Ken Robertson said the town was eager to see the club reopen – not only because of its place in the town’s cultural fabric, but because it is unique among City nightlife offerings: Hermosa’s Pier Plaza bars, unlike Comedy & Magic, have a reputation for heckling and occasional violence.
“This is the type of business that brings the type of customer who is going to spend money in our city,” said Robertson. “Given his notoriety and importance, we would do everything possible for him.” Robertson added that he imagines city officials would even hold a celebration for the club’s reopening if and when that happens.
Meanwhile, regular Comedy & Magic performers have bounced back to other clubs around LA: Burbank, Hollywood, Bellflower. They miss the club, that’s for sure. Bodden is hopeful that if the rumors are true and Lacey tries to sell, the club will keep its essence. “I hope this never becomes a place where we say to each other, ‘Do you remember how it was before? Some clubs keep this comedy club feeling: 200 seats, a dark room, low ceilings, a connection with the crowd. “
This, said Leno, is the heart of the Comedy & Magic Club: entertainment at its simplest, just an artist on a stage, speaking to a group of people.
“If you take the mic off, it could be 500 years ago: you talk, you sit and you listen. There’s nothing high-tech about it, ”Leno said.
“I hope it will come back. I’ll do whatever I can to help, but it’s up to Mike in the end. He’s been doing it for 40 years, and I just hope he can keep doing it, ”he added.