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The Comedy Store Review 2020 Tv Show Series Season Cast Crew Online
Stars: Diane Nichols, Molly Cravens
The Comedy Store is a five-part docuseries about the legendary comedy club on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles; it opened in 1972 in the front room of a lounge that used to host Hollywood’s biggest stars. Co-founded by Sammy Shore, his ex-wife Mitzi took over operating the place the next year as a condition of their divorce. In the 47 years since she took over, the Store has given hundreds of stand-up comics their big start, and revolutionized the way stand-up is presented. It was the first place that had all-comedian bills instead of ones that mixed comedians and music.
Opening Shot: An exterior shot of the legendary comedy club The Comedy Store. Then we see veteran comics Jeff Ross and Dave Attell talking about “The Store”. “You know this place is haunted, right?” Attell tells Ross. “My career died here about ten years ago.”
The Gist: Mike Binder, a former standup that got his start at the Store and now a writer and director, directs this series and interviews a bevy of big names that got their start there. David Letterman, Jay Leno, Jimmie Walker, Michael Keaton (yes, he got his start as a stand-up), Howie Mandel, Jeff Altman, Johnny Dark, Whoopi Goldberg, David Spade, Debra Winger (who worked there), and many, many others sat down to talk about the culture that pervaded the club in the ’70s and ’80s, and the great comics that came through.
Right around the same time the Store opened, Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show from New York to Burbank. So the Store became a huge place for the show’s bookers to find stand-ups to appear on the show. And, as late-night historians have long known, a shot on Carson’s show, and a nod from him to come over and talk to him on the couch afterwards, was a huge boost to any comedian’s career.
Some of the comedians that played regularly at the Store were veterans, like Richard Pryor, but many others were up-and-comers, some who shot to stardom like Freddie Prinze.Prinze, who shot to superstardom after being cast in the sitcom Chico And The Man straight out of The Store in 1974 at the tender age of 19, is the through-line of part one of the docuseries. Though we see Binder talking about a number of the best that came through — there are segments devoted to Letterman, Leno, Altman, Walker and more — Prinze was the first breakout star that was launched there.
He was also the first star from the Store to self-destruct, having committed suicide in January 1977 at the oh-so-young age of 22. Binder talks to Alan Blursky, Prinze’s best friend and fellow comedian, to clear up some myths around his death, like he killed himself with Blursky’s gun. What we found out, though, is that not only would Prinze threaten to kill himself dozens of times, but he bought his gun with both Blursky and Walker in his presence. Oh, and according to Walker, Prinze absolutely wanted to kill John Travolta when he took the sitcom heartthrob mantle away from Prinze when Welcome Back, Kotter debuted in 1975.
Our Take: If you think a docuseries like The Comedy Store is only for comedy nerds and historians, then you’ll be missing out on a whole bunch of information on how the comedians and comic actors you’ve known and loved over the past four-plus decades got their start. Sure, you’ve heard stories about Leno and Letterman and their time at the Store, but did you know both of them wrote jokes for Jimmie Walker? Did you even know that Michael Keaton was a standup (and a pretty funny one, at that)? No? Then this docuseries is a great way to find out how all of them honed the comic sensibilities that seemed start out as fully-formed personas.
The vintage footage of standups in the club and on the Carson show bring home the shaggy nature of the business back in the wild ’70s. And the footage of all of these future comedy stars coming out of Prinze’s funeral, from Leno to Richard Lewis to Elayne Boosler and more, really cemented what the community was like in those days, and how it cemented what more recent stars, like Chris Rock, Bill Burr, Whitney Cummings, Marc Maron, Iliza Shlesinger and others use as a support system, even though they all are veterans that can sell out theaters and arenas.
We do wish the series went a bit more chronologically; not that we needed a year-by-year “history of comedy” lesson, but when Binder is sandwiching stars that got their starts at the store in the ’80s on forward with the real pioneers like Letterman, Leno, Walker, Lewis, Altman etc., you start to wonder where he’s going to go in the other four episodes.
We suspect that he’ll go forward in time, concentrating on other big names to come out of the club as the decades rolled on, with one comic being highlighted as the through-line. But the format is a touch scattershot. That’s more of a quibble, though, as it’s a funny, informative and enjoyable trip through a segment of entertainment history that we thought was already thoroughly told. It does help that Binder is a former standup who went through the same trials everyone else did; it allowed guys that he came up with — especially Letterman — to relax and give a lot of insight into what it was like back then.
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