The Making of "Make ‘Em Laugh"- 35 Years of The Comic Strip

On June 15, 2008, I was at The Comic Strip with Ann Curry, and Gilbert Gottfried and we were giving Ann tips on how to do stand-up comedy for some kind of event she was preparing for. And despite the fact that I had been there for so many years, and had seen the walls before, I found myself transfixed by all the amazing memorabilia that I noticed that day.

Jeffrey Gurian, Ann Curry, Gilbert Gottfried, and Richie Tienken on the day that Jeffrey suggested doing a book on the iconic Comic Strip!

So I said to Richie Tienken, owner and founder of the club, “You know we should do a book on this club!”

I didn’t know that other people had suggested that to him before but for some reason he wound up not doing it with them. He came to my home for a meeting and ended by saying “You have more photos on your walls than I have at the club”, and he decided to trust me with telling his story, and the stories of all the huge stars that came out of the club.

Jeffrey Gurian and Richie Tienken in the lobby of Jeffrey’s building after their meeting to agree on doing the book!

The club officially opened on June 1, 1976 with Billy Crystal as the opening act. On JUne 17th a young, and unknown Jerry Seinfeld walked in to audition. In those days people were graded on their auditions. Jerry was graded “Good”, and then someone wrote on his sheet, “Definitely put on Mon. 6/21!” Whoever that person was had a good eye for comedy! Jerry stayed at The Strip for four years until he left for LA in 1980. It was his home club.

Jeffrey Gurian, Jerry Seinfeld, and Richie Tienken on the day of Jerry’s interview for the book!

In the book Jerry said he felt like he was born in 1976, because that’s when he began working at The Strip and that felt like the start of his life!

Eddie Murphy spent his early years at the club, and Richie Tienken was his manager for the years when Eddie was the biggest star in the world. That period of time spanned his days on SNL through Beverly Hills Cop 2.

The one night in 1986 Eddie came into The Strip and asked to see a Black comic. The only one around was a 19 year old Chris Rock who was setting up chairs in exchange for stage time, and had only performed for very small audiences at 2 or 3 A.M. Not wanting to disappoint Eddie, they put Chris up in front of a packed house on a Friday night, and Chris killed it in front of his idol.

Richie Tienken, Chris Rock, and Jeffrey Gurian at The Strip on the day we did Chris’ interview for the book!

That was the start of Chris’s rise to stardom. He hasn’t lost his gratitude for all that Richie did for him and wrote a fantastic, and funny introduction to the book.

He also came into the club and gave Richie and I a really super interview. Most of the big stars came into the club for their interviews because Richie and I felt that being surrounded by those four walls would bring back memories, and we were right.

Alan Colmes who many people don’t even know started his career as a stand-up comic came in wearing his 30 year old Comic Strip jacket that looked as if it was brand new.

Jeffrey Gurian with Alan Colmes wearing his original 30 year old Comic Strip jacket, which looked brand new!

In the middle of Paul Reiser’s interview he suddenly recalled what started the annual New Years Day brunch attended every Jan. 1, by himself, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry Miller and Mark Schiff. There had even been a fifth member of the group, a friend named Michael Cain but he passed away very young.

Gilbert Gottfried and Lisa Lampanelli got interviewed outside the club, and Jeffrey Ross got interviewed inside the club with a dual book/documentary film video interview at the same time. That experience taught us never to do that again! (LOL)

Jeffrey Gurian, Gilbert Gottfried and Richie Tienken at lunch at Pastis where GIlbert spent most of his interview denying he had ever been at The Comic Strip. He did say they had good electricity though!

Lisa Lampanelli and Jeffrey Gurian,(hidden behind the book! LOL) backstage at Westbury for Lisa’s recent sold-out performance

And then I flew out to LA to get an in office interview with Billy Crystal the first comic to hit the stage on opening night, back in 1976.

Other comics interviewed were Ray Romano, Susie Essman, Jim Gaffigan, Judah Friedlander, Larry Miller, George Wallace, Rick Overton, who has also gone on to have a very successful acting/film career, Jim Breuer, Tony Rock, Adam Ferrara, plus newer stars who frequent the club like Colin Jost and Jay Pharaoah from SNL.

Thanks to our agent J.L. Stermer from N.S. Bienstock, we got a deal with Skyhorse Publishing and the book is 250 pages down from the 500 I started out with. It took three years to get all of the interviews done and transcribed, because I did it myself by hand just by playing the interviews over and over again, and the fourth year was about editing and getting it down from 500 pages to the 250 that was needed. It was often a grueling process, but always a labor of love!

Since it came out, it’s gotten great reviews, tons of press, and lots of celeb attention as you can tell from the following photos.

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"Make Em Laugh" on WPIX TV Morning News with Dan Mannarino

Hurricane Sandy affected everyone in NYC either directly or indirectly. Luckily for me I didn’t lose power or have any flooding, but I did have several TV shoots cancelled, in which I was supposed to talk about my new book with Chris Rock called “Make ‘Em Laugh” about the 35 year history of the legendary comedy club “The Comic Strip.

My co-author is owner and founder of the club Richie Tienken!

One of them was with WPIX TV, and it had something to do with their bus being out of service. When I heard the word “bus” I was thinking of something small like the little yellow school buses we see around the city. How wrong I was!

When we re-scheduled, WPIX reporter Dan Mannarino showed up at The Comic Strip in a block long custom made WPIX bus sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts! The thing was huge but outfitted inside like a limo, or a private jet. Very spacious and elegant!

We started the interview in the club with me and owner/founder Richie Tienken on the stage of the club telling stories from the book, then I took Dan on a tour of the club, and finished by going on the bus and doing more if the interview on there!

It was really fun and the interview is airing this coming Monday morning, Dec. 10, 2012, between 8 and 9 A.M. on the WPIX Morning News! Check it out!

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Marc Maron, Bobby Lee, Dov Davidoff at The Comedy Store in LA

I was heading out to LA to do my third guest spot on Nick Kroll’s Comedy Central hit Kroll Show, in which I’d be playing myself in a red carpet sketch during a Pub-LIZ-ity sketch with Nick as Liz G.

I love ALL of Nick’s sketches but Pub-LIZ-ity is really one of my faves so I was doubly exicted. But since I’m not a great traveler, I don’t like to fly across the country for one or two days, so I decided to go out out a few days earlier and stay a few days afterwards to visit some friends and check out the LA comedy scene.

My first night in town I went right to The Comedy Store to see my buddy Tommy Morris, who runs the place, and give him a copy of the documentary film I recently co-produced with Exec. Producers Scott Sobel and Gary Licker who also directed the film.

It was called “The Business of Comedy” and featured interviews with comedy icons like Budd Friedman, who opened the world’s first comedy club, The Improv, in NYC in 1963, Rick Newman who opened Catch A Rising Star in 1972, Richie Tienken who opened The Comic Strip in 1976, and comics like George Wallace, Robert Klein, Tom Dreesen, and newcomer Sasheer Zamata, all talking about the business end of the comedy world.

I wanted to bring Tommy his copy personally, and as you can see from the photo, … I did!

There’s always a star-studded show at The Store, and that night I ran into my old friend Marc Maron, with Cort McCown, who I had met on the Kandy Kruise where he was performing for 500 guys and even more important, 16500 girls from Maxim, Playboy, and Penthouse.

I also ran into Bobby Lee, and then I got to see Chris D’elia from Whitney, and Dov Davidoff who I just saw again headlining Gotham in NYC this past weekend. These guys go back and forth like it’s nothing!

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Jimmy "J.J." Walker at Broadway Comedy Club

If you were around in the 70’s, 1973-1979 to be exact, then you were aware of Jimmy “J.J.” Walker who played J.J. Evans in the Norman Lear, CBS hit “Good Times”, with Esther Rolle who played JJ’s mom Florida Evans, and John Amos who played his dad Michael Evans.

Interestingly enough, Good Times was a spin-off of Maude, which was itself a spin-off of All in the Family along with The Jeffersons. And it was co-created by Mike Evans, who portrayed Lionel Jefferson on the Norman Lear-produced series All in the Family and The Jeffersons.

JImmy “J.J” Walker onstage at Broadway Comedy Club without a floppy hat, but making one of his signature faces!

At the time that JJ was on the show he played so much younger than he actually was that John Amos who played his Dad was only 8 years older than him!

JJ’s signature phrase was “Dyn-O-Mite!” which follows him to this day. And in my interview with him recently at Broadway Comedy Club where he showed up with his agent and my old friend Roger Paul, he said he was grateful for that tag, “Dyn-O-Mite”! Very few performers have something that sticks for so long. Like Rodney Dangerfield will always be associated with the phrase “No Respect.” In comedy having an identity like that is magical!

The main room downstairs was packed, wall to wall, and JJ went up on stage and knocked it out of the park. He talked about the economy being so bad that when you rent an apartment they want the first month’s rent and the last month’s rent. JJ was like, ” I wasn’t even here last month! Why do I gotta pay that guy’s rent?”

Jimmy “J.J.” Walker killing it onstage at Broadway Comedy Club! The audience loved him!

In talking about doing drug testing of post office employees, he said, “The one drug you won’t find is speed!”

And in talking about crime, he told of a 21 year old man who tried to rob a Toys ‘R Us with a toy gun. He was shot by a 5 year old with a real gun!

And he said, ” As crowded as jails are these days, they always seem to have room for Black people!”

He was just filled with funny lines. He said that Kim Kardashian is like Kryptonite for Black men, and that they tried to do a Real Housewives of San Francisco, but they couldn’t find any.

He even acted out scenes from a fictional Maury Povich show where the Black characters were named what sounded to me like Aquaneshia and Tyquarius, and he called “Cops” a Black reality show with a three tattoo minimum and a 4 tooth maximum.

I was so glad to see him being so funny after all these years. And he was so kind to his audience. He stayed afterwards to greet people who wanted to take photos and buy his merchandise.

Jimmy “J.J.” Walker and Jeffrey Gurian from Comedy Matters TV at Al Martin’s Broadway Comedy Club!

It just goes to show you that being funny is like riding a bike. You never lose it, and if you fall off the end of the stage you get right back up and start telling jokes again!

Check out the cool video interview we did after the show!

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Jackie Mason in the NY Post

Jackie Mason is used to getting lots of press, but not like this!

He’s one of the only comedians, if not the only one to have multiple, successful shows on Broadway.

But today’s New York Post had a front page photo of Jackie Mason with a story of how he was attacked by his 48 year old girlfriend in his apartment. She left him with a bloodied arm after fighting him for his cell phone so he wouldn’t call the police. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt worse. When people go crazy there’s no telling what they’ll do.

His girlfriend, Kaoru Suzuki-McMullen, supposedly woke up at 6 A.M. to find herself alone in bed, and found him asleep in the living room. She took that as a sign he had been cheating on her. People should really have more evidence than that before attacking someone. According to the NY Post, she is now facing misdemeanor assault charges.

The NY Post says Jackie’s 83. TMZ and the Wall Street Journal say he’s only 75. I have no idea which is correct. All I know is that he should be proud that he got a 48 year old girlfriend. Most men of substance are not out looking for 75 or 83 year old women. So, … more power to him!

I hope he gets better quick, and puts this behind him, but knowing the media, and their penchant for a good story, I have a feeling it will play out over the next few days!

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