If you’re looking for journalistic integrity, politics or a moral at the end, go somewhere else.
October 14th, 2015, 12:40ish am
The World Famous Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip, Los Angeles, California
To say things were crazy is a bit of an understatement. Roast Battles at the Comedy Store by nature are intense experiences. Yet the verbal slugfest of Jay Light vs Kim Congdon ended up being just the cherry on top of a wild and crazy night. Somewhere in the beginning of the Roast Battle Jamar Neighbors and the Wave had just switched sides and antics with “The Haters” Earl Skakel, Omid Singh and Keith Carey. Then Roast Master General Jeff Ross had arrived with Anthony Jeselnik adding to the on and off color commentary of Joshua Meyrowitz, Brian Moses, Justin Martindale and Tiffany Haddish. I also lost my first Roast Battle to Madison Wisconsin’s Funniest 2011 and newly christened Comedy Store door guy, Mike Schmidt. A couple of moments later that becomes the furthest thing from my mind.
Erik Myers was performing in the Original Room to fellow comics like Don Barris and David Taylor and the audience inside. The audience from the Laff Mob Show were hanging out at the Comedy Store’s front patio with the other comics like Brandt Tobler, Olivia Grace, and Josh Nasar. Young 23-year-old Richard “Rick” James was standing at the Comedy Store’s front doors as an unidentified man wearing a grey hoodie and gloves walks towards him. Meanwhile fellow Houston comics Nia DeBose, Mark Hurtado and I take a step towards the patio entrance of the Comedy Store.
“Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop!”
“Firecrackers?” I say to myself as I keep stumbling into the chaos as Nia, Mark and various people with more sense than me start to run off into their own different directions. I see broken glass from dropped drinks, comics, patrons and staff huddled in the corners of the bar hiding for cover. Then from the corner of my eye I spot a guy in a grey hoodie pulling sideways trigger after the clip had been emptied. He turns around and sprints into Sunset Blvd down Olive St.
“Breathe in. Breathe out! Breathe.. Breathe in. Breathe out. Stay with us! You’re going to make it. You’re going to be alright.” Josh Nasar calmly tries to console Rick as he starts to shiver and gurgle in his arms. When most folks were thinking about survival, Josh Nasar leapt in and tried help out young Rick. “Anyone have towels?!” Josh exclaims. Rose the bartender rushes towards the back to get towels as I sheepishly hand Josh stolen napkins from my linty pocket. 911 is called and it ends as quickly as it began. Rose arrives with towels and tries to stop the bleeding. Rick shivers and gurgles his last breath while in both their arms. Not all heroes wear capes, some just happened to be on “Sons of Anarchy” and work the bar at the Comedy Store. To quote another Josh, “Much respect Josh. Much respect Rose”.
Police and an ambulance arrive within minutes. Comics in the Belly Room like Izzy Salhani, Anna Valenzuela, and Rasheed Stephens start to realize something is up when they see a tearful Rose running into the Belly Room followed by Don Barris. Rumors and speculation start to percolate from the back of the Belly Room. Kim Congdon delivers a savage zinger and confirmed word arrives in the form of Mike Schmidt pausing the show “I need to make an announcement.” “Oh what, someone got shot?” jokes the Roastmaster General.
The show goes on and everyone is corralled into the parking lot. It’s a tense moment. People check in on one another and ask each other “Where were you?”. Some take photos while most start searching for a zinger that just won’t come. Maybe there might such a thing as too soon? What’s the point? Are we safe? Are less comics going to go to the Store? Or are more comics going to show up because they hear less comics are there? Will the audience still be there? Earl Skakel throws out a couple of one liners and the folks around him in the parking lot erupt in laughter.
People are only permitted to leave 5 at a time after they answer a series of questions.
“What was the suspect’s ethnicity? Did he have a beard? What color clothes was he wearing?”
Even fresh memories are weird and bendable things. Some said the shooter had a beard, while others claim he was wearing a bandana over his face. Some saw gloves and identified the firearm as a Glock. Off record everyone has their own theories. Maybe it was a hit? Gang related? I don’t know. So much went wrong, yet so much went right. Nobody else was hurt. The show went on. Ironically that cramped and sweaty Comedy Store Belly Room was the safest room in the building.
Everything around me started to mute itself and go down a couple of notches. The trek up King’s Rd with Nate Hurd and Josh Meyrowitz didn’t bother me as much as it usually did. So much uncertainty and neurotic thoughts entered and danced around in my head.
The following Thursday the Comedy Store reopened its doors. I figure I might as well show up. Once there I realize my neurotic fears were just neurotic fears. Both comics and audience were back in full force. There were hugs, fist bumps, drinks, snark and bittersweet laughs. For a moment I found myself staring at the entrance a little too long. Yeah, I’m still showing up.
So much happens at the Store at any given night. At times it can be a fantastic wonderland where celebrities, headliners, hopefuls, and unsavory characters of questionable moral fiber mingle freely. Other times the Comedy Store is a dark place where insecurities are amped up and preyed upon by those who need the pain of others to warm their cold dead hearts. Opportunities are made and dreams are crushed by the minute. What’s there not to like?
It’s still a Reece’s Peanut butter cup of crisis and opportunity coming together in a tasty bittersweet imperfect mix of silliness and madness. An open mic segment at Erik Marino‘s Show Up Go Up could easily morph into a podcast or an event of it’s own which can spread across the nation like wild fire. The Roast Battle Show is proof of that. The shows that seem to fill up the room are usually the result of comics coming together organically to make something happen. Comics see something work and someone pitches in here, someone else pitches in there and cool things happen. Cool things like Roast Battle with Brian Moses and Coach Tea, Kill Tony with Tony Hinchcliffe, Until I Lose Interest by David Taylor, The Comedy Store Podcast with Rick Ingraham and The Ding Dong Show with Don Barris are proof of that. It’s still a petri dish of creative anarchy. What most folks would call a festival in Houston, Texas is what I call just another night at the Comedy Store. Changes are made and the show goes on.
Weeks later, outside the Belly Room where the roof meets the stairs I overhear Josh Nasar reveal to Melissa Eslinger what was going on in his head at the time. “You do what you do because it’s survival instinct. You can’t torture yourself with the what ifs, could of beens. You don’t think about these types of things, you just react. You do your best, move on and react to the moment.” And just like that my anxiety goes down a couple of notches. I find myself gazing at the stars and enjoying the moment.
Then Mike Schmidt taps me on the shoulder to tell me to stop sitting on the roof.
*Photo by Troy Conrad