On Finding Out the Comedians’ AA Meeting Held at the Comedy Store on 8433 Sunset Blvd. Had Been Cancelled Since Covid After I’d Already Paid $4 for Parking


I’d always wanted to check it out,
but I guess I never will.
I wanted to see if it was like
a meeting we went to about 10 years ago
on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice.
On Friday nights, they had a special songwriters’ meeting
where you were supposed to share
your experience, strength and hope
in a catchy tune running 3 to 5 minutes.
My wife and I figure “Hell, we’re folksingers”—
we go to open mikes and sing Joan Baez songs and shit.
Heidi’s song about being down and out on Mission St.
in San Francisco would fit right in.
The sidewalk in front of the hall,
a former warehouse or grocery store
in the seedier part of town,
was overflowing a half hour before start time.
Guitar cases everywhere.
Everyone standing around was 20 years old,
looking either like Patti Smith and Tom Waits
or Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks.
Snippets of conversation filled the air:
“Bro, how long you been clean?”
“Three days, man. I gotta song tonight
about my journey thru hell and eventual salvation.
It’s called ‘Scabface Motherfucker.'”
“Cool! I’m doing my song, ‘Love is My Drug of Choice.’
Margie’s gonna sing harmony.
She’s been off meth for 5 whole hours.”
“Right on. Keep coming back. It works if you work it.”
We walk inside—this was so long ago
that they had just invented vaping, which back then
was regarded as not counting as a real cigarette.
Think of landing at LAX in a heavy fog bank.
The speaker’s podium was barely visible thru the haze,
Which brought back memories of the smog of 1978.
It was a big hall—couple hundred seats, about half-filled,
but they were doing that annoying thing they do in LA,
where you’re allowed to put a ‘marker’ on your chair and save it,
so every seat not taken had a book of matches
or a bus transfer or a losing pull tab on it
while their owners were outside schmoozing and playing grab-ass.
Either that, or there’s that person who saves 10 seats for their friends
who aren’t even there yet but might show up,
like some sorta goddamn 12-step Ticketmaster,
which I always thought was bullshit—where I come from,
your seat is saved when your butt is in it.
But I digress.
Anyway, the sign-up line is 20 yards long.
I also discover that there is a list of performers
that didn’t get on last week and got to go on first,
and there were a dozen or so of them.
So I said screw it, and we just stayed to listen.
Sat thru about a half-dozen numbers—
between long, rambling intros and endless repeating refrains
(just in case a big record producer in rehab walked in during your set)
every three minute share took about 12 minutes.
By my calculation, the meeting would end around 4AM.
We never found out.


But now, I stand on the sidewalk after the two staff guys
in the hall of the Belly Room tell me the meeting is kaput.
I would never know how comics ran an AA meeting—
I’m sure it would have been a hoot,
because as obnoxious as aspiring pop stars are,
comedians are 1000 times worse.
I know—I used to be one of them.
Just to my left was the old Sunset Hyatt,
where I spent my second night in LA (August 8, 1977)
As an 18 year-old college dropout who had
just run away from home and traveled by Greyhound
3000 miles to become a famous comic folksinger,
with no specific plan on how to achieve that goal.
At dawn on Sunday morning, though,
while crossing the Arizona border,
I picked up an LA Sunday Times at a layover
and the Calendar section’s lead article
was about the Comedy Store’s Monday open mike.
“That’s for me!” I exclaimed,
and after a night in a downtown $10 hotel room,
there I stood on the threshold of fame.
Due to miscalculations, I had gotten off the bus too soon
and had to walk the last mile, hauling
my suitcase with my life’s possessions
and my hollow-body white Gretsch
with its broken case tied with a bathrobe sash,
so I was too tired to balk at paying
the $30 a night fee at the Hyatt.
I was in plenty of time for sign-up.
Performers under 21 were put on at the very start of the show,
with the provision that they leave right after their set
due to liquor laws.
In a flash, I was standing in the spotlight
singing “Go Lamby Go,” my song about
an Iowa farm boy having sex with sheep
vaguely set to the tune of “Johnny B. Goode.”
This number was the keystone in my campaign
to conquer Hollywood.
Anyhow, it got a couple of laughs, and then, like a fool,
I did what I was supposed to do and went back to the Hyatt
instead of sneaking into the bar
and trying to meet someone famous.
The coda to this story is that a week later
I was sitting at the counter of Sambo’s on
Ocean Ave. & Pico in Santa Monica over
a cup of coffee and a stack of silver dollar pancakes
drenched in boysenberry syrup (which, ironically,
would become my major source of sustenance for the next 9 months)
when this young couple come in and the guy says
“Hey, weren’t you at the Comedy Store last week?
We’re in town for a vacation. You were pretty funny.”
“Gee,” I thought as they left,
“they must tell those stories about how hard it is
to make it in the big city just to scare people away.
It’s turning out to be easy!”


Flash forward 2 years.
It turns out the apartment complex in Mar Vista
(a seedy neighborhood somewhat redeemed by
its relative proximity to the ocean)
where I ended up also housed
a budding comic songwriter three years my senior—
a pianist who had composed a mini rock-opera about his sister
entitled “Robin the Disco JAP,”
which I learned stood for ‘Jewish-American Princess.’
For a Presbyterian from a hick town in upstate NY,
this seemed like pretty sophisticated stuff,
so we decided to pool our resources
(me with my bestiality bit, Howard handling the ethnic angle)
and make a go as a duo.
But, as veterans of the scene by this time,
we knew we were going to have to up the ante
and come up with a cutting-edge number that
would set up apart from the pack.
We’d both seen “Lenny” about 20 times,
we knew the score.
This was the year of the Comedy Store strike,
brought on by the greed of the club’s owner, Mitzi Shore,
who was sort of a cross between Leona Helmsley and Col. Tom Parker.
On June 1, a young comic named Steve Lubetkin leapt from the top
of the Hyatt House (the very place I stayed 2 years ago)
after being fired from the club as a result of his part in the strike.
Six weeks later, the Sunday Times Calendar section
ran a huge front page feature on his life and blighted career.
“This is what it takes to get famous in this town—
You gotta kill yourself?” we exclaimed
as we pondered the article, filled with envy
for that lucky bastard Steve Lubetkin
who was getting all this free publicity.
For a couple seconds, we considered
the pros and cons of following in his footsteps,
but being hedonistic potheads we quickly rejected that route.
Instead, we wrote a protest song.
The first and last verses should suffice
o give one the general tone of the endeavor:

1st: I’m looking down from the 14th floor
I see a vision of Mitzi Shore
Saying “You’ll never play at the Comedy Store”

Last: I’m looking up at the 14th floor
All the angels look like Mitzi Shore
Life is Hell, and Death is the Comedy Store

And, just in case we were being too subtle,
We entitled the song “Crucify Me.”
The very next Sunday, armed with my Gretsch and a little Pignose amp,
we hightailed it to the Improv’s open mike to debut our masterpiece.
This was back in the day when Budd Friedman, the owner,
actually attended these Sunday night cavalcades
of losers, wanna-bes, and mental defectives.
Hen we finished our epic, to a smattering of stunned applause,
Budd called out from his table.
“I imagine you boys won’t be doing
that number at the Comedy Store.”
We were stunned. Budd Friedman had spoken to us.
Nothing like this had ever happened to us before.
It must have been like that for Moses
when God said, “Hi! Like what I did with the bush?”
Blushing like schoolgirls, we chirped
“We sure are, Mr. Friedman. Tomorrow night!”
and completely overwhelmed, beat a clumsy retreat.
True to our word (and no doubt still brimming with hubris
From the Budd F. acknowledging we existed thing),
there we were the next night
at the Comedy Store (Westwood Annex.)
We got a spot fairly early in the evening
(as oppsed to being with the riffraff without friends or connections
they put on around 1AM after everyone had gone home,
which is where we usually ended up.)
This may have seemed like a good omen.
But it was not.
We barely got thru the second line of the song
When the MC’s voice boomed over the intercom–
We didn’t even have time to pack our gear
As we made a hasty exit down the aisle,
Clutching half-open cases and trailing cords,
As the pock-marked toady MC screamed
While a small posse of his henchmen stood behind.
You could see in their eyes that they had all started to think
“Gee, if I show Mitzi my fists covered with their life’s blood,
maybe she’ll give me that opening slot in the Belly Room Thursday night…”
(although I remember my main fear was they would break my guitar.)
We made it out to my girlfriend’s ’66 Ford Falcon unscathed
and drove a circuitous route home in case we were followed.
Back in Mar Vista, rattling a shoebox lid
to see if there was still a half-bowl of dope
nestled in all the seeds, we came to grips with
the realization that our comedy careers were over.
After a short PTSD break,
we remade ourselves as a folk/punk act
called “The Rummies” (because we drank a lot, too)
which also ended badly,
but that’s another story.


Anyway, there I stood on that overcast early afternoon on the Sunset Strip,
smoking a cigarette and silently ruminating
as my entire youth passed before my eyes.
Which took all of two-and-a-half minutes,
leaving a good hour & ¾’s on the parking meter I had already paid.
I wondered if today’s tortured recovering alcoholic comedians
still struggle with the timeless issues of
Life & Death & Art & Existential Angst, or whether nowadays it’s all
Cancel Culture & Podcasts & AI Robots Stealing Your Best Jokes.
Suddenly, I found myself smack dab in the middle of a fucking
OK Boomer Moment. And hadda pinch myself.
I mean, seriously, what do the young people care
about the deep thoughts of a geezer—
a member of AARP, Medicare enrollee, a guy who just
started collecting Social Security checks and prays every month
that the Good Lord not take him before
that wad of free money gets deposited into his bank account?
Some old fart returning almost a half-century after the fact
to the scene of the crime that nobody remembers anymore.
And yet, like an elephant trying to choose its own graveyard,
I keep coming back to LA.

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