Thursday, February 25, 2016
A Golden Age of LA Comedy
I saw a bowdlerized version of the NatLamp documentary on the History Channel and I thought there was a lot of comedy talent on the East Coast. What was your experience as a DJ with West Coast counterparts like The Credibility Gap, the Committee, and the Ace Trucking Company? I know there's a few alumni out there like Shearer/McKean, Howard Hesseman and Fred Willard.
THE COMMITTEE came down from San Francisco as did OFF THE WALL (pictured above), founded by Dee Marcus. That’s how I got involved in improv. I joined one of Dee’s workshops in 1979. That group featured many brilliant performers including Andy Goldberg, Paul Willson, Wendy Cutler, Robin Williams, Bernadette Birkett, Tom Tully, Harry Murphy, and Chris Thompson. I never performed in an actual OFF THE WALL show for one very good reason – I sucked compared to all of them.
Around the same time, a group from Minneapolis hit town with FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK. Michael McManus, Doris Hess, John Bates, Nancy Steen, Pat Proft, and Neil Thompson were among their standouts. I apologize if I’m leaving out any names.
And performing in a small theatre in Hollywood was THE WAR BABIES. Archie Hahn, Renny Temple, Mary Edith Burrell, Caren Kaye, Susan Krebs, John Welsh, Peter Riegert, and Marsha Myers were members of that great group. I must've seen them at least twenty times.
Many of these performers moved around and were in multiple groups. Although I was never in THE GROUNDLINGS I worked with just about everybody I listed. Same with FUNNY YOU SHOULD ASK and WAR BABIES.
For awhile I was in a performing group called THE SUNDAY FUNNIES, featuring a lot of the names I already listed. There were times there were more people on stage than in the audience. I think we lasted six months.
Around St. Patrick’s Day, Tom Tully always had a party at his apartment and EVERY improv performer in town would attend. We were just packed in. You can imagine the laughs. And amount of alcohol consumed. It’s the only time I didn’t mind being in a room where fifty people were funnier than me.
The ‘70s was a golden age for comedy in Los Angeles. That’s just the improv scene.
There was also the stand-up world. I lived near the Comedy Store on Sunset in the mid-70’s and it was not unusual on a Tuesday night to just pop in, grab a drink for a few bucks, and see Richard Pryor, who would appear unannounced to just try out material. A typical Saturday night line-up might include David Letterman, Jay Leno, Al Franken & Tom Davis, Elayne Boosler, Andy Kaufman, and Crazy Charlie Fleisher (among many others) all on the same bill.
For TV we had ALL IN THE FAMILY, MASH, THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, MAUDE, RHODA, and THE ODD COUPLE. Starting mid-‘70s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE exploded onto the scene, followed shortly by SCTV.
For movies we had Woody Allen (when he was still trying to be funny) and Mel Brooks.
And for radio, LA was blessed with Lohman & Barkley, Robert W. Morgan, Hudson & Landry, Gary Owens, the aforementioned CREDIBILITY GAP, and Sweet Dick Whittington.
Fortunately, I didn’t take all the drugs they do on VINYL so I was able to appreciate it all at the time.