[IMG:L]The Sunset Strip has long been the epicenter of Hollywood’s nightlife, the adult playground where stars and wannabes alike went out to see, be seen and party the night away. And it seems that one of the longest-standing entertainment hot spots in town, some of the more unruly guests have stayed long past last call.
Long considered an institution where comics both established and straight off the bus go to perfect their punchlines, The Comedy Store opened its doors in 1972, founded by Rudy DeLuca and Sammy Shore (the father of comedian Pauly Shore) and quickly became the proving ground for generations of stand-up acts. Comedy giants including George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, Andy Kaufman, David Letterman, Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Jim Carrey, Roseanne Barr, Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle.
The A-list comics have certainly knocked ‘em dead over the years–figuratively, of course. But The Comedy Store audiences may include some patrons that aren’t alive in a more literal sense. For decades the club has experienced an ongoing string of bizarre phenomena that’s provoked almost as much terror as laughter.
Gravel-voiced comedian Blake Clark, a fixture in Adam Sandler films and a regular guest star on such TV sitcoms as Home Improvement, Boy Meets World and most recently My Name Is Earl, doubled as a doorman when he was first hitting the stage at the Store, and the funnyman was the favorite target of a mean-spirited spook inhabiting the building after-hours. Once while checking the main show room for stragglers after the club had closed, Clark froze in his tracks when he saw a chair slide some 20 feet across the main stage as if guided by an unseen hand. The ex-Marine made a hasty exit.
[IMG:R]On another occasion—this time in the afternoon—Clark sensed that someone was watching him, and out of the corner of his eye spotted a man in a brown leather bomber jacket standing off to his side. When he turned to face the stranger, the man grew transparent and faded away. The apparition resurfaced later that day, cowering in terror in the third floor office of a female assistant before vanishing. When the woman and Clark compared notes, which including the identical detail of the brown leather bomber jacket, they were convinced they’d seen the same man.
Another time, around 3 a.m., Clark heard a low, gutteral growl coming from the basement, which was locked shut with a metal gate. Suddenly it appeared that an unseen force was straining to push the door open, and just as suddenly the door snapped back into its original position and Clark found himself face to face with towering, amorphous entity that seemed carved from shadows and, in Clark’s interpretation, radiating menace—he bolted from the club as fast as his feet could carry him.
Later, Clark made one final foray into the basement, accompanied by another comic, who without warning started shouting at an invisible something to stay away. Clark saw his friend’s frosty breath in the air, yet the man’s hands were burning hot to the touch. Suddenly, a black chalkboard flew across the room and struck Clark’s hand; when he turned it over, his name was written on it chalk.
The only one the entity or entities ensconced in The Store bedeviled more than Clark was the late comedian Sam Kinison, who routinely found lighting and audio equipment going on the fritz in the middle of his fire-and-brimstone-style act: when he finally challenged his ethereal tormentors to show themselves, the room went pitch black. Another evening the real showdown took place on stage, with Kinison battling an increasing loud, disembodied buzzing with his trademark scream. Clark swears within the buzzing were voices chanting “It’s him, it’s him, it’s him.” Kinison later died in a car accident on the highway between L.A. and Las Vegas.
The bizarre instances at The Comedy Store grew so commonplace, a team of parapsychologists from UCLA were invited in to investigate in 1982, and after one of the psychic members of the group felt a sense of searing psychic pain while in the basement, a unique hypothesis was advanced, one that turned the clock back to the building’s origins, which had as impressive an entertainment pedigree as The Store.
[IMG:L]The building had been constructed in 1939 to house Ciro’s, an extravagant nightclub that catered to the glitterati of Hollywood’s Golden Age. The club was the brainchild of Hollywood Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson, who owned a string of chic, successful nightspots on the Strip and had a more than passing familiarity with Mob wiseguys, whose fingers were inevitably entrenched in nightclub entertainment across the country. As a hot spot, it cooled down appreciably in the early 40s until New York impresario Herman Hover was imported to elevate the entertainment to be worthy of the finicky entertainment elite.
By the time the 50s rolled around, Ciro’s soon became the central gathering place for the ultimate “in” crowd, where Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Cary Grant and all of Hollywood’s top stars assembled to see showstoppers who were as talented as they were: Nat King Cole was a regular headliner, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis made a boffo Hollywood debut there, as did Sammy Davis, Jr., who also staged a moving and magnificent comeback on Ciro’s stage in 1954 after losing an eye in an auto accident (on the same stretch of highway where Kinison later died). It remained a glittering jewel in the Sunset Strip circuit until the 60s when it was converted into a rock and roll club where The Byrds made a name for themselves.
But it wasn’t likely that the shades of the old school entertainers were causing all the commotion at The Comedy Store, even in a bid to upstage young Turks like Kinison. Theorizing that the basement was the focus of a lot of bad and bloody business that had gone down on the premises when the management was more mobbed up, parapsychology team theorized that ectoplasmic antics were likely being caused by some ghostly goodfellas--or, in the case of the terrified spectre in the brown leather bomber jacket, their victims.
[IMG:R]If the explanation seemed convenient, it also seemed utterly convincing in 1994 when, during a taping for a segment on a local news show, one of the original UCLA investigators was on hand and noticed a anachronistic group of three men in wide-lapeled ‘40s style suits carefully watching the news crew’s activities. When the parapsychologist approached to acknowledge them, the ghostly goons simply vanished. And for once at The Comedy Store, no one was laughing.