I was a typical Jewish American Princess. I was married to an attorney, and I was 29 years old. I was kind of bored. We just moved back to my hometown, New York City, after having lived In Puerto Rico for a few years. An old acquaintance of mine, Rick Newman, opened a comedy club in New York called Catch a Rising Star. I remember the days when they first opened. No one came in. There were people like Richard Belzer just starting out; Freddie Prinze got his start there. Since no one was coming in, they came up with a creative way to attract an audience. One night, during the week, they closed the doors, and they had someone at the door falsely telling everyone that there was no room, not even standing room. The word got out fast that this club was “packed.” Within a week, there were so many patrons, people really couldn’t get in. That’s how I started---I was thrown into it. I had nothing else to do at the time, and I fell in love with the comedy business.
Later on, we moved to Southern California. I noticed that they just opened up this building, and the sign said The Laff Stop. I never went in, but met the owner one night, Michael. He told me that he had four managers, and he was losing money with the club. We talked a bit, and I told him that I would go into the club and try to give him some advice based on my experiences with a successful operation in New York. He asked me to come and work as a host for a while, and I should take notes, and he’d like to know what I think. After about five times there, I called Michael. I told him my assessment. Within a month, I took over the club, and it became profitable. I had him concession out the kitchen so he could be paid rent. The concessioner would hire their own waiters, and take care of that aspect of the club. The club had to serve food in order to qualify for a liquor license. I made so many changes. I hired one assistant, so it was just the two of us. The club took off.
After a few years at the Laff Stop, we had to expand to accommodate the customers. We broke through a wall, put in extra seating,and we added a bar where people could wait before the show. When people came in and sat down, they had to have a two drink minimum, regardless of what they drank at the bar. It really took off. It was wonderful! There were so many newspaper stories written praising the club.
Some of the comedians were hesitant to work for a woman managing a club. They thought, “A Woman??” Someone that looks like her, 29 years old, a natural big chest in those days-----before cosmetic implants. They wanted to know who I slept with to get the job. I used to go home crying, I was devastated. Then I decided to think like a man, act like a man, and I did. I was cold and indifferent. After a few years, everything changed, and it was really great. I got to work with some “new” comedians who eventually went on to become big stars, including Jay Leno, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Sagett, and Bill Engvall.
Here are some questions posed to me by callers on a radio show.
1. Did you know Jerry Seinfeld when he was a young comedian? Did you think he was going to be great?
When Seinfeld already had his TV show, I visited him backstage when he was appearing at Caesar’s palace in Vegas. I said to him, “What did I tell you?” This was related to me telling Seinfeld when he was starting out that he would be successful. Jerry said to me that he knows, but now he does not even know how much money he makes. Jerry Seinfeld was always a clean comedian. Success had not changed him at all. Jerry stayed Jerry, one of the nicest guys on earth. Jerry is Jerry. What you see is what you get. The restaurant Jerry and friends always went to one the show was modeled after a restaurant that was a block from the club in New York, Catch a Rising Star. The way Jerry is on TV is the way he is in real life. When he called me on the phone a few years ago, he had the typical whiny voice you hear on TV, and that’s what I love about him….stardom did not change him.
2. Did you cross paths with Letterman?
Yes, he appeared at my club when he was starting out. I have no opinion of him. I’d rather not say.
3. What about Jay Leno.
When Jay worked with me, he was already doing clubs. He was opening in Atlantic City for some music groups. He was known as a comic’s comic. That is how good he was. I remember going back stage when he was in Atlantic City, and I had dinner with Jay and his wife, Mavis. Jay told me he was thinking of quitting. I said, “What did you say? I’ll break your legs before you quit, what is wrong with you.” He said to me…Look at Letterman, look at Robin Williams, I’m on the same level of Seinfeld and they just started. I told Jay Leno he can’t give up. And a year later he got to sub for Carson, and then Jay got his own show. Leno was and is one of the best. Back then, he always wrote his own material. He would come into the club on time on his motorcycle. Even before he was married, he didn’t flirt with the waitresses, he wasn’t obnoxious, and I don’t even think he knew how to drink. Once he met Mavs, his wife, that was it. That is the love of his life, and he is still in love with her today too. He did not ever cheat when he was on the road. He’s a happy and content guy.