Alf LaMont is the director or marketing and development at LA’s The Comedy Store. As with any legendary comedy club, there’s an “if these walls could talk” mentality when it comes to interviews. But since they can’t, Alf is the next best thing. So we picked his brain and dug for some dirt. But rather than just look back, we pumped him for information about where he sees comedy headed in the future and what he feels the roles of comedy clubs like The Comedy Store will play in the future, and the impact of social media on the art.
Afterward, Alf dubbed this interview “the hardest interview he’s ever done.” A statement we couldn’t help but take a bit of pride in hearing. Then again, we’re not entirely sure how many interviews he’s fielded over the years and he’s probably, more than likely, f*cking with us…
What do you feel the role of The Comedy Store has been in the past? Where do you see it’s role moving forward?
The Comedy Store has always been one of the premiere places for showcasing new talent. The role of comedy clubs however, has changed drastically since the days when Johnny Carson discovered Freddy Prinze on our stage. Comedy clubs are no longer the only way for new talent to be discovered, and guys like Bo Burnham, Doogie Horner, and Dan Telfer are popping up all over the place and being “discovered” online. The great thing about The Comedy Store is that it was set up to nurture talent and to be a place where comics can grow. So now our focus is shifting more to developing comics and less to the sudden discovery. Ask anyone from Whitney Cummings to Bobby Lee and they will tell you that the best thing about The Store, is that it allows you to develop your craft at the most basic level. Just you, a mic, and one of the toughest rooms in the country. That’s why so many legends come out of this place, and that’s why we have continued success. Comics who can perform here, can perform anywhere and that has become our focus, development.
What’s it like working under Mitzi Shore, who’s been such an icon when it comes to helping/showcasing talent in the stand-up world?
Mitzi Shore is an incredible woman who unfortunately has been unwell for a few years now. Although she is no longer involved in the day to day operations, her presence is continually felt. The building, the infrastructure, the development of comics, its all part of her vision. There’s not a day that goes by here where we aren’t thinking about Mitzi and how she would do things and what she’ll think about what we’re doing.
Mitzi has flourished in a field that often seems pretty gender biased. What’s your take on gender and its role in stand-up comedy?
You have to understand that stand-up comedy as we know it, essentially started with Mitzi Shore and Bud Friedman, so women in positions of power have been with the artform since early on. It’s perfectly normal in comedy to have women as execs and talent coordinators, thanks in no small part to Mitzi Shore. Our dear friend Elayne Boosler is famous for arguing that funny has no gender, and that’s more true than ever. Back in the day people thought a young lady being foulmouthed was upsetting so people might have shied away from hiring a female comic. Try telling that to Whitney Cummings or Lisa Lampanelli today. As progress has been made towards equality, the playing field for talent has been leveled even more.
During your time at The Comedy Store, you’ve seen lots of talent walk through the door. Any acts in particular stick out in your mind?
We see a lot of developing comics here, a lot of guys trying out new stuff. Jeff Ross comes in here before the Roasts and works his material out on the audience, and I love seeing things like that. However, when masters of the craft come in, there’s just a moment of awe at how refined and how nearly sublime a set can get. Louis C.K., Paula Poundstone, and Louie Anderson can kill in any room at any time, and watching them is a treat because of the mastery involved.
One act stands out above all the rest for me, however. A French comic by the name of Gad Elmaleh. He’s a huge star in France, and he sold out 2 nights in record time here. The Show was entirely in French and while I was watching I saw some of our younger comics standing in the doorways laughing. I knew that they didn’t speak a lick of French, but the man’s delivery was so beautiful and so hilarious that it transcended even language barriers. THAT is one hell of a performer.
What’s one of the craziest things you’ve seen happen at The Comedy Store?
There are bullet holes here from when Sam Kinison would shoot his gun off in the parking lot, so asking about crazy things at The Comedy Store opens a whole can of worms. Personally, I’d have to say that seeing wrestling legends The Iron Sheik and Rowdy Roddy Piper do comedy as a guy dressed up as Jesus looks on, had to be one of the most surreal moments in my life. Comedian PJ Stansbury’s flip into a pile of garbage is a close second.
Comedy is an artform that requires experience and interaction. How do you feel new social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube have affected the way comedians approach the industry?
Wow. Maybe we should do a whole other interview on this subject alone. I’m actually working on getting a panel on this subject for SXSW with The Comic’s Comic (Sean McCarthy). I’ll give you my short answer. Social media is tailor made for comics. One liners? Quips? Snarky remarks? Funny bits? This is the meat and potatoes of stand up, and stuff that doesn’t make it into your act but is still hilarious now has a home. I think most comics realize that its not a substitute for a well executed and refined act, but it’s a hell of a tool to have at your disposal and comics like Paul Scheer, Chris D’Elia, Rob Delaney, Joe Rogan, and Marc Maron have really used it to its fullest advantage.
As stand-up comedy becomes more and more available through different sources, what do you feel the role of a “traditional” comedy club now plays?
With bars, garages, cemeteries, and holes in the wall now having comedy shows and with big names like Patton Oswalt and Paul F. Tompkins coming out against comedy clubs and for stand-up at non traditional venues, our focus needs to change.
Development, showcasing and innovation are the new roles we have to play and that is tough, because it comes up against some traditional thinking about how we approach comedy. UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] is the most innovative place out there right now and they are flourishing. Meanwhile the three comic headliner show is struggling to compete with unrefined but accessible acts that integrate specialized interests. Listen, adapt, and change. It’s a tough strategy for places that have been so established and set in their ways.
What do you think the biggest obstacles that currently face the world of stand-up comedy?
Carlos Mencia, stand-up comedy classes, Dane Cook, stealing from Patton Oswalt, even mentioning those things stirs up emotions and controversy among certain groups of comedy “aficionados.” Policing of content and comedy had always been done effectively internally. That is to say that comics have always done a good job of calling each other out in private when they acted selfishly or without integrity in public. The famous battle between Joe Rogan and Carlos Mencia on our stage took everything out in public and now there’s the real possibility that every battle between comics could become a public issue with sycophants from both sides chiming in and affecting how venues and comics are viewed and treated. I’m not just talking about Carols and Joe either. The internet has created a forum for certain comics to gripe about everything and in some cases that includes other comics and even the spots they are given at venues. There’s a very fine line between Patton’s very real schooling of a joke thief, and the bullying and whining I have seen in some cases. As Marc Maron said once, “Bullies beget bullies.” and I’d hate to see a world where only the most vocal, aggressive, and popular comics are the only ones who get their voices heard.
Who do you feel are some future stars of tomorrow in comedy?
I see comics at every stage of development, so it’s difficult for me to say. Chris D’Elia is a tremendously talented individual, Whitney Cummings is well on her way to establishing herself among the leading comedic women of our time, Mike Birbiglia is so thoughtful and interesting that I feel his talent hasn’t even begun to be measured, despite his success. Owen Smith is another comic I’m watching develop into a star as well as Fortune Feimster and Fahim Anwar, who just rocked Montreal. Comedy is such an evolving art form, especially right now, that its difficult to say who will be the future, but I’m really fond of the group I mentioned as artists and as people.
What advice can you give for aspiring comedians trying to get a start in the industry?
Nothing beats getting out there, in front of a mic, and practicing. No amount of YouTube Videos, no “Insider Knowledge”, there is no fast track to developing your talent. It is hard work, night after night, always fun, and rarely glamorous or sexy.
Last question. Got anything you want to plug?
Yes, The Comedy Store. We have murals being painted on our walls, photo exhibits in our halls, and we are going through some phenomenal changes right now that go back to our roots as an artist’s colony. Please be on the lookout for our specialized shows like LOL-Apalooza, and Karaoke Killed the Cat, as well as our continuously amazing traditional shows in the original room and our developmental shows in The Belly Room.
We’d like to thank Alf LaMont for his time. Next time you are in LA, stop by The Comedy Store, you might just catch the set of the next big comedian in action.