Hollywood Hauntings: The Comedy Store
A History of Violence
Hollywood, California, is a place where aspiring actors and actresses have migrated since the golden age of cinema in their quest for fame and fortune. Many well-known comedians have also made the trek to the Sunset Strip to hone their skills at various comedy clubs in the area. One of the most popular destinations for those wanting to break into show business is the infamous Comedy Store.
In the 1930s, long before it became a showcase for up and coming comedians, Ciro's—as it was then known—was the place to be for various elements of the criminal underworld. Mobsters and gangsters of the worst kind used the club as not only a hangout, but also a place to take care of the most brutal elements of their business.
The basement of Ciro's was known as "the torture room" for good reason. Anyone who was perceived to have committed a wrong against the mob was taken to the underbelly of the building where their fate would be decided. The lucky ones had their knee caps smashed or their thumbs broken. Others were never seen again.
Besides being a death chamber for stoolies and the like, the basement was also utilized as an illegal abortion clinic. Gangster molls and prostitutes, willing or not, were regularly sent there to have their pregnancies terminated. A woman who claimed to be a nurse performed the procedures in the dimly lit bowels of Ciro's.
Due, in part, to the unsterile environment and the questionable qualifications of the abortionist, many of the women who were sent there to end unwanted pregnancies died screaming on the table. The basement of Ciro's was a place where lives were ended, in one way or another, on a regular basis.
Stars Are Born
Eventually, Ciro's changed hands and, in 1972, was taken over by comedians Rudy DeLuca and Sammy Shore. Their dream was to turn the club into a showcase for comedians, like themselves, who needed a place to perfect their craft. From that point on, Ciro's would be known as the Comedy Store. Little did the two fledgling comedians know at the time, but history was about to be made.
Shore and Deluca set to work turning the club into a desirable place for performers and audiences alike. Although it was a relatively small venue, seating less than a hundred people, they tried to find the best talent possible to attract crowds.
Things were going as planned and the club was making progress when, in 1973, Sammy Shore and his wife divorced. Mitzi Shore, who passed away in 2018, took over operations at the Comedy Store as part of their divorce agreement. She would later buy the building outright and expand it to seat over 400 guests.
By 1976, the Comedy Store was becoming a force to be reckoned with. A-list celebrities even asked to book the newly renovated club for their lavish weddings. The popular night spot became one of the go-to spots along the Sunset Strip for artists and patrons alike. Throughout the coming years, comedians flocked to Mitzi's club for the chance to perform in front of a full house every night.
The list of comedy legends who got their start at the Comedy Club is impressive, to say the least. Among the names who would go on to be considered the gold standard in their field were Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Roseanne Barr, Chevy Chase, Jim Carrey, Billy Crystal, Ellen DeGeneres, and Sam Kinison.
Trouble in Paradise
In 1979, Mitzi heard the first rumblings of unrest among some of the regular comedians who appeared at the Comedy Store. Although they valued the opportunity to perform in front of the audiences, some of the artists began to complain about their lack of compensation.
Mitzi Shore had always felt that her club was providing an invaluable service to the comedians who took the stage every night. They were able to make a name for themselves simply by appearing at the renowned venue. She had never considered paying the acts for what she deemed was a mutually productive relationship.
The comedians felt differently. They argued that the wait staff and kitchen help were paid, so they deserved to be compensated as well. They worked hard and attracted the crowds that kept the business afloat. They expected to be paid for what they had been happy to do for free only a couple of years before the club's popularity took off.
Mitzi balked at their demands for money. In retaliation, some of the comedians went on strike and picketed in front of the building. Furious at what she saw as the ultimate betrayal, Shore banned some of the more vocal offenders from ever performing at the club again.
After a six-week walkout, the situation was resolved when Mitzi agreed to pay the comedians a modest wage for their work. Still, she never got over the way some of them had behaved and refused to lift the ban. One comedian who was barred from the premises was a stand-up named Steve Lubetkin.
New York comic Steve Lubetkin was a mainstay in the club circuit of the late 1970s. He was admired by his peers for his tenacity and perseverance in his quest to make it as a stand-up comic.
Life as a comedian is not an easy one. It involves months of traveling, sometimes for little or no pay. There are stories of performers who have been forced to accept payment in the form of goods or meals in lieu of cash. It is not a life that most would choose, but for someone like Steve Lubetkin being onstage made it all worthwhile.
Lubetkin had been a regular at the Comedy Store for several years when the strike began. He was one of the most vocal supporters from the get-go. Sadly, his involvement rankled Mitzi Shore to the point that she told him that he was no longer welcome to perform in her club. He pleaded with her to be added to the nightly roster, but his words fell upon deaf ears. Mitzi steadfastly refused to book the comedians who had led the strike.
All that Steve Lubetkin knew in the world was comedy. He realized that his career would be hobbled if he could no longer showcase his material at the Comedy Store. In June of 1979, devastated by the turn of events, he took drastic measures to end the situation once and for all.
As his final act on earth, Lubetkin leapt from the roof of the Continental Hyatt House, a hotel which was located next door to the Comedy Store. His intention had been to land on top of Mitzi's club, but he missed his mark. Instead, he ended up in the lot. The suicide note that he left behind read simply: "My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store."
By the early 1980s, rumors had begun to circulate that something wasn't quite right within the walls of the Comedy Store. Besides the strike and the subsequent fallout, performers and staff alike were reporting strange occurrences that were taking place inside the building. One comedian in particular seemed to attract unwanted attention from something sinister that presided over the showroom on performance nights.
Sam Kinison had been a Pentecostal preacher before turning his sights toward stand-up comedy. His style on the pulpit had been to start out quietly and then crescendo into a verbal assault that would leave his congregation wondering what hit them.
Unfortunately for Kinison, his dramatic way of delivering the word of God was not popular among many of the parishioners. The same abrasiveness that had alienated his flock would soon become his trademark in the world of comedy. It would, in fact, help to make him a comedy legend.
By 1980, Kinison was a favorite at the Comedy Store, at least among the paying customers. For reasons no one could explain, the resident spirits had taken a disliking to this loud comedian right from the start. They would take great pains to derail his show. For instance, sometimes, the lights on stage would flicker during his performance. On other occasions, the sound system would go out, effectively silencing Kinison in the middle of his show.
One night, as soon as Kinison had stepped onto the stage, a swarm of angry voices began to fill the room. The voices were seething as they repeated the same exclamation over and over again: "It's him!" "It's him!"
The bitter tirade grew louder and louder as the comedian attempted to get through his material. Everyone present that night could hear the bitter voices as they echoed throughout the room, but no one could find the source of the disturbance. Whoever the hecklers were that night, they were invisible to both the performer and the audience.
Having had his fill of these entities, who obviously hated him, Kinison demanded that they show themselves. At that precise moment, every light in the showroom went out. As a result, the entire theater was plunged into complete darkness. They had, quite efficiently, driven Kinison from the stage.
No one ever knew for sure why the spirits detested Kinison above all others, but it may have had something to do with his religious background. Sam had, after all, been a fire and brimstone type of preacher for several years. Perhaps they targeted him because of his deeply held faith. Whatever the reason, they made his life at the Comedy Store as miserable as they possibly could.
In 1992, Sam Kinison was driving from California to Nevada for a performance. He was accompanied by his bride of less than a week. His brother and best friend were following behind them in a separate vehicle.
Along a stretch of highway in California, a car operated by a drunk driver crossed the center line and struck Kinison's vehicle head-on. His wife was knocked unconscious by the impact, but Sam was awake and able to speak after the accident.
Kinison's brother and friend rushed to his side while waiting for emergency crews to arrive on the scene. His brother remembers that Sam was having a conversation with someone only he could see. It was obvious to them that Sam was pleading for his life.
They listened as he said, "I don't want to die." He would then pause while whoever he was trying to reason with spoke their piece. When it was his turn to speak, Sam pleaded, "But why?" He waited again for a response. When he spoke again, it was with quiet resolve. His final words were, "Okay, okay."
Kinison's brother says that Sam seemed at peace with his decision. As a look of bliss crossed his face, Sam Kinison closed his eyes for the last time. He was only 38 years old.
The basement of the Comedy Store had been an area in which violent beatings, abortions and murder had occurred in the days when the club served as a mob hangout. The building has changed over the years, but the memories of the brutality that had taken place there in the past are still causing repercussions to this day.
Comedian Blake Clark worked at the Comedy Store as, not only a comedian, but also a security guard. As such, it was his responsibility to check out any strange noises in the building, even if those disturbances originated in the basement.
On one occasion, Clark and another comedian named Joey Gayner, encountered something in the basement that they could not explain. They both witnessed a black form, at least seven feet tall, float across the floor. Terrified, the two men ran upstairs and straight out of the building onto Sunset Boulevard.
After regaining their wits, the men decided to return to the basement to see if the ghostly creature they had seen was real or a figment of their imaginations. Upon descending the basement stairs, they spied the creature crouched in a corner. When it sensed their presence, it rose slowly and made a beeline for them. Again, they ran for their lives, but not before noticing that the being had only a dark void where its face should have been.
On another occasion, acting upon his duties as security guard, Blake Clark had to go into the basement to investigate a series of strange noises that were so loud they could be heard upstairs. It was 3 o'clock in the morning when he cautiously made his way down the basement stairs.
When he reached his destination, Clark could hear a guttural growl emanating from somewhere in the shadows. Suddenly, he heard something strike the basement door so violently that it had bowed outward. To Clark, it looked as though something was pushing on the door with such force that it was actually bending the wood. He wasted no time in fleeing the basement for the relative safety of the upper level.
Clark would return to the basement one last time. While checking out mysterious noises once again, Clark watched as a black piece of paper materialized from thin air, gently touching his hand as it floated to the floor. When he picked it up, he saw that one word had been etched onto the phantom paper: his name.
Blake Clark got the message loud and clear. The thing in the basement knew his name. He had seen it and it had seen him. Not wishing to press his luck any further, he never again set foot in the basement of the Comedy Store.
It is thought that several different spirits haunt the Comedy Store. Some are harmless resident ghosts who seem to take great pleasure in pulling pranks on the living denizens of the club. Others, like the entity in the basement, are a reminder that not every ghost is friendly or welcoming.
One of the spirits of the Comedy Store is said to be that of a woman who is frequently heard in the showroom. She is known to whisper to anyone she encounters. She is never seen, but her voice is well known to many of the people who work in the club.
The female spirit has never made anyone feel unsafe or threatened in any way. Rather, she seems only to want to be in the presence of the living. It is thought that she might have been a victim of one of the many botched abortions that had been performed in the basement decades earlier. The reason for this theory is that, at times, her agonizing screams can be heard erupting from beneath the floor.
Another of the friendly ghosts is thought to be none other than Steve Lubetkin. Several staff members and comedians claim that someone pulls pranks on them from time to time that are reminiscent of the tragic comedian. Back in the day, Steve was known as a jokester who loved to have fun with the club's employees. He, or someone who looks remarkably like him, has been spotted on countless nights observing new comedians as they perform their acts. It appears that, defiant to the end, Steve is once again a part of the Comedy Store family.
Spirit magnet Blake Clark came into contact with another of the club's resident ghosts one day when he was relaxing in a backroom. He was playing a video game when he suddenly became aware that someone had joined him. He looked up to see a man dressed in a World War II bomber jacket standing across the room. Clark realized immediately that there was something odd about his visitor. His suspicions were confirmed when he attempted to speak to the man. It was then that the image before him began to fade away before completely vanishing without a trace.
Later that same day, a woman working in one of the building's offices also encountered the man in the bomber jacket. When she saw him, he was hiding on the 3rd floor, crouched in a corner with a look of terror on his face. He disappeared before her eyes, just as he had done earlier with Blake Clark.
Several male entities frequently appear in the main room of the club. They seem to be acting as security. They are known to walk around, inspecting the crowd and keeping an eye on the stage. They are said to always be dressed in clothing from the 1940s. The men hang around for a while until they are satisfied that everything is on the up and up. Once their job is done, they fade from sight.
Not all of the showroom ghosts are as obliging. Blake Clark recalls one night when he saw a chair glide 20 feet across an otherwise empty stage as though being pushed by unseen hands. He and Joey Gayner also witnessed chairs, which had only moments earlier been in their proper places around the dining tables, stacked on top of each other in the middle of the room.
Joey demanded at one point that the spirits come out and make their presence known. In response, an ashtray rose up off of one of the tables and hurled itself directly at his head. It narrowly missed hitting him dead on in the face. Instead, it smashed against the wall behind him.
Several famed psychic investigators have explored the Comedy Store looking for answers as to whom, or what, is haunting the establishment. These seasoned professionals were not immune to the happenings at the club. They witnessed coins falling from the ceiling during one visit. On another occasion, one of the investigators experienced excruciating leg pain while in the basement. He likened it to that of someone having their legs broken.
The Comedy Store is still in business and doing quite well. It remains a place where comedians of all levels of fame can showcase their material in front of a captive audience. Although they are happy to perform on the club's stages, there are several comedians who refuse to enter other areas of the building. The basement, whose reputation precedes it, is considered off limits by all but the bravest of souls.
**Sources for this story are as follows: Twitter, Wikipedia, Reddit, L. A. Weekly, and Haunted Houses.com**