Sammy Shore got it all started back in 1972.  A comic likely best known for being Elvis’s opening act, he wanted a joint on the Sunset Strip where he could work on new comedy material while hanging with stand-up friends like Redd Foxx, Tim Conway, and Buddy Hackett. Happily, the new club got started at almost the exact same time that Johnny Carson moved The Tonight Show from New York to Los Angeles, the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship.  But the place wasn’t Sammy’s for long -- his then-wife Mitzi would soon take over the place that she dubbed the Comedy Store.

Fifty years later, the Comedy Store is legendary for all of the comic careers that it sent skyrocketing into the stratosphere. 

So how do you celebrate a golden anniversary? You recruit Sammy and Mitzi progeny Pauly Shore to host a party, for one. But for the rest of us who couldn’t be there?

“We wanted to do something that celebrated the past and the present,” says Jonathan Sosis, president of Comedy Store Records, “and we thought the best way to do that was to put all (the anniversaries) in the same box.”  

That’s 50 Years of the Comedy Store, a limited edition (only 1,000 copies!), five-album + digital, fully immersive box set that’s as much a comedy history lesson as a laugh riot. Sets include never-released-on-audio performances from comics like Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Paul Rodriguez, Jimmie Walker, Sandra Bernhard, Howie Mandel, Louie Anderson, Arsenio Hall, Pauly Shore, Bob Saget, Iliza Schlesinger, Argus Hamilton, and Whitney Cummings.  

Whew. 

“A lot of the younger generation probably doesn't realize that David Letterman started at the Store, that Jim Carrey was a comedian here,” says Sosis. “We want to open the eyes of the people who may not realize Michael Keaton came from the Comedy Store.” 

Listeners will be able to experience those slices of history, one-of-a-kind performances that are never duplicated exactly the same way.

“Live comedy is one of the most ephemeral art forms,” says Andrew Winistorfer, director of music at Vinyl Me Please, the label helping the Comedy Store produce the anniversary set. “It happens that one way only once. The audience is different, the comedian is different, the circumstances of the world are different every time that a comedian tells a joke.”

“It's very similar to the live jazz stuff that we put out,” he says, “capturing a single moment.”

The box set captures distinct junctures in Comedy Store history.  The first four albums feature comedy sets collected from different birthday shows over the years -- the 11th-anniversary show (10 seems to have gone missing), the 15th, the 20th, and the recent 50th blow-out bash. 

The most unusual disc is the one devoted to the Door Guys, featuring the work of the men (and women) who work the entrance at the Comedy Store as an eventual path to the big stage.  The list of comics who started at the door features a who’s who of American comedy, including Letterman, Sam Kinison, Carrey, Keaton, Eddie Griffin, Marc Maron, and Bobby Lee. 

“The Door Guys are part of the Comedy Store’s foundation,” says Sosis.“These are up-and-coming comics that do ticketing, they watch the back door, they deal with customer situations, and become paid regular comics once they're showcased and pass.” 

Being a Door Guy has “taken on this mythical status,” says Winistorfer, mainly because the comic who’s punching your ticket today might be playing Madison Square Garden in a few years.  

Which makes sense, since they’re learning from the best. For young comics working the door, watching the professionals work is like taking a MasterClass.  In Sosis’s career, he says, he used very little of what he learned in college except for the experience he got doing internships. “It's basically a comedy internship to be a Door Guy.” 

The experience is so essential that the Comedy Store has an ongoing podcast series devoted to Door Guys.  You like stories?  These people have stories.

While the anniversary set comes complete with digital versions for easy listening, the vinyl aspect was important to the creative minds putting this project together.  

“Vinyl is a nod to the past, a nod to the traditional way that people listened to all audio but specifically comedy,” says Sosis. 

Despite the advent of tapes, CDs, and streaming, many young adults were first exposed to stand-up comedy on vinyl.  “I just remember getting George Carlin's album on vinyl and thinking ‘this is how you listen to comedy,’” says Sosis, recalling other formative records from comics like Andrew “Dice” Clay. “The rawness, the sounds of being in the club. There's definitely a feeling of life that you get with vinyl that doesn't come across in other mediums.” 

The 50th anniversary was also a good reminder to the folks at the Store that they were sitting on a lot of history, “reels and reels” of sets that represent a vital archive of American comedy. There may even be an installation at some point with the National Comedy Center so more people can share that history.  Those physical assets won’t last forever, giving the digitization of these performances a sense of urgency. Imagine losing a killer Richard Pryor or Robin Williams set due to deteriorating tapes left to languish too long. 

“We have this archive of amazing stuff that a lot of people haven't heard,” promises Stosis. “So there’s more coming down the pike.” 

Top image: Comedy Store Records/Vinyl Me Please

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