by Jamie Flam
This year, my valentine is The Hollywood Improv Comedy Club, the love of my life the past 6 years. Today will be my final day as Artistic Director/Booker.
Leaving isn’t easy, as the club has been a magical home for me. There have been plenty of challenges along the way, but to get a paycheck to book and produce comedy shows, to regularly meet my heroes, to get an education in comedy from the best teachers in the world, to rebuild a room (The Lab) and its’ artistic community from scratch twice, to be at the helm of a magical playground where I can occasionally perform as a dolphin and a Spangler, and to get to watch some of the most talented people in the world perform and hone their craft every night has been worth them all.
The toughest thing to leave is my Improv family. And I use family in the truest sense of the word. The club management, the box office and door and kitchen staff, the servers and food runners and bartenders, the industry and audience and bar regulars, the producers and promoters, and the comedians, from headliners to open mic’ers, we’re all a huge family, united by the long, storied history of the club and a shared love and passion for comedy.
Every day in this building, we get to watch each other navigate through the mazes created by our insane choice to pursue art as a career. In this building, we celebrate holidays, ring in new years, watch the big games, applaud each others victories, and mourn the deaths of those lost too soon. In this building, we laugh, we cry, we fight, we drink, we hug, we make-up. Every day here is a soap opera and a sitcom and sometimes a musical, and when it’s at it’s best, it’s all of those things at once.
It’s fucking amazing.
But the time has come for me to get out of my comfort zone. For 6 years I’ve more or less lived off Melrose between Fairfax and La Jolla. I’ve been walking (or stumbling) a non-stop triangle between the club, my apartment, and Canters Deli. All great places! But I want to put my focus back into creating. And while there is a lot of creativity in booking a comedy club, it’s not an easy task when you are at the same time trying to juggle the non-stop barrage of needs, desires, and whims of hundreds of people every day. Leaving a steady pay check to risk failure again is scary and possibly insane, but every day I am inspired by the artists surrounding me and reminded that everything is possible.
When I was hired to book the main room, I was told by my boss that I’d probably burn out after a couple years. She was right. But I kept going despite the stress and lack of sleep, because I genuinely care about comedy, and comedians, and I was on a mission. I wanted to bridge the gap between the indie comedy world and the club world; to help make The Improv better reflect what live comedy was doing in LA; to make the art of comedy and paying talent a top priority. And so while I am absolutely exhausted, I leave knowing that I at least did the best I could to make those things happen in spite of some of the corporate barriers and industry politics.
I am proud of the variety and diversity I see at the club most nights. I am proud that there is finally the start of a development system in place to create opportunities for new talent. I am proud of how The Lab has become a hub for some of the smartest, most dynamic comedy in Los Angeles. I am proud that there are variety acts and podcasters, and fine artists and musicians that call this club their home. And most of all I am proud to have spent this part of my life with a family that has been growing since the club opened in 1975. Because I can’t claim to have done any of this on my own.
I must thank Erin Pooler-von Schonfeldt, my boss and the booker for the rest of The Improv clubs around the country. She is an unsung hero of comedy. She fought battles for me when necessary, but largely left me alone to do my thing. That to me is the definition of a good boss.
I thank the great Budd Friedman, who built this place. It was an honor and privilege to work in the same building as him my first couple years here, and his support and guidance were instrumental in my development as a booker.
And above all else, I thank our GM, Reeta Piazza. Without her, I don’t know where I’d be right now. At my rock bottom in 2010, I sent her a hail mary email asking if she needed help at the club, and two months later she hired me to take over The Lab based on a gut feeling. Without her leadership, her motherly instincts with myself and the rest of our staff and comics, her trust in me, her allowing me to try new things and to fail, the club wouldn’t be where it is today. Reeta was the heart of the soul of the club when I arrived, and for the last 6 years she allowed me to share those things with her. I owe her the world.
I have too many other people to thank in just one post (and I should probably get through my inbox one last time and train my replacement), so I’ll be nostalgically posting more thank you’s and pictures throughout the week as I make sense of a new path ahead of me.
In the meantime, if you are in LA, I am having a farewell show and party this Friday at 10pm with an amazing line-up and some likely drop-in guests, so come out and party if you can.
And happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!!