With Rick Newman, the Catch a rising star creator and czar’s passing, just one day after his lifelong best buddy Richard Belzer’s death, a long, mystical, mythical, and momentous chapter in American show business came to an official end last week. ‘Catch’ will forever hold a special place in the history of not only entertainment, but of stand-up comedy.
RARE SHADY SPOTS WHERE A STAND-UP COULD REST EASY FOR A BEAT.
‘The Improv’, The ‘Store’, ‘Catch’, The Comic Strip, The Holy City Zoo in San Francisco. Sometime in the seventies after Phil Berger summoned a lot of us out of our homes and our shells with his near biblical book on stand-up, The Last Laugh, these legendary clubs became the rare shady spots where a stand-up could rest easy for a beat. We would huddle up in those rooms, at the bar and in the back, in between horrible auditions and road jobs that stripped our skin of any dignity. Or back from opening act work that taught you how not to be yourself for sixteen or so precise minutes in front of a large crowd taking their seats while not giving a shit about you in a similar way that everyone else in your life up to then had not giving a shit.
These comedy rooms where we all met and found each other, like minded silly souls, huddled up, each new grade or group, one after the other, dreamers and schemers, watching and wanting, were our new homes, hide-outs, hangouts, and meeting places. ‘Catch’ was the most magical though. It was the most cinematic of the group. It was a thin as a rail kind of place. At least to a kid from Detroit used to business and bars and nightclubs being wide and tall, having big parking lots next to them so everyone could park their Detroit made cars.
‘Catch’ was a railroad apartment version of a nightclub. By the time I made it out to New York to see it, by 1976 or so when Phil Berger wrote of it so perfectly, it was already a piece of heaven to a kid like me so it didn’t matter what size it was. It was already huge. I waited in line for potluck on a short reconnaissance trip I made from Detroit one spring break during high school. I met Larry David there. He was brand new, as was I. I saw Billy Crystal there for the first time. He wasn’t new. He was a hot shot. He leveled the room the night I saw him. Impressions, bits, faces, stories, Muhammad Ali. Howard Cosell. He was almost too good. I truly thought I should give up. I saw the great Ed Bluestone who wrote some of the funniest one-liners I had ever heard. We had all taken note that he and Billy had been signed by Woody Allen’s people, who were apparently there regularly scouting new talent.
The legend of a lot of these clubs lift-off can always be charted to one comics rise. The ‘Stores’ is to Jimmy ‘J.J.’ Walkers. Robin Williams lifted the Holy City Zoo and they say Robert Klein and Bette Midler had a lot to do with the success of The Improv in Hell’s Kitchen. The Comic Strip owed a lot of it’s Ooompf to Eddie Murphy and Jerry Seinfeld. All of that could be legend and rear-view. Half and whole truth. It could leave a lot of other’s success and hard work in the dust bin, but that’s the way history is, I guess. The ‘Catch’ story is the David Brenner story. It’s Rick Newman’s version, so it’s probably laced pretty heavy with veracity. The night in the mid-seventies that David Brenner, who was hot as hell at the time, came in and agreed to jump up, changed everything.
David Brenner was a Tonight Show staple which at the time was like being a Joe Rogan regular, having your own hit podcast, five Netflix specials, and, pictures of Ted Sarandos naked with a sheep. That’s how powerful he was. He fell in love with the place and was there all the time. Other big names followed.
I started coming back to ‘Catch’ several years later after going home to Detroit, then moving to L.A. after high school and becoming a ‘store’ guy. Whenever I was in New York I would play ‘Catch. Rick was always really good to me. A lot if it had to do with my friendship with Larry Brezner, one of his best friends. Larry was Robin Williams and Billy Crystal’s manager. Also, Richard Belzer who I knew from the Comedy Store helped out. Belzer had the run of the place and if he wanted you to get up, you got up. Whenever I was there back in those days, most times, Jerry Seinfeld was there. Jerry, Gilbert Gottfried, Larry Miller. Mark Schiff was there a lot. There or the Comic Strip. He was one of the funniest guys around. Another act comics would come from the bar, or outside, to go inside and watch you always hear about. *I was one of those acts that comics would go out to the parking lot to tell each other stories when I came on.
WALKING UP FIRST AVENUE
I remember walking up First Avenue on the way to the club, usually having just left The Comic Strip, or maybe having been down at Dangerfields. I was always in such a hurry to get to ‘Catch’. It always seemed like a place I could just breath. Like a spot in the middle of the city where I was normal, known, and somehow okay in. The truth is I wasn’t all that much of any of the three there. It just felt it. Rick was just warm enough, the other comics comfortable enough, the lights sort of low enough that the dream and the plan, or the lack of either, wasn’t in the way just enough that I could sit around and hang out and laugh until late at night.
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