I've been asked a couple of times lately, "Why do they call it potluck? Do people bring food?" Nope, it's just a metaphor because unlike the other 5 nights at The Comedy Store - which are finely crafted 12-course meals, Sundays and Monday are a bit more loose and casual. You have a lot of different people bringing a lot of different things to the table. Sometimes you get 6 crappy types of chili that're all going to make you sick to your stomach later and sometimes someone brings the best lasagna you've ever had in your life.
The first hour is exclusively open mikers, which sounds like it would be excruciating - and sometimes is. But the host is usually a good young comic who can keep the audience somewhat entertained (recently done very ably by folks like Benji Aflalo, Tony Hinchcliffe, Adam Szajgin and Sandy Danto). And they usually throw on a couple of ridiculous, totally out-there acts that are more laughing-at than laughing-with. Then you get to friends and family "hour" which is mostly employees and former employees, along with a few other comics who are not yet Paid Regulars. Officially, the Pop-Ins don't start until 10:30 - these are when the Paid Regulars might come in and work out some new material or perfect an existing bit, and you might get a Jeffrey Ross or Louis CK just stopping by. But really, once it gets to be about 9 pm, it's a bit of a free-for-all. You might see the newest employee, Willie Hunter, followed by Whitney Cummings or you might see Lucas Hirl, who just seated you, followed by Julia LoVetere, who just served you a drink at the front bar, followed by Randy Bamsch, who was sitting at the back door making sure you didn't sneak in.
The way they determine the order is still an utter mystery to me, involving variables such as "I can't be away from the parking lot for very long", "I have to leave and do a set somewhere else", "I have a show on FX now", "Tommy really doesn't want to put me on, but i bugged him so persistently he broke down", pi and and Avogadro's Number. This used to bother me, but now I love it because it forces me to get over my comedy ADD and actually sit through 3-4 acts I might skip if I knew for sure I had 9 minutes before the next person I really want to see came on. And sometimes I am pleasantly surprised.
But the real thing I enjoy is watching the same folks (most of them the employees) go up repeatedly and be able to watch how they refine and perfect jokes, what state of new material they like to throw out there, and even watching them grow as a comic overall (finding their voice, getting more comfortable onstage, learning to connect with the audience). For example, Julia did the same joke about cholitas threatening her on the playground two weeks in a row - one week stone-face silence, next week uproarious laughter. She explained she thought the second time went better because she led in with a more personal introduction about herself. Or take Jaime Salita, the newest import from La Jolla. Only a couple of months ago, he had a very timid presence onstage but now he's fierce and full of attitude, getting the audience to even laugh at the phrase "prolapsed rectum." And watching Esther Povitsky start to come into her own and get funnier and better literally every time I see her warms not only my groupie heart by my aspiring female comic heart as well (I know, I know, I shouldn't make the gender distinction, blah blah blah - I can't help it if it makes me happier to see someone do well because we both have boobs).
Making the effort to go to potluck on a weekly basis is really like a free clinic in comedy, and occasionally you get the Dave Chappelle lasagna.