This seemed like a fitting post to bring over from my old blog and start here:
One of the names that will be painted on the wall during the Names Night at The Comedy Store this Sunday is that of Jeff Scott, the piano player for over 15 years. Jeff not only plays the comics on and off the stage, often providing witty remarks along the way, but he is what Mitzi calls her "Social Butterfly" going around the club all night, talking to each of the comedians, the staff and those of us who just hang out, like the big brother glue holding the place together.
He's also a walking repository of the history of the Comedy Store, going all the way back before it was Ciro's. During the very first conversation I had with Jeff, he pointed to the wall between the Main Room and the Original Room and told me that when this was Ciro's, there was no wall, just one enormous show room where the likes of Frank Sinatra and Lana Turner would enjoy dinner, dancing and entertainment. Since then, I've been privy to such gems as :
- "There's no there there" - the second story back wall above the Original Room makes it appear as if the building extends on that side of the Belly Room, but it's just an extra wall - you can see light coming through the crack between the first and second floors if you look for it
- Before Ciro's, this was the location of Club Seville, which boasted a glass dancefloor with a Koi pond below. Patrons didn't care to dance on it, both for fear it would break and because the ladies objected to fish being able to see up their skirts
- And, of course, all kinds of antics from the past couple of decades of the Comedy Store - everything from Eddie Griffin staying onstage for 4+ hours, to the time Dice and Dom almost came to blows, to more recent stories about folks like Freddie Lockhart and Nick Youssef when they were just little baby comics. And yes, that hole in the Belly Room sign did, in fact, come from a bullet fired by Sam Kinnison.
Whenever someone starts to tell a story about that sort of recent history, they invariably finish and say "But Jeff can probably tell you more about it"
Jeff's road to The Island of Misfit Toys (a most fitting and excellent moniker for the Store if I ever heard one) was a winding one with a couple of great coincidences. Friend of the Store Pete Cornacchione met Jeff as a child while Jeff was working as a Pee Wee Herman impersonator at Sea World Ohio and booker Tommy Morris had an autographed photo of Jeff (also as Pee Wee) hanging in the 1950's-themed diner he worked at for years in Florida.
So, yeah, Jeff worked for a long time as a Pee Wee Herman impersonator (as well as a mime and many other characters for print ads, greeting cards, department stores and even a stand-in for Pee Wee, himself). It started in 1985 when Jeff rented a house ("Well, more like an attic") in Provincetown and stepped in as replacement accompanist for a friend who was a Liza Minnelli impersonator. Patrons started telling Liza that her pianist looked just like Pee Wee Herman and one of Jeff's major characters was born.
After returning to his home in Ohio, he kept up the Pee Wee impersonation (along with other character & comedy work) and became something of a local celebrity. Jeff was doing a Maestro character at Sea World, "conducting" their laser fireworks show at night when a local morning talk show asked to combine a human interest segment about his work as Pee Wee with their annual broadcast from the park. When the President saw the pack of kids lining up for autographs, he scrapped the original Maestro and asked Jeff to do the show as Pee Wee from now on.
Jeff moved to the Sea World in San Diego and then came to Los Angeles. He toyed with working as just a "regular Joe" actor but turned back to his love of musical theater and comedy after a couple of years. In 1994, a friend called Jeff up to say he'd seen an ad for a pianist position at a Hollywood nightclub and passed along the number. Thinking it was a club looking for a loungey act who would take requests, he kind of scoffed at it but eventually called the number and was greeted with "The World Famous Comedy Store, how can I help you?" Unfortunately, the position had already been filled, but they kept his number and called back a year later to offer it to him.
Like all of us, Jeff started out on potluck nights. The MCs were usually Don Barris and Freddy Soto, who immediately made Jeff feel like a welcomed part of the family. Which seems quite fitting to me, since it was Don and Jeff who welcomed me into the Comedy Store family just a few months ago. Now you can hear Jeff tickle the ivories Tuesday-Saturday at the Comedy Store, and if you're lucky he'll stop by for a chat as he walks around, stopwatch in hand, to keep track of when it's time to play on the next comedian.
PS If you are fortunate enough to be his Facebook friend, you can check out a fantastic gallery of photos spanning the history of the Store.