Timing is everything in comedy, which explains why Jamie Masada might have the last laugh with his $10 million club in Long Beach.
Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory comedy club in Hollywood, opened a second Laugh Factory in the South Bay in September. Near the Long Beach Convention Center and the Aquarium of the Pacific, it has seating capacity for more than 500 people, making it one of the largest comedy venues in the country.
Instead of another working club like his Sunset Strip venue, he decided to create something out of the ordinary, a palace for comedians.
"My dream was to open a showroom because comedians don't get as much respect as other entertainers," Masada said. "In a typical bar, they give the comic a microphone and a chair. Musicians have the House of Blues and other beautiful clubs that pay tribute to their profession."
The interior of the new club recalls the movie palaces of Hollywood in the 1930s. Outback Steakhouse has a restaurant on the premises to provide food during shows. Beneath the fancy fa & #231;ade, the club has state-of-the-art sound and video equipment, and will be the shooting studio for "Supreme Court of Comedy," a series now in its third season on DirecTV's 101 Network.
The facility also has a museum of stand-up comedy, complete with life-size statues of Rodney Dangerfield, Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey. Memorabilia goes back as far as vaudeville and Groucho Marx.
The Long Beach Laugh Factory employs 20 people, compared with 30 the Hollywood club.
Masada said he opened the venue in Long Beach for historical reasons. Bob Hope's famous USO tours originated from the port city and Richard Pryor recorded his first album there.
But the location also makes economic sense.
"He probably saw a good niche just by looking at the map," said Lou Volpano, managing partner in Ascertain-ment, an entertainment market research firm in Newport Beach. "It's far enough away from Los Angeles and it's not Orange County. Long Beach is its own stand-alone market, and it's big enough to support a club."
When Masada surveyed the area, he found only one room on the Queen Mary and a few theaters that occasionally booked comedy acts. But there was no competition for a dedicated comedy club.
'A little risky'
Dean Gelber, general manager of the Comedy Store in Hollywood, a Laugh Factory competitor, said he has a second club in La Jolla, near San Diego, which has been open since the 1970s.
"Financially, it's a very good club because of way less overhead than in Hollywood," he said.
But whether Masada's Long Beach venue will succeed amid the economic downturn is an open question.
"To open a new club today is a little risky," Gelber said. "We are doing great, but what I hear from the guys on the road is that clubs in Middle America are hurting. The clubs aren't playing what they used to and Las Vegas is a ghost town compared to what it was last year."
But Laugh Factory, as an established brand, has an advantage in that Masada can book stars.
"You need big names and Jamie can get them," Volpano said.
Since opening, the Long Beach club has presented Drew Carey, Dane Cook, Jamie Kennedy and Paul Rodriguez, among others.
"He's got the most killer lineups in the business," said Dom Herrera, a comedian who works at both Laugh Factory locations. "You'll see people headlining that club for the weekend. Having two clubs will give Jamie more spots to fill, but you won't see any watered-down material."
Herrera said the Long Beach Laugh Factory is the biggest comedy club he's ever worked in. It's a size that favors corporate events or benefits that draw midsized crowds.
But for now, the Long Beach Laugh Factory is in market-test mode. It opens only three nights a week, with one show on Thursday, and two on Friday and Saturday. By comparison, the Laugh Factory in Hollywood is open seven nights a week, with three shows nightly on the weekends.
Masada acknowledged the club was drawing 250 to 300 people per show, as low has 50 percent of capacity. Tickets are $25 with a two-drink minimum. He expects to keep the club open six or seven nights per week and draw bigger crowds by the end of 2009.
"The timing is perfect," Masada said. "We decided to open now because people need to escape, and laughter is the best escape. In our Los Angeles club, we are packed every night. Of course, the people don't spend as much as they used to. But they are laughing."
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