Comedy Store legend Lue Deck danced with Richard Pryor, surprised Steve Martin, filmed Robin Williams and that was just the beginning

On his first night pursuing the dream, Lue Deck found himself sleeping under the hedges in a church yard in Burbank, California. The next day, comedian Ollie Joe Prater would offer Lue a job as the doorman at Los Angeles’ world-famous Comedy Store and and it would transform his life forever.

lue-deck-photo

Lue Deck

Doorman at the Comedy Store may be the most high-profile doorman gig in the universe. To hold onto it, Lue had to win the trust of the Comedy Store’s owner, resident genius and dragon (depending on who you ask), Mitzi Shore.

 

Win her confidence and friendship he did. Lue became one of “Mitzi’s boys”, a select group of comedians in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s who were dedicated to Mitzi and her vision for the Comedy Store. Mitzi viewed her comedy palace as an industry showcase, not a club. It might sound semantic, but the difference between the two would change Lue’s life and the course of stand-up history.

If the Comedy Store were a club, then any comedians who performed there should be paid. If it’s a showcase, then it was providing a service to performers by giving them an opportunity to display their wares to scouts, agents, and television execs. A spot on The Tonight Show was the biggest prize of all. Time on Johnny Carson’s stage could launch a comedian’s career into the stratosphere overnight. To Mitzi, her expert coaching plus the chance to be seen was her gift to her comedians. In her view, it was unreasonable to expect pay on top of that.

But the Comedy Store comedians were dedicating their waking hours to their craft. They needed cash to survive. And weren’t they making it possible for Mitzi to attract the crowds that kept the Comedy Store in business? They were the ones, they felt, who were providing a service and it deserved a wage.

When this conflict erupted into a full-blown strike in 1979, it shook the stand-up world to its core. Some of the biggest up-and-coming names in comedy stopped work and picketed the Comedy Store. They included Jay Leno, David Letterman, Elayne Boosler, Paul Mooney, Marsha Warfield, and Tom Dreesen. Among their high profile supporters: Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, Jimmie Walker, and Bob Hope.

But Mitzi’s boys - Lue, Argus Hamilton, Ollie Joe Prater, about a dozen in total - felt that Mitzi had given them a unique shot at a life in comedy and they couldn’t abandon her.

By the time the strike ended six weeks later, friendships and partnerships were irretrievably shattered and a comedian named Steve Lubetkin was dead.

The showcase system was changed forever and clubs around the country felt the aftershocks. Going forward, comedians performing in showcases would be paid.

For Lue, the strike had unique ramifications. For one, Mitzi relied on him even more. His responsibilities and stage time grew. As the Comedy Store archivist and videographer, he decided to preserve thousands of pieces of Comedy Store history which Mitzi in her pain and anger ordered him to destroy.

As his stage time expanded, so did his career. He began to tour locally, then nationally, then around the globe. At age 65, he told me, he is now “five thousand shows old.” He has performed in hundreds of U.S. cities, in Ferdinand Marcos’ palace and at a nuclear refueling facility in the middle of the ocean. He became known as “the comedian in the red shoes.”

When he broke his back a few years ago, Lue turned to writing and internet radio and was nominated for a Peabody Award. Lue has written his column In Search of Laughs for TheCheers.org since 2004. He is a significant figure in William Knoedelseder’s must-read, I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era (on which Jim Carrey loosely based his Showtime television series this past summer). Lue will be featured in a major documentary about stand-up to be released around Christmas. Details are not yet public.

Lue has also written Stand-Up Decoded, an insightful how-to which includes many of his adventures. Another book about his time at the Comedy Store is in the works. He is an enthralling conversationalist with a genuine humble streak.

Lue kindly spoke to me about his comedy beginnings, Mitzi, his encounters with some of the Comedy Store’s best-known alums, the strike, and his life after the Comedy Store which is just as extraordinary as the years that preceded it.

IN THE BEGINNING

Teme: When did you know you wanted to be a comedian?

Lue: When I was a student at the University of Texas I produced a public access cable show. A club owner said to me, “Hey, you’re pretty funny. I need you.” I said, “No, I’m a TV producer, I don’t do funny.” He said, “I’ll pay you $50 a night.”

I was living on the G.I. bill, so $50 a night was incredible. That night, I watched Johnny Carson. I stole four jokes from him and two jokes from one comic, and two jokes from another comic. I got on stage and they liked what I did.

I started performing all over Texas. I did pretty well and moved to Houston. I did stand-up there and got involved with a radio personality who asked me to write jokes. We did well in the ratings, so in 1976 I packed my bags and hitchhiked to California.

FOLLOWING JOHNNY HOME

Lue: My first day in L.A. I hitchhiked to the Comedy Store because I’d heard Johnny Carson mention it. I did an open mic and I was terrible, but so was everybody else. I had a little bit of money, so I took four buses to Burbank to see The Tonight Show.

Standing in line, I met a lady. We watched the show and afterwards, we followed Johnny Carson in her car all the way home to Bel Air. When we got to his street, he stopped, came up to us and said, "Get the heck out of here!" I met him five years later at the Comedy Store and I told him the story. He said, "You will not believe how often people chase me home."

Today they call it stalking, but it seemed to be the thing to do. It was also the first lady I got to sleep with in Hollywood. Only had one night with her. That night I camped out at the Burbank Baptist Church. I was sleeping in a sleeping bag under a bush when they found me, invited me in and gave me a place to stay for two days.

MEETING MITZI

Lue: My second day in L.A., Ollie Joe Prater gave me a job as a doorman at the Comedy Store. Suddenly, I was at the center of the comedy universe. It was the best place in the world to study.

Last known photo of Heck and Deck

Last known photo of Heck and Deck

A couple of months later, I invited a friend from Houston, Jimmy Heck, to come join me. We were a comedy team, “Heck and Deck.” Our motto was "Funny as a train wreck." We were outrageous. We yelled punchlines trying to be like Monty Python. We rose up the ranks of the open-mic’ers to what Mitzi called non-paid regulars.

Teme: What was your first encounter with Mitzi?

Lue: When she realized Ollie had hired a doorman at the Comedy Store’s Westwood location, she sent a limo to come get me and bring me to the Sunset Blvd. Store to see what I could do. I remember being on stage doing my best stuff and hearing her say, "He's not funny." I had to run offstage and puke in the bathroom. But she didn't fire me. Within eight months, one of her boys recommended she move me as a doorman to Sunset.

She liked Heck and me. She offered Heck a job on the switchboard, but then he scheduled her for three 9:00 a.m. meetings in a row and got fired. She never liked him again. He didn't understand nightclub late hours.

Around that time, she realized that video was a good tool and she put me in charge of it. She decided I needed an office, so I got an office in the back of the Store. The space is still there, but it is a bar for the non-paid regulars. It still says “video room” on it.

A lot of the stars needed a place to be before the show besides backstage, so they would ask to be in my office. I had a hundred moments with Pryor, Andy Kaufman, Dangerfield, Dick Gregory, and more.

RARE FOOTAGE BY LUE OF ROBIN WILLIAMS (1978):

 

MITZI’S INFLUENCE

Teme: How did Mitzi help you develop as a comedian?

Lue: For a whole year she said, "Lue, you're not funny. Your jokes aren't funny. Don't tell jokes. Talk to the crowd." So I learned to play the crowd.

Mitzi wrote: "To Lue, one of the best guys at The Comedy Store"

Mitzi wrote: "To Lue, one of the best guys at The Comedy Store"

At the time, it hurt my feelings, but she could tell everything about a comedian in three minutes. She could tell about me in thirty seconds, and she was absolutely right.

I think she's brilliant. I think she's brutal. She wouldn’t allow anyone else to make decisions for her club. Imagine being a single mother in charge of the greatest nightclub in Hollywood.

She ok’d every spot every comic did and had a personal relationship with them. She's the most brilliant showbiz person I've ever met. She broke my heart forty or fifty times in the time I worked for her because I wasn't good enough. That was my problem, not hers. Yet she kept me close.

Here's my secret. I saw ten different great comics come into the Comedy Store, get promoted to the top, sleep with Mitzi and be worked out of the Comedy Store. My credo was, “don't sleep with Mitzi.” She made a couple of offers a couple of times.

Argus Hamilton, the comic emeritus at the Store, is the most brilliant joke writer and political satirist I've ever met. He said that Mitzi looked for charisma. Mitzi looked for the person beyond the jokes. At the time, I had not learned to manifest that, so I did not fit her vision. After a couple of years, I was getting it and she gave me more and more stage time, but I'm happy to say she trusted me as a man before she trusted me as a comic. When I left L.A., I was prepared like no other comic I've ever met.

They held a birthday party for Mitzi at the rest home recently. I'm told she barely recognized anyone. Whether it's Alzheimer's or another disease, she's getting into dementia now. It's a shame, but she accomplished what nobody else ever accomplished, so God bless her. She would qualify as the most interesting person in my life.

DANCING WITH RICHARD PRYOR

Lue: In 1978, Richard Pryor was at the Comedy Store working out material for Richard Pryor: Live in Concert. He was onstage at the Comedy Store three or four nights a week and we went from twenty people a night to two hundred to see Richard.

Mitzi started putting her guys on ahead of him. She didn’t think I was good enough, but I was the doorman and seating people and MC’ing the show. If someone didn’t show up, I had to go on stage until another act walked in.

My orders from Mitzi were, "Don't be obscene in front of Richard, it uses up the F-word." So Richard heard me say “friggin’.

I get off stage and wander into my office and I realize he's following me, and he says, "What was that?" I say, "Well, they told us not to curse around you." He says, "Lue, if you're going to say ‘fuck,’ say ‘fuck.’"

He asked me, "What's your favorite curse word?" I say, "Motherfucker." He says, "Say it louder." I said, "Motherfucker." He said, "Yell it!" I said, "Motherfucker!" He grabbed me by the arms, and we're jumping up and down yelling, "Motherfucker!!!" And the door opens, and Mitzi sees us.

"Lue! What are you doing?!" And I ran. I just ran away. But Richard taught me a vital lesson. If you're going to go for the cuss, go for it.

I had similar moments with all the other names I just mentioned to you simply because I had private space where no other comic did.

Teme: Wow. Are those stories going to be in your new book?

Lue: Most of it.

IS THE COMEDY STORE HAUNTED? (Yes.)

Lue: There are ghosts at the Comedy Store. In the 1930’s and 40’s, the building was a famous night club called Ciro's. Sinatra, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis played there. I slept there before I lived in the Comedy Store house.

Teme: What did you see?

Lue: HBO’s third annual Young Comics series was in our Main Room. HBO laid cables through the back hall, so we couldn't close the back door. We had to put chains on it, but it was still part open. Mitzi said, "Lue, you're going to need to sleep here tonight."' So I did my regular thing. I bussed the tables. I took out the trash, and I set up the Main Room for the next night. I set up four hundred chairs where Mitzi wanted them. As I went back to the other side of the Comedy Store, I heard somebody beating on the door. It was Chevy Chase.

He had broken his arm and was in a cast from his elbow to his wrist. He said, "Hey Lue, I'm hosting. Let me come in and case the room." He came in and he said, "Can I sit at the piano and play?" So I said “Sure.” After a couple of minutes, he said, "Come on over. Got any pot?" We smoked a joint while he played the piano, sat around for 45 minutes, and talked. Then he walked out the back door. I put the chains back on, and I went back to the Main Room. Every chair I had set up in the Main Room was now in a pile up to the ceiling.

Teme: That just gave me the chills.

Lue: If I’d had five guys, we couldn’t have done that. I freaked out. I ran away. I came back and looked. They're still up there. I walked in and screamed at it, and in front on my eyes, every one of the four hundred chairs went back into place.

I have twenty other stories like that, but that's how I found out.

In 1981, there was a television show called That's Incredible on ABC. Skip Stephenson was one of the hosts. He was a fine stand-up comic. I’d advised him on his first appearance on The Tonight Show. He talked them into doing a special on the ghosts at the Comedy Store. Harris Peet, Blake Clark and I were all interviewed. People said, "Oh, you're making it up." I invite anyone who thinks I'm making it up to spend a night in the Main Room and see for yourself. The ghost is Mickey and if you address him nicely, he won't hurt you. If you don't, things will fall on you from the ceiling.

Teme: What era is Mickey from?

Lue: We think he's one of the guys that delivered prohibition liquor in the late 1920's and 30's for Al Capone. I do not go in the Comedy Store Main Room without saluting Mickey and making sure he knows it's me. You know how comics write on the club walls?

Teme: Yes.

lue-deck-comedy-store-wall

Lue: In 1981, I put my name on the wall and I didn’t go in that room again for fifteen years. When I came back in the early 90's, I go look at my name and it's still there, but it's faded. I went back in last year and my name was in fresh ink like it just happened. Everyone else’s name from my time faded. Mickey had welcomed me back.

A GLIMPSE OF LIFE IN THE COMEDY STORE HOUSE

Teme: I’d love to hear about life at 8420 Cresthill Road where so many Comedy Store comedians lived.

Lue: I got to move into the house, which was above and a little west of the Comedy Store. I got the basement. But if you're the low kid on the comic scene, the basement is beautiful. I immediately ordered cable TV for my room and dropped a 100 foot illegal piece of cable to the Comedy Store straight into Mitzi’s office, so the Comedy Store had cable, too.

I lived in the house with Argus Hamilton, Yakov Smirnoff, Mike Binder, Ollie Joe Prater, and Andrew Dice Clay. Dice Clay was Andy Silverstein then and he was an impressionist.

Lue and Robin Williams

Lue and Robin Williams

The club closed at 2:00 a.m. All kinds of people would drop by the house afterwards, mostly to smoke pot or do coke. I smoked pot, but I never did coke. I got to hang around with Dangerfield, Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman, and Richard Pryor.

This was in the late 70's. Nobody else knew how to hook up their cable TV. I developed a switch where you could record one show and watch another which wasn’t otherwise possible. I went to lots of big comedians’ houses as their technician. So when they walked in the club, they knew me. It seemed like every comic in town invited me to their house. So here’s my best story about that …

HOW TO SURPRISE STEVE MARTIN

Lue: I’d just returned from my first road gig, a revue in Reno. I'm standing in the back parking lot of the Comedy Store smoking a joint. A red Rolls Royce pulls in and Steve Martin [one of my cable customers] gets out. He’s got his banjo, throws me his keys and said, "Take care of my car," and walks inside. Well, I hadn’t been the parking valet for two years. I'm sorry, I'm now a stand-up who makes money. I jumped in his car, lit up a joint, took it for a ride around Sunset Boulevard, pulled it back in just as he finishes, and gave him the car. As he backs out, you can see him go “sniff?!” because he didn't smoke pot.

THE STRIKE

Back left: David Letterman, Tim Reid, Lue Deck. Can you spot Jimmie Walker and Tom Dreesen in that row, too?

The Comedy Store basketball team, The Bombers, around the time of the strike. Back left: David Letterman, Tim Reid, Lue Deck. Can you spot Jimmie Walker and Tom Dreesen in that row, too?

Teme: Please tell me about the strike.

Lue: One day I came to work and 150 of the funniest people in the world were on strike.

I actually went to the first strike meeting. There, the funniest people in the world screamed at me and said, "Get out! You're a spy for Mitzi!" I wasn't, but I would have told her anything she asked because she was the queen of the world to me.

Heck supported the strike and we broke up.

During the strike, I went from an open-mic’er to house M.C. and from three hours a night to a featured act. In one night because of the strike, I went from 149th in stand-up to 9th at the Store.

Only about nine comics stayed with the Store. I really thought it was the end of the comedy community.

A bunch of the famous [comedians at The Store] really deserved to be paid, but the Comedy Store is not a comedy club. It's a showcase club for the industry. A comedy club has three or four acts a night. The Comedy Store has almost forty acts a night. You cannot pay $25 an act or more and stay in business. The Comedy Store offered them a place to showcase for the television and film industry in return for their performance. But the strikers decided it wasn't enough. They threatened Mitzi. They marched into the club, got her alone, stood over her and said, "If you don't pay us, we'll strike." She's the queen of comedy and a megalomaniac. She threw them out.

Hence the strike started. When the strikers realized it wasn't going anywhere, they put out a call for all comics in L.A. to unionize.

Now at the time, they wanted to be paid. I was getting $40 a night to host and run the Comedy Store. I was being paid, they weren't. So I could not relate. I tried to support them, but I stood up to them because my queen said to. But as Mitzi said, 150 comics could not agree on anything.

It never occurred to me to support them because the Comedy Store was my job and my living and I lived in Mitzi's house.

On the second night of the strike, Steve Lubetkin got a set at the Comedy Store in San Diego. He showed up late. He said he had car trouble. I believe it. I'd been in his car.

If you're a professional comic and you miss the first night of a contract, you get canceled.

Mitzi assumed that Steve was supporting the strike and she fired him. So he came back and started working for the strike. Steve wasn’t getting spots before and got no spots afterwards. He got despondent. There were many comics who were working and could have taken him on the road. Nobody offered. He checked into the hotel next to the Comedy Store and jumped from the top floor.

Steve Lubetkin's death took the heart out of Jimmy Heck. After being rejected by the strikers whom he supported and by Mitzi, who was scared of him because he was a moody guy, he quit our team and showbiz.

WHO SET FIRE TO THE IMPROV?

Lue: On the third or fourth night of the strike someone tried to burn down The Improv [the other prominent L.A. comedy club at the time]. It has been said for years that it was Ollie Joe Prater. No. I suspect it was another of our comics. I toured all over the country with Ollie. He is the greatest act I've ever seen. If Ollie had burned The Improv down, he would have bragged about it for the next ten years and he did not. I have a very strong idea who did it, but I would never say it in public.

Teme: Showtime’s I’m Dying Up Here seems to imply that Mitzi did it.

Lue: The queen of comedy wouldn't do that. She's a great businesswoman. She would have not opened herself to that kind of legal action. But angry comics underneath her? You betcha. We had nothing to lose. If I had been invited to burn the Improv down I wouldn't have done it, but I would have supported whoever had. But it didn't burn down. The damage was repaired in two weeks.

To this day, if you perform at the Improv in L.A. or the Comedy Store, you're going to get about $12 because of the strike.

LAUNCHING SAM KINISON

Lue: It turns out, I welcomed Sam Kinison to the Comedy Store. When the strike was over, I had to work extra because I was head of security and head doorman. Six weeks after the strike, I was burned out. I said, "Mitzi, I got to go home to see my folks and clear my head."

I went to Georgia and on the drive back I stopped in Houston to see a friend and Heck was sitting on his couch. He suggested we do a set at the local club, the Comedy Annex in Houston. I picked up the phone, called the club owner and said, “I'm Lue Deck from the Comedy Store in L.A. I'm in town, and I’d like to pick up a quick ten-minute set with my partner and in return I'll be glad to help your boys when they come to L.A.

She gave us a set and asked us to hang around until the end of the show to talk to their performers. Sam (Kinison) and Carl (LaBove) and Bill (Hicks) were all in that group and heard my talk. I finished with, "When you think you're good enough, come see me at the Comedy Store." Another three, four months later, tap, tap, tap on the door and Sam walked in.

Teme: Wow …

Lue: He was an ass. He wasn't that funny. And yet after I got him on [stage] that night and after a couple of nights hanging around getting high with the guys and making friends, I and several other comics spoke about him to Mitzi. She gave him a showcase, probably six months ahead of when he should have got it. But she liked him.

Now Sam was injuring other comics with his ego and actually pistol whipped a poor sad sack comic. That's when I went up against him and said, "Not at the Comedy Store." I was ready for Sam to shoot me, knowing Sam would go to jail. When you worked for Mitzi, you were one of “Mitzi’s boys.” She counted on you to protect her as well as the club.

HOW DID LUE BECOME “THE COMIC IN RED SHOES”?

lue-deck-with-red-shoes

Lue: My very first road gig was a revue in Reno. It was a huge stage. I was instructed to exit down the orchestra pit stairs so the dancers could come on from both wings.

We were doing five shows a day. I fell on the steps several times and on the last day I cut my cheek and had to go to the hospital and get stitches. On the way back, I stopped at Kmart and bought some red shoes so I could always see where I was going.

Then when I began touring, I only wore red shoes. I didn't think much about it. But people began to call me “the comic in red shoes.” It became my signature. Sometime in the '90s on a cruise ship, a guy from Adidas saw me and said, "If you do TV and wear our shoes, I'll give you fifty pairs." I still have three or four pairs left. Even offstage, I don't wear anything but red shoes.

Teme: Whenever I see red shoes, I think of you.

Lue: It's working, isn't it?

LEAVING THE COMEDY STORE

Ollie Joe Prater

Ollie Joe Prater

Lue: In 1985, Ollie Joe Prater asked me to go on tour with him. We did a hundred cities a year for three years before he died. I developed enough contacts to never need the Comedy Store again. In ten years I did shows in one thousand cities. I didn’t return to L.A. until 1997.

Then I started doing U.S.O tours. I entertained the troops in 23 countries and finished the last five years of my career appearing at American embassies and consulates.

A LIFE-CHANGING U.S.O. TOUR

Lue: We did thirty shows in the Philippines. Our last show was at Malacañang Palace for President Ferdinand Marcos. After the show, he came over to me. He said, "Pretty funny! Loved your jokes. Is there anything I can do for you?"

I was prepared. I pulled some notes out of my pocket and said, "My mother's father disappeared in World War II when he was a prisoner of war in the Philippines." He survived the Bataan Death March, and then my mom got two letters from him from the P.O.W. camp and never heard from him again.

President Marcos put me in touch with some people. They helped me search seven cemeteries and I found my grandfather. I was able to take pictures of the grave and apply to the government, and my mother got a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and $62,000 in insurance money. So I found my grandfather because I was telling jokes on the other side of the damn world.

It was first and foremost my message from God saying I was on the right path. It was the first thing I was ever able to do for my family that counted.

BOB HOPE AND THE NUCLEAR PERFORMANCE

Teme: What was your most unusual venue?

Lue: The U.S.O. sent us to a place called Diego Garcia. It is a small island and the nuclear refuel depot for the entire Pacific fleet. There's a five-thousand seat arena there because it’s where all the ships dock.

When I got there, there had been a security alert. Most of the ships were out at sea. The only people on Diego Garcia were contract workers for the American Armed Forces, which is to say personnel from other countries. I went on the first night to 5,000 people who did not speak English. The host turned to me and said, "What are you gonna do?" I said, "I have no fucking idea."

But I walked out there. I knew a few words in Japanese, so I said them. I knew a few words in Tagalog and said them. I found translators in the audience and got them on stage. I would tell them the joke in English, I would let the Japanese guy tell it in Japanese. I would let the Pilipino tell it in Tagalog, and I would let the Korean guy tell it in Korean. It took so long and got so many laughs I could only do a quarter of my act.

Two months later, I'm wandering through the Comedy Store during the day, and the switchboard calls me and says, "Bob Hope is on the phone for you." I pick up the phone and Bob Hope says, "I'm holding a book in my hand from the Department of Defense. It lists entertainment. Under the comedians, there are two comics with a 100% rating. Me and you. Who the fuck are you?"

We’re all human. Even if we don’t speak the same language, I'll find a way. Currently, my hobby is learning how to say, "thank you" in as many languages as I can remember. It's the two words you can say that will make someone smile far from home. I can say “thank you” in forty languages.

ADVICE TO UP-AND-COMING COMEDIANS

Lue: The most important book I've ever read about communications is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I read it in 1964 and I reread it every year through the '90s. I'm an old school communicator. I give you hearty affirmation and lavish praise and suddenly you would rather talk to me than “Joe Blow” standing next to me. It is in some way a sales manipulation. In other ways, it's just a way of being nice. My Dale Carnegie training always helped me on stage.

When I perform anywhere in the world, the first thing I do is tell them, "My name is Lue. I'm here to make a few friends. Everybody say ‘Hi, Lue.’” When they respond in unison, “Hi, Lue,” they have elected me captain of the moment. Now I’m their friend who is going to make them laugh instead of a stranger.

I also try to avoid negativity on stage. I want to be their friend so they laugh more for me. This is linguistic manipulation at its most subtle and for me it's sincere. I've seen it used not sincerely. Doesn't work nearly as well. But those are my two signatures. Red shoes, and “Hi, Lue.”

Teme: What mistakes do new comedians make?

Lue: Not dressing well, not being respectful to the audience, not memorizing their material before they get there, messing with the mic.

If I leave center stage, it's for a reason. I never take the microphone out of the stand unless the joke requires it. I'm a focused entertainer. I want your attention and I give you mine.

I never look away from the crowd. I read the crowd every three or four minutes. I can tell which sections of the crowd aren't laughing and those that are. I reward the ones that are with more attention.

I always wanted to be Johnny Carson. Turns out that wasn't going to happen. I can be silly, obscene, and petty, but I present it well.

Teme: Were you ever tempted to quit during hard times?

Lue: Not once. Never. My first five years in L.A., I lived on $200 a week. It was hard to pay rent and eat food and get places. It was tough. But I developed side incomes. All I wanted to do was be a stand-up comic. Nothing could stand in my way.

Teme: What's your advice to comedians for getting through tough times?

Lue: Eliminate the mistakes I mentioned. It's my contention that every 35 to 40 shows, you hit a plateau. You can't grow any faster than that, but you can get better by eliminating mistakes. Speak clearly. Be gracious. Punch up. Don’t punch down.

Do anything to get to 200 shows, and then move to a bigger market. If you're in Chicago now and you're over 200 shows-old, get out of fucking Chicago. Go to New York or L.A.

You've got to leave L.A. once you have learned the lessons there and get into the real touring world. There are things you need to know that you will only learn if you're on the road in different places. I worked one hundred cities before I realized that I had a southern accent and that some northern people didn't appreciate my jokes because of it.

You’ll get more consideration if you have a special relationship with the person you want to hire you. In my league, we're all funny. People want to work with friends who are nice.

I don't chase waitresses. I don't drink at all because my parents were heavy drinkers. I offer to help the club operations because I'm from club operations. Would you rather have an asshole like Sam Kinison or Lue Deck? Now Sam is a much bigger star than me, but I beat him in money, I beat him in personal appearances, I beat him in dress, and I beat him in friends. Because he was being himself, and I decided to be a marketable act. I made my living by being dependable and on time.

I'm the least talented comic you will talk to, but I work harder than anybody else. I know what talent is. That’s not me. I may be likable. I may be upbeat. I may be successful, but I'm not talented. I'm skilled. You understand the difference? I am just doing what I learned to do.

I do have a talent. It's what my dad's job was. He was a systems analyst at Lockheed. I'm a systems analyst. I can look at any system and find the weak point and show you how to improve it, in particular, stand-up. I can show anyone how to improve because I understand how the system works. That's my talent. The rest I just practiced until I got the technique.

My mom taught me to be modest and nobody will ever hurt my feelings by saying, "you no-talent bum" because I agree with them. This way, no one will hurt my feelings, understand? It's more of a defense mechanism than anything else.

RARE COMEDY TREASURES

Lue: I've spent the last year working with the current Comedy Store archivist. I was the original Comedy Store archivist and I didn’t throw anything away. In the book I’m Dying Up Here you can see material that I provided. I’ve donated 2,000 pieces of history to the current Comedy Store archives that nobody had but me. When the strike began, Mitzi picked up promo materials and pictures and dumped them on my desk and said, "Burn them." Well, I didn't. I put them in a box and I pulled them out again last year.

Over the past year, I’ve digitized everything I had. If you go to my Facebook timeline, you can see every page.

MITZI SHORE TRIBUTE

Mitzi in her office at the Comedy Store.

Lue: My health is failing. Last year, I had a stroke at the Comedy Store and I have heart trouble. On my last appearance there I set a new Comedy Store record: three emergency rooms in one night. But my mission is to get Mitzi Shore a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The sad part is that because she’s struggling with dementia, she’ll never know. But if I spend the rest of my life trying to accomplish that, it will make me happy because she gave me everything.

COMEDY TODAY

Lue: I'm plugged into the current scene in L.A., but I want no part of it. Comedy has changed. They don't care if you're funny. They care if you have attitude. It seems now attitude acts are at the fore. Less punch lines. I think today most of the acts are trying to get therapy onstage where I don't want to hear it. Make me laugh, damn it.

I believe there are two types of comics, joke comics and attitude comics. I'm a joke comic. I average four laughs per minute. I tell jokes and I keep moving. That's who I am. I'm the comic in red shoes.

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Special thank yous to Lue Deck for being so generous with his time, insights and permission to use some of the one-of-a-kind treasures from his archives, and to Dobie Maxwell for introducing me to Lue.

Recommended reading and listening:

Stand-Up Decoded: Sneak a Peek Into a Lifetime of Stand-Up Secrets by Lue Deck

Lue's columns on TheCheers.org here.

Lue’s new pilot: Comic’s Commentary here.

I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era by William Knoedelseder

Buzzfeed's in-depth article about life at the Comedy Store house here.

MORE RARE FOOTAGE FROM LUE'S LIBRARY

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