Paying Tribute to the Comedy Cellar
Written by James Lang
The Comedy Cellar is a religious experience for fans and practitioners of comedy alike. As comedy fans, we hear the names of the great comedians from past generations and how they influenced today’s funniest people, but how often do we hear about the clubs that started their careers? Some of the greatest names in comedy from this generation all got the chance to hone their talent in one place, The Comedy Cellar.
I could tell you that the club launched in 1982. I could tell you that both the Olive Tree Café and the Comedy cellar share staff, menus, and kitchen, but none of that really matters. What is most important about the Comedy Cellar is that it breeds comics. It’s a place where the truly talented can go to sharpen that talent. It’s a place where no matter how big the comedian gets; they go back “home” to perform on the small stage. So let’s find out what some of the biggest names in comedy have to say.
Colin Quinn, comedian, actor, writer: When I first walked in I thought, “This is the New York comedy scene that I pictured.” Everybody was smoking (and it’s owned by Israelis, so even more smoking than usual.) It’s a dark basement with not much of a stage, so your eye-to-eye with the crowd.
Jon Stewart: There was one show that started at 8 or 9, and it kinda went until the last person left. I remember I would go there every night as the last guy. That wouldn’t be enough to get $50, but I was good enough to get a plate hummus. You made nothing.
Marina Franklin, comedian: My first impression was that it was the club. I used to just go to the Cellar to eat. I never thought I could work there. In my head, doing that club meant you’d made it.
Part of the success of the cellar can be contributed to booker Estee Adoram. She is both loved and feared by the comedians. I think Ray Romano summed it up the best when he said,” Estee doesn’t own the club, but she might as well. It’s all Estee”. The legendary booker says she likes to treat her job as family business, rather than a show business. Maybe that personal touch is what brings comedians back to the stage 5, 10, 20 years after they’ve made it big.