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Jewish Journal

Jamie Masada gives Long Beach a place to laugh

by Lilly Fowler

September 25, 2008 | 12:24 am

Jon Lovitz

Jon Lovitz

Former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Jon Lovitz signed a contract with Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada last year.

The terms were simple: Lovitz was to appear at the comedy club every week for the rest of his life.

So it was no surprise when Lovitz recently took the Laugh Factory stage last Saturday night, joking about miserly Jews and then told the crowd: "You'll never find a Jewish Scientologist."

But what was special about the night is that Lovitz's performance didn't take place in Hollywood or at the Laugh Factory's Times Square Comedy Club, but at the opening of its newest club in downtown Long Beach.

Masada says while Atlanta and Las Vegas vied for the new comedy club, he decided to branch out to Long Beach because it was "more feasible and close to home."

Masada hopes the new $10 million, 670-seat venue, complete with a second stage VIP area, will help make comedy more popular around the region.

Hollywood and Orange County already feature a thriving comedy scene. And while the Long Beach/South Bay area has made a name for itself with Jay Leno's favorite haunt, the Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, the first local expansion of the Laugh Factory is expected to bring laughs and a little Yiddishkeit to downtown Long Beach.

Located in The Pike at Rainbow Harbor, across from the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, the comedy club joins restaurants and stores cropping up in the pedestrian-friendly area by the waterfront.

"[Laugh Factory] is going to be a big deal in Long Beach," Mayor Bob Foster said.

Robert Swayze, manager for the city's economic development bureau, echoes the mayor's enthusiasm for what the Laugh Factory will represent for the city's downtown area.

"Along with the Queen Mary, it's going to be an icon in Long Beach," he said.

In addition to functioning as a comedy club, the new location will also feature a Stand-Up Comedy Hall of Fame -- a museum featuring one-of-a-kind memorabilia donated by world-famous comedians.

Among the items on display are a shoe worn by Rodney Dangerfield, a comedy album signed by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello and a script from the popular show "Full House" signed by Laugh Factory regular Bob Saget.

"It took me almost 20 years to put some of this stuff together," Masada said. "This is a history of comedy."

A national Comedy Hall of Fame already exists in St. Petersburg, Fla., but the Laugh Factory owner said he wanted his own local homage to entertainers who aren't always granted the same level of respect given to musicians and actors.

Masada says the Hall of Fame is intended "to give the community [of comedians] the dignity they deserve."

The Long Beach club will also feature a comedy Walk of Fame -- à la Hollywood's Walk of Fame -- as well as a Wall of Fame with photos and statues of popular comics.

Masada grew up in Iran and Israel as the son of a cantor, who said, "Making people laugh is the greatest mitzvah of all."

He immigrated to the United States at 14, and began performing at comedy clubs soon after. A pay dispute with a club owner inspired a then-16-year-old Masada to open the first Laugh Factory in Hollywood in 1979 with the help of a $10,000 loan from writer-producer Neal Israel. The Sunset Strip club, which was once home to Groucho Marx's film offices, has hosted such comedy luminaries as Richard Pryor (the first to take the club's stage), Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle, Roseanne Barr and Paul Rodriguez.

But Masada's legacy reaches beyond the big names in the business. Many say he has helped push Latino, African American and other minority comics to the forefront. And when "Seinfeld" star Michael Richards went into a racist tirade after being heckled by two black men at the Laugh Factory in 2006, Masada immediately banned Richards from the club and forbade the use of the n-word by comedians at his venues. Richards later apologized for the remarks.

Masada's altruistic endeavors -- including an annual summer camp for Hollywood's disadvantaged youth and free High Holy Days services for struggling performers at his Hollywood club -- have also earned Masada a reputation as a mensch.

Masada's generosity is said to have been evident even at the very beginning of his career when he insisted that comics who took his stage receive compensation rather than perform for the sake of exposure alone -- no matter how big or small the name.

The opening of the Laugh Factory in Long Beach raised more than $30,000 for The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Masada says he hopes the money will go to help Israel's orphanages or army.

Swayze says Masada's charity work is characteristic of the comedy club owner's personality.

"It's typical Jamie," he said. "Finding a great cause and then supporting that cause."

Despite the accolades, Masada did not try to call attention to himself at the unveiling of his new club.

Instead, Masada appeared proud and grateful for everyone who came out to support him during the Sept. 20 opening, including fellow comedians Alonzo Bodden, Frazer Smith, Jeremy Hotz, Lovitz and Rodriguez.

"They're wonderful people," he said. "They're always going to help me."

The Laugh Factory in The Pike is at Rainbow Harbor, 151 S. Pine Ave., Long Beach.

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