Belmont: The Laugh Factory Brings Comedy to Lakeview

Audio slideshow: Performers at the new club, The Laugh Factory. 

Belmont Stop LogoBy Milos Markicevic and Abigail Jimenez
The Red Line Project
@chitownstories

Posted: Monday, June 4, 2012

Jamie Masada, owner of a chain of successful comedy clubs in the US, opened up The Laugh Factory at a new location in Lakeview this past winter.

Named the “The Real King of comedy” by The New York Daily, Masada is responsible for helping jumpstart the careers of many comedians and has been actively involved in the comedy business for 33 years.

The Chicago location was opened in what had previously been the Lakeview Theatre, a few blocks east of the Belmont Red Line stop. The high cost of maintaining the 100-year-old building forced the original owner to close down the theater in April 2011.

Masada secured a lease of the theatre last year and planning commenced to build what is now the third Laugh Factory in the US. Repairs to the aging theater took roughly a year to complete and cost nearly $5 million.

Open for only two months in the city, the Laugh Factory has already had some famous comedians perform at its location. For its opening night Canadian-Indian comedian, Russel Peters performed. More recently, Dom Irrera performed at the club from May 10-12. Masada said that the club has also made it a priority to support local acts as well.

The Laugh Factory has two locations in California and a fourth was recently opened in Las Vegas. The first location was opened on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in 1979.

Masada got his first introduction to comedy as a child in his home country of Iran.

“Back then I had never seen a talking picture in my life,” Masada said. “One day my father took me to a nearby TV repair shop.”

One of the TVs was playing "The Three Stooges."

“We couldn’t hear anything since the TV was inside, but we sat outside and my father created his own story and jokes while we watched,” he said.

The exposure to comedy at a young age by his father led Masada to pursue a career as a comedy club owner.

Masada moved to the US in 1977. He was helped by his father who pawned his accordion to buy his son a ticket. Speaking little English, Masada supported himself with an assortment of jobs and soon began performing comedy.

At only 16, Masada opened the first Laugh Factory location in LA in 1979 after securing a loan from writer and producer, Neal Israel. Legendary comedian, Richard Pryor, was the first comedian to perform at the venue.

After the Pryor’s show Masada attempted to pay the comedian for performing. In the end it was Pryor who paid Masada.

“At first I thought it was a fake, that he was playing a joke on me, that it was a fake hundred dollar bill.” Said Masada “I felt bad when I realized it was real. He looked at me and said ‘You need this for your rent boy.’”

“The Laugh Factory was one of the first clubs to pay comedians.” Masada said proudly. Paying comedians was not a standard practice at the time, he added.

The Laugh Factory has featured many famous comedians since opening in 1979.

“We’ve had Jim Carrey, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle” Masada said. “They’re all my friends.”

Located at 3175 N. Broadway in Lakeview, the main entrance hall is like a small comedy museum, adorned with a vast number of comedy memorabilia from Masada’s personal collection. Most are of comedians that have performed at the Laugh Factory in the past. One of the most notable pieces is a statue of Richard Prior alongside a few signed items.

The Laugh Factory is also the home to the world record for longest continuous standup comedy. A number of comedians that included Dane Cook and Dom Irrera performed and set the record at 50 hours on Dec. 10, 2010.

It hasn’t always been laughter at the Laugh Factory. In 2006 Michael Richards, famous for playing the character Kramer in the comedy Seinfeld, performed at the club and used racist language toward black audience members who were heckling his act.

He said some things that weren’t funny,” Masada said. “We gave everyone a refund who came to that show.” Since the incident the Laugh Factory has banned the use of racial slurs by comedians.

Masada said that the Laugh Factory always prided itself on a laugh-or-your-money-back policy. “If you didn’t laugh or have a good time we give you your money back.”

To promote its recent Chicago opening free tickets were given out to whoever had a valid driver’s license.

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