How a Westside love story hatched the Crow, Santa Monica’s latest comedy membership

Regardless of being named after a jet-black chook, the Crow in Santa Monica affords the other of the darkish brick-walled trope audiences envision after they consider a comedy membership. As a substitute, you’ll discover gentle catapulting off of pristine white partitions and seeping by way of the corrugated tin roof, spilling into corners and onto the nice and cozy, picket stage. Lush, inexperienced crops, every one watered each Wednesday, sprawl and stretch towards the solar. Rows of velvet, midcentury chairs patiently watch for an viewers. For those who didn’t know jokes had been instructed right here, you’ll assume this was an area the place artists huddle to debate the nuances between Seurat and Signac or the place ebook golf equipment commune over cups of espresso.

The three-part membership, which homes a foremost stage, a “nest” on the second ground for smaller exhibits, and a inexperienced room with an enthralling studying nook, is the manifestation of Nicole and Mickey Blaine’s lifelong dream. “I started performing stand-up while pregnant with my second [child] and started going to open mics right after I had given birth,” Nicole says, her elbow propped on the membership’s bar, which presently serves chocolate milk and apple juice.

“I was 34 years old when I started stand-up. I was literally pumping breast milk on the way to the Meltdown, which was the coolest spot in L.A. for open mics, and I felt like nobody looked like me,” she says whereas surveying the stage. “They were all very young and very cool. And I would put these little bottles of breast milk in a freezer bag, walk in and hope that I wasn’t leaking.”

For Nicole, making a protected and accessible house for comics in any respect phases of their careers was a imaginative and prescient she shared with Mickey since they started performing.

“We’ve always believed in comedy. In our lowest points, somebody’s always been there to rein us back in and make us feel comforted,” Mickey says. “We wanted to provide this community space to provide an opportunity for people that maybe don’t always have opportunities.”

For those who ask the Blaines, who’ve been married for 20 years, how the Crow received its title, you’ll get a love story. The pair grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles within the ’90s and bonded on the set of their highschool’s adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” Nicole, a munchkin, and Mickey, the scarecrow, talked for hours whereas portray a backdrop of the Depraved Witch’s crows.

Nicole Blaine sitting on handmade chairs inside The Crow Comedy Membership

(Andrew Levy)

When Nicole was 18, she mentioned goodbye to her household, Mickey and buddies and moved to UC Davis. Then in the midst of her freshman yr, she received a name from her brother, who begged her to return dwelling straight away. “My stepdad had a severe nervous breakdown and became a crack addict,” says Nicole. “In the midst of my mother trying to save him — his business, the house — she became addicted herself.”

In a taping of “Pipe Dreams,” a one-woman present Nicole carried out on the Hudson Theatre in 2005, she brings her mom onstage for a Q&A. An viewers member asks her mom in regards to the time she provided her teenage daughter crack. “If you’re an ex-crackhead, you know that there’s a part of your brain that is not functioning with reality at all,” her mom mentioned. “And I don’t think that I really wanted her to take it. I think that what I really wanted was for her to let me continue taking it.”

On the day she was again on the town from school, Nicole bumped into Mickey whereas hanging out with a mutual good friend. On the finish of the evening, in correct ’90s courtship, he gave her his pager quantity, and when she returned to UC Davis, they talked each day. “We always found ourselves in deep conversations about the future and about the kind of person we want to be with,” Mickey recollects. A die-hard optimist, Nicole credit that likelihood assembly to her mom. “If it hadn’t been for that tragedy, I wouldn’t have run into him [Mickey] on that one day, on that one spot,” she says. “I would never have been home if it hadn’t been for that phone call.”

Two weeks later, Nicole’s roommate instructed her a man named Mickey had known as and was ready for her on the airport. “I borrowed a friend’s car and went to the airport,” Nicole laughs. “He looked at me, and he’s like, ‘I just want to let you know, I love you. And I’m gonna marry you one day.’”

She left Davis to maneuver again to her childhood dwelling in Santa Monica and maintain her 14-year-old brother. Mickey moved in along with her, and he labored three jobs to assist get Nicole and her brother by way of that robust interval. Ultimately, Nicole utilized to Loyola Marymount College and went again to school. “[Mickey] put me through college, and I said, ‘As soon as I’m done, I’ll turn around and I’ll get you in.’ We only overlapped at LMU for about a year. But we did it.”

Since then, Nicole and Mickey have produced a number of initiatives collectively together with “Life’s a Bit,” Nicole’s stand-up particular on Prime Video, and “Virgin Sacrifice,” a reside present on the Westside Comedy Theater, the place first-timers shared the stage with the likes of Damon Wayans, Ali Wong and Jeff Garlin. “I’ve had almost a hundred virgins,” jokes Nicole.

But it was the pandemic and the encouragement of Nicole’s mom, who’s now clear, that led to the creation of the Crow. When Nicole struggled with despair in 2020, her mom reminded Nicole of her dream of constructing a theater. “She goes, ‘I will get you there,’” says Nicole. “‘I will get you through this. I’ll teach you how to do it. I’ll co-sign whatever you need. I will watch your kids while you and Mickey work late. Let me gift it back to you.’”

The crowd during a recent show at The Crow

The gang throughout a latest present at The Crow

(Andrew Levy)

Over the subsequent yr, Nicole and Mickey looked for the Crow’s dwelling round L.A. — their hometown of Santa Monica, the place comedy venues are sparse, drew them in. “There’s something homegrown, being from somewhere and giving back to the community that gave so much to you,” Nicole says. The duo settled on Bergamot Station, an artist colony owned by the town of Santa Monica since 1994 and a significant cease for the Huge Blue Bus, the town’s foremost public transit.

Immediately, the Crow affords a stage and a neighborhood for each kind of comedian. The lineup of exhibits is keenly conscious of not simply immediately’s viewers filling every of the membership’s 75 seats, but in addition the individuals who can be sitting there 10 years from now. A giant focus of the Crow is a comedy summer season camp the place children are taught the right way to write and carry out their very own materials; it ends with a reside efficiency for household and buddies. “I want you to have access to top-level comedians so that you can see the top pros and talk to them and ask them, ‘Did this work?’ ” says Nicole when describing the teachings taught in the course of the camp. “It’s integrating the professional level, seasoned comedians, and letting them connect to Gen Z, who is going to have so much to say, and we need to give them the tools for it.”

The Blaines are additionally decided to dedicate weekly exhibits for regulars and newcomers to collect, whether or not they’re first-timers or execs. Tuesdays are slated for “Boys Drool,” a 6 p.m. open mic for feminine and nonbinary comics the place $5 will get you 5 minutes on the mic. Those self same evenings, at 7:30 p.m., the Crow “welcomes all who welcome all” throughout “Murder at the Mic,” the place your title being plucked from a bucket provides you a three-minute set. There are additionally plans to host a BYOB comedian evening for moms. “This is a place built for breastfeeding, old geriatric women. It’s going to be called BYOB: Bring your own baby. Bring your own boob. Bring your own bottle,” grins Nicole. “Free stroller parking.”

Different exhibits on the docket embody “Call Me by My Hebrew Name,” which can be hosted by Abby Feldman each month in honor of Shabbat — Nicole visualizes the stand-up as “a full comedic Seder” — and “Comedia en Español,” a lineup celebrating Mexican Independence Day that can be 100% in Spanish. Veteran comics who’ve rolled by way of the Crow because it opened in June embody Ian Edwards, Willie Macc, Jenny Zigrino, Jordan Conley, Danny Jolles and Dana Moon.

Kalea McNeill takes the stage at The Crow to film her comedy special

Kalea McNeill takes the stage at The Crow to movie her comedy particular

(Arthur Hamilton)

On a latest evening, comedian Kalea McNeill took to the stage for one of many membership’s flagship nights known as “Laughter After Dark” to tape a sold-out, hourlong particular. “I knew that the special that we would shoot was going to be amazing because I was completely at home in that space,” McNeill mentioned after the present. “It just had a very grass-roots aesthetic that I love. I’m a big DIYer. Sometimes you have to do it yourself within the seat that’s working.”

The Crow’s knack for making a haven for comics and audiences that interprets from day to nighttime or, as Mickey places it, affords a spot “where you’re not scared to turn on the lights,” goes again to how it began: two children in love attempting to determine life out.

For those who ask the Blaines about their matching tattoos, they’ll inform you the story behind the Crow. After their first weekend collectively in Davis, Mickey had a flight to catch. Outdoors the dorm, there was a taxi ready, and the sky was darkish, odd for the early morning. Because the couple walked hand-in-hand towards the driving force, immediately the bushes burst into life, and what they thought had been leaves reworked into a whole lot of black-winged birds withdrawing. “When the crows flew away, all the light poured in. There was no darkness, and everything turned to brightness,” says Nicole. To do not forget that day, Nicole and Mickey inked their arms with a tree, half of its branches naked below a flock of crows.

“I want it to be the type of comedy club that makes an impact on the human experience and makes everyone realize that life is going to be OK,” says Nicole. “This is one of the most powerful art forms. When you walk into my space, you should be flooded with love and joy. Let this be your home.”