Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

How San Diego's comics and the Comedy Store co-exist

Mitzi Shore easy, Sandi Shore not so much

Pat Gorse and Russ T. Nailz in 91X studio - Image by Jim Coit
Pat Gorse and Russ T. Nailz in 91X studio

Pat Gorse was sitting in the living room of his parents’ North Park home one night four years ago, watching Rodney Dangerfield on the Tonight Show. Suddenly it came to him: he wanted to write jokes for the famous comedian. Whenever Gorse went to parties he was constantly wisecracking, and his friends were always telling him he should be a comedian; he was the quintessential “funny guy.’’ So Gorse sat down at a desk and began working on one-liners for Dangerfield. Sometimes he would sit there for two hours or more, jotting down material, staring at the ceiling, crossing out what he’d written, starting again. After two weeks he had about fifty snappy jokes, and he sent the thirty best to Dangerfield. It took two weeks more for the jokes to come back in the mail, unread. “I could tell they were unread because they were in the same order, and they were still folded exactly the way I folded them,’’ Gorse remembers. “There was a note with them from Rodney’s manager that said, ‘Rodney Dangerfield writes all his own material.’ ’’

Pat Gorse. Dangerfield recognized him immediately, apologized for having lost the envelope with Gorse’s name and address on it.

But Gorse didn’t give up. A friend of his was a page for NBC studios in Los Angeles, and Gorse prevailed on him for two tickets to the Tonight Show the next time Dangerfield was scheduled to appear. When the show had ended, Gorse went down to the front of the stage and waved at Dangerfield, who came over. Gorse introduced himself, explained he was a comedy writer, and handed Dangerfield an envelope full of jokes. The comedian said he was flying out of L.A. that night and promised to read Gorse’s material on the plane.

That was the last Gorse heard from Dangerfield for a long time. He needed a job, and when he couldn’t land one in San Diego he decided to look for one in Elgin, Illinois, where a friend of his had moved. After just a few days in Elgin, Gorse was hired as a sports writer for the Elgin Herald (he lied and told the editor he was an experienced journalist), and for four months covered local basketball. It was a difficult period; Gorse, twenty-four years old, had his whole career in front of him but didn't know exactly what he wanted to do. To make matters worse, the basketball teams he covered made a habit out of losing.

One night he was watching the Tonight Show at his apartment when Dangerfield came on again. Midway through his routine the comedian launched into a couple of “fat” jokes: “My wife is kind of fat. She’s got a lot of water weight — eight- to ten-foot swells.” When the laughter had died away, Dangerfield added, “Actually, I shouldn’t joke about my wife. She’s connected to a machine that keeps her alive — a refrigerator.” They were good jokes, and Gorse had written them both. “From that moment on,” he says, “I knew what I wanted to do.” Dangerfield mentioned that he’d soon be performing at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, so Gorse quit his job at the Herald the next day and bought a bus ticket to Las Vegas. He paid his way into the show at the Riviera. and when it was over went down to the stage. Dangerfield recognized him immediately, apologized for having lost the envelope with Gorse’s name and address on it, and invited the young writer back to his hotel room. For two or three hours they discussed collaborating, Gorse says, and he later contributed seven jokes to Dangerfield’s Grammy Award-winning album No Respect.

Jimmy McGee got a standing ovation at Mickey D’s nightclub in Santee — “a place where I thought I was going to be hung after the show.”

But Gorse, who had by now moved back to San Diego, soon realized that the fifty bucks Dangerfield paid him for each joke wasn’t going to cover his monthly bills. “And I didn’t want to beat on other comics’ doors trying to sell them material. My brother kept telling me I should go to the [local] Comedy Store and give it a try.'but I don’t know — I wasn’t sure. So I called Rodney and asked him what I should do. He told me comedy was the toughest business he could think of. He didn't encourage me — I guess he didn’t want me to blame him if it didn’t work out. Anyway, a few weeks later I went to the Comedy Store on amateur night. But I wasn't prepared, and I didn’t go on stage. I just watched the other comedians. Then I went home, and for the next week 1 studied hard, memorized about fifteen minutes of material, practiced it over and over. Then I went back.”

The Comedy Store’s amateur night has long been a proving ground for local comedians. Since the club first opened here in Pacific Beach in 1976 (a branch of the original and highly successful Comedy Stores in Hollywood and Westwood, it has since moved to La Jolla), would-be jokesters have made it a mecca of sorts. There is no screening of talent on amateur night, and no pay — you simply sign up and wait your turn — but semiprofessional and professional comedians as well as beginners make it a point to show up regularly. They go to keep their acts in shape, to keep their names in front of the public, to try out new material. And they go because the Comedy Store is the best and just about the only place in San Diego that features live stand-up comedy.

Russ T. Nailz: “If you get in trouble telling a joke on radio, you can just cut to a commercial."

In spite of that, the Comedy Store can be a very difficult place to perform. On a recent amateur night (currently held on Sunday and Monday nights), a sparse crowd of about thirty-five people sat sipping drinks and casting a critical eye at the procession of comedians on stage. Nearly all of the performers needed practice — some fumbled their lines, some had to refer to notes when they forgot material, others spoke too loudly into the microphone. The customers were restless, and not above hurling insults such as “Nerd!” and “You’re a fag!” and, worst of all, greeting jokes with strained silence. The comedians fought back with put-downs:

“Once again, ladies and gents, proof that there is life after lobotomy.”

“What do you do for a living, ma’am? (Silence.) That’s OK, I don’t give a fuck anyway.”

“This is not a show for the hearing impaired.”

After one unfortunate comedian named Tyler had bombed stupendously, master of ceremonies Argus Hamilton (an accomplished comedian himself) attempted to smooth things over by saying, “Well, Pioneer 10 is leaving the solar system, and Tyler wishes he was on it.”

It was an audience like this that Gorse faced for the first time in May of 1980. But he had practiced well, and won the crowd over with one-liners such as, “Every time I go to a baseball game it’s ruined by these fat, loud, obnoxious people who are always yelling. They’re the umpires, so I guess they have to be there, but for me it ruins it. ” After performing on several amateur nights in a row, Gorse was encouraged by the club’s manager, Sandi Shore, to go to Los Angeles and audition for her mother Mitzi, a famed coach and patroness of comedians. Gorse went; it looked as if he were on his way.

But things were going better for Gorse than they do for most comedians — much better. More typical is the experience of Jimmy McGee. McGee, a trim, handsome black man with a soft-spoken manner, remembers that when he first started doing stand-up comedy in San Diego back in October of 1977, he and Larry Himmel (now a commentator for Channel 8 news and host of a talk show on KSDO radio) were the only local comedians around. Then, as now, the Comedy Store was virtually the only place in town to perform. “I got together a few minutes of material and performed for the first time on amateur night,” McGee said recently. “I figured in two weeks I’d be discovered and be on the Tonight Show, at least. Back in those days, that’s the way I thought.”

His thinking was all wrong. Not only was he not discovered, but the Comedy Store soon discontinued amateur night for almost a year because not enough local comedians were showing up. “After that I had to drive to the L.A. Comedy Store just to get on for five minutes [on amateur night]. Sometimes I’d drive there and not even get on. Or I’d get on stage about two in the morning, when there’s no one left but other comedians — and they ’re not going to laugh because they’re pissed off.

Like most comedians, McGee supported himself by working at a job that had nothing to do with comedy — in his case, as a food preparer at the Veterans Administration Hospital in La Jolla. But in late 1980 he decided to take $5000 in savings and go to New York City “to see if they’d laugh at me there.” For two months he worked at clubs such as the Comic Strip and Catch a Rising Star, mainly on amateur nights and mainly for free. A few times he appeared on paid nights as a warm-up act for bigger-name comedians, but even then the pay was bad — he says it was as low as five dollars a night for relatively unknown performers like himself. On top of that, he discovered comedians from the East Coast were all trying to move out to Southern California. “There are more clubs to work [on the East Coast], but everyone considers California a better place to work,” said McGee, explaining that most comedians realize the movie and television industries are their major markets, and both are based in Los Angeles.

McGee returned to San Diego, went to work part time as a supervisor of food preparation at Grossmont Hospital , and began performing wherever he could. Sometimes just the color of his skin was enough to turn off an audience or a club owner. “It’s a lot better now than when I started, but racism is in show business like everything else. You can spot racist members of the audience right away — some guy out there who isn’t laughing when everyone else is. You know it’s because they hate you. . . . But it isn’t a deterrent to me. I get a thrill out of finally making people like that laugh. For that brief second, they aren’t thinking about color, they’re just laughing.’’ One night, McGee remembers with a smile, he got a standing ovation at Mickey D’s nightclub in Santee — “a place where [at first] I thought I was going to be hung after the show.”

McGee, who is twenty-eight, currently performs on amateur nights at the Comedy Store and occasionally at other clubs around San Diego, such as McDini’s and My Rich Uncle’s. He said he plans to “pound the pavement’’ for the next few months to get work in Los Angeles, too. “The competition doesn’t scare me," he insisted. “I think I’m good enough to make a living at comedy. Some comedians are just developing, and some have already developed and are waiting for a break. I’m one of those.’’

Pat Gorse was still a developing comedian when he went to Los Angeles to audition for Mitzi Shore in June, 1980. Shore could see the young comic needed polish, but she was also savvy enough to recognize his talent, and encouraged Gorse to work on his act. He returned to San Diego, and for the next six months spent every amateur night at the Comedy Store, perfecting his timing, his delivery, his jokes. (Gorse: “I know my parents were mean. I found out how mean they were when I was five. I realized there was no such thing as Alpo baby food.’’) Finally he returned to Los Angeles and auditioned for Mitzi Shore again. Afterward, Shore invited him over to her table and told him he’d improved considerably. In her time-honored way of lending support to promising young comedians, she offered Gorse a job driving for the Comedy Store. He could run errands for the club during the day, and perform on stage at night several times per week. Gorse took the job.

Gorse is a stocky man with thick, curly dark hair and a wide mouth that seems permanently fixed in a sardonic expression. “People assume I’m Jewish from the get-go,” he says, but he is not. He was raised a Catholic in North Park — “North Viet Park,” as he likes to call it. (“I was an ugly kid. I went to the children’s zoo and everybody started petting me.”) Gorse used to read the newspaper out loud to his lunch-hour buddies in University High School’s class of ’73, adding his own funny comments and fantasy paragraphs to the day’s news items. He claims he was a good student in high school, but dropped out of junior college after half a semester, and did his best to avoid working for the next five years before deciding to become a professional comedian.

Unlike most local comedians, who say coming up with original material is difficult, Gorse is a fountain of humorous observations and stories. He brainstorms more or less constantly, often out loud. When he thinks of something funny he frequently makes a note of it on the nearest available scrap of paper — a napkin or a paper plate will do. “You scribble down something like that before it sails off into the universe and some other comedian picks up on it,” he explains. He still pores over newspapers to find potential material, but insists he has no favorite subjects. Anything can be funny to him, even his own career. “The first time I went on stage in Hollywood, I guess I was a little nervous,” he recalled a few weeks ago. “Argus [Hamilton] noticed it, and after the show he took me aside and told me I had to be more aggressive. He said, ‘When you’re on stage, your word is law. ’ So I took his advice, and when I went on stage the next time my word was law. Unfortunately, the audience had been issued a restraining order.”

Gorse drove a limousine for the Comedy Store in Los Angeles for five months, picking up comedians at hotels and airports, and running out for booze and other supplies whenever it was necessary. Often he’d return from an errand only a few minutes before he was scheduled to go on stage. He earned about $175 per week for his efforts. After a while, he admitted, the pace wore him out. He began to take amphetamines to get through his performances, and he began to resent Shore for working him so hard. “I was immature, and I kept trying to find ways to put things over on Mitzi, like taking her car for the weekend without her knowing.”

Finally Gorse approached Shore and asked her if he could move back to San Diego for a while and continue working on his act at the La Jolla Comedy Store. She agreed, and even paid him to take care of the store’s Pacific Beach condominium (where visiting comedians stay) and to perform regularly, for twenty-five dollars a night, at the club. But one June night in 1981 Shore learned that Gorse was using the Pacific Beach condominium for a private party. He lost his status as an employee of the Comedy Store the next day.

Now that two years have passed, Gorse can look back at the incident philosophically. “Mitzi had to punish me, and she did,” he says with a shrug, ‘it was like getting bawled out by your mother. But we’re friends now. I like her a lot. Mitzi loves comics, and she’s really dedicated to them. ” At the time. though, just about all Gorse could think about was what a stupid thing he’d done. He'd been given the chance of his life, and he’d blown it.

Gorse’s falling out with Mitzi Shore had particularly ominous implications for his career because of the pre-eminent position of the Comedy Store in what could be called Southern California’s laugh circuit. The Store and the nearby Improv are the two top joke clubs in Los Angeles; in San Diego it has a virtual monopoly on live stand-up comedy.

At about the same time Gorse was losing his job at the Comedy Store, however, another local comedian, Tony Stone, was organizing a booking service for San Diego-area comics. Stone, a native Texan who at thirty-eight is a decade older than most of the other comedians here, had moved to San Diego from the Bay Area in 1977. For several years he was the jokemaking regional director for the Sunasu vitamin distribution company, but he slowly drifted out of the vitamin business and into comedy.

Stone contacted club owners and tried to explain to them ‘‘that comedy is a good drawing card, and that it’s inexpensive compared to live bands. We did pretty well in some of the clubs, but the basic problem is, in a lot of these places, entertainment is kind of a passive thing. The audience can listen or not listen to music; they [often) look at comedy as an intrusion on their conversations.” Local watering holes such as the Boathouse, the Monterey Whaling Company, and Mickey D’s gave Stone and the comedians he worked with a chance, but the managers of those clubs found out the hard way what the management of the Comedy Store had known for some time: San Diego audiences need educating when it comes to comedy. (“We’ve brought Hollywood to San Diego,” says Sandi Shore. “People are afraid to walk in here at first. They don’t know what to expect, and they think it’s going to be expensive.”) Stone has since abandoned his efforts to serve as a booking agent, and supports himself by performing and teaching comedy workshops at local colleges. Nevertheless, he did have some success finding employment for local comedians, and Jimmy McGee commented recently, “We all owe Tony. All the little jobs we got around here for the last few years, he got ’em for us.”

Gorse was one of the comedians who worked with Stone, but like other comedians he found that nearly all of the local clubs have an atmosphere radically different from the Comedy Store. The Store is designed exclusively for comedy; its walls are black, which helps to focus attention on the stage, and there is no food service to distract patrons from the show. In contrast, comedians performing in other clubs often wind up competing with waitresses or a band playing in a nearby room. And it isn’t uncommon for the club’s manager to sit or stand in the back during the show, watching carefully to make certain he gets his money’s worth. Gorse remembers one night in particular when he and comedian Russ T. Nailz were trying to perform in Carlos Murphy’s in La Jolla. “The place is not conducive to comedy,” said Gorse. “The bar is right next to the stage, and we had to pump drink specials in the middle of our act — you know, explain that tonight’s special was the beer, or the schnapps.” On this night, Gorse decided to act more and more drunk each time he announced the specials, until late in the evening he came on stage and simply bellowed, “Where the fuck is my drink?” The club manager (whose first name was Stan) had missed the progression, and mistook Gorse’s final act for the real thing. “He jumped onto the stage and said, right in the middle of the show, ‘It’s off. I don t want all that dirty stuff. ’ I looked at him and said, ‘Stan the man not amusialed.’ ”

As Gorse told me this, he was sitting on a couch in the living room of Nailz’s Mission Valley apartment. Nailz was sitting in a chair nearby, and a television on the far side of the room droned with an endless succession of cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Popeye. “It’s tough doing comedy at most of these local clubs,” Nailz agreed. “Most of the time you’re competing with potato skins [for the audience’s attention]. How do you compete with a potato skin?”

Nailz and Gorse are close friends; they met at the Comedy Store one night three years ago, and frequently go out on the town together. Both grew up in San Diego (Nailz, whose true name is Russ Stolnack, is a graduate of Helix High School, ’74), but they are opposites in almost every other way. In contrast to Gorse’s earthy, wisecracking Falstaff, Nailz seems like Louis XIV. He is tall and good-looking, with blond curls and bright blue eyes, and he can be both arrogant and irreverent. Unlike Gorse, who is known for his meticulous construction of jokes, Nailz comes up with most of his witticisms spontaneously. “I can spend two hours writing and rewriting a single joke, but Russ prefers to ad lib a lot of his stuff,” Gorse commented. “He doesn’t like all that work to get in the way of his creativity. But we work well together; we complement each other.”

Nailz first got involved in comedy in 1980, when he was working as a disc jockey for radio station KPRI. He has served as an m.c. for the Comedy Store’s amateur nights and has performed at several other clubs around town, but his comic roots are in radio, and he currently has a show every morning from six to ten on radio station 91X. While his partner Steve West spins records and reads announcements, Nailz carries on with a bizarre set of characters and comedy sketches that are inserted in and around the station’s new-wave hits. Gorse has been writing material for Nailz for the last four months, and was recently hired as the show’s “producer,” although his duties still consist primarily of writing one-liners that Nailz incorporates into his act. “Pat started out just contributing, but now it’s gotten to the point where I don't feel comfortable doing the show without him,” Nailz said as he sipped a glass of Seven-up. “If Pat writes it, I'll read it. If he believes in it, it’s funny.” (Nailz: “I joined the Navy. I only got one promotion . . . when the ship was sinking, they made me the captain.”)

Live comedy is not as enjoyable to perform as radio comedy. Nailz concedes, partly because radio is easier. “If you get in trouble (telling a joke on radio), you can just cut to a commercial instead of standing there on stage thinking, ‘Oh fuck, what do I do now?’ When you’re doing live comedy and you start to lose your crowd, you go for your best joke. Then if you bomb, you go for your car.”

“The first five or ten seconds is when you usually make it or break it (in a live performance!,” nodded Gorse. “You can change that, but the first five seconds are so important, just because it does so much for you to start well. . . . The guy who loses it — I’ve seen it a hundred times — he won’t be getting any laughs, but he'll just stand there, frozen. He won’t move and he won't stop talking. He will never leave until you take him away. I remember once it happened to a guy named Jeff when I was a master of ceremonies at the Comedy Store. I finally had to go up to the stage and say, “Jeff, we're going to try to talk you down safely. Bring your nose up’ — and he did, he brought his nose up — and I said. ‘Not too fast! Not too fast!’ And I eventually talked him off the stage. ...”

Gorse said he generally prefers writing comedy to performing it, “because I think I'm a lot better at writing than I am at performing. But when I’m having fun performing, it’s a lot more fun than it ever is when I'm writing. ” Both he and Nailz still occasionally take part in amateur nights at the Comedy Store, but not nearly as often as they did in the past. Nailz said he could probably use the practice performing live, but that his radio show is currently outlet enough for his humor. Gorse has deeper reasons for not going to the club as frequently.

Although he has patched up his relationship with Mitzi Shore since their falling out two years ago, Gorse’s relationship with Mitzi’s daughter Sandi (who manages the La Jolla Comedy Store) is beset by enduring problems. In this he is not alone; there are strong tensions between Sandi Shore and many local comedians. To a certain extent it is a tension that is bound to exist between a group of hopeful young performers and a businesswoman who can virtually grant or revoke their right to perform, at least in San Diego. But the tension is exacerbated by this: unlike her mother, who spends a great deal of time encouraging and evaluating young comedians, Sandi Shore prefers to concentrate only on the business side of the club. In a profession where the stakes are high and the successes few, resentment has been the result. “There are a lot of problems between the comics here in San Diego and Sandi Shore," said Gorse, voicing complaints that several other comedians here would talk about only when assured they wouldn’t be quoted. “I don’t think she likes comics. Naturally I resent that. But she won’t talk about her feelings; she’s distant. I don’t want what I say to make it impossible to reconcile things, but obviously, this bothers me. I used to enjoy going down to the Comedy Store so much, it hurts to go down there now and not get the same feeling. But there’s no point hanging out at a place where the management doesn’t like you. ’’

As an example of what he dislikes about Shore, Gorse brought up a recent incident in which a comedienne was not allowed to go on stage because she was a few minutes late. “She treats us like little kids,’’ he said. But Shore herself used the same incident as an example of how comedians try to take advantage of her. On a Friday night recently she sat in her office at the club and talked extensively about her feelings regarding local comedians, saying those feelings had been pent up inside her for a long time. At her request, much of the conversation was off the record, but what emerged was a picture of a woman who feels she has been taken advantage of by unreliable comedians and who is increasingly inclined to strike back. “It’s not that I’m distant, I’m just kind of immune to comedy,’’ she insisted. “My father [Sammy Shore] was a comedian; it’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s like a kid inheriting something. I inherited comedy. . . .

“I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to encourage or critique anyone at all. Mitzi loves that. She sends the comedians this way, and I run the club. . . . This business is the only business I like, but it’s like any kind of job. You get used to it. It’s a routine.

“As far as amateur night, I haven’t been coming lately. I’ve been letting a professional comedian [Argus Hamilton] work with the locals. If they’re ready to perform in L.A., I’ll highly recommend them. Some of the local people could make it, if they grow up. But they aren’t developing as fast as they should. They have to get serious, work on new ideas, try them out. That’s what amateur night is all about.’’ Shore also complained that “immature’’ local comedians have repeatedly tried to take advantage of the Comedy Store’s property and their policy on complimentary tickets, but refused to be more specific publicly regarding people or incidents.

Whether or not Shore and the local comedians get along with each other, neither can really get by without the other. But it is clearly Shore who holds most of the power, and most local comedians know it. They do what they can to stay on good terms with her. “There’s a certain amount of brownnosing in this business,’’ one comedian admitted ruefully. Even Gorse conceded that without his current job writing comedy for Nailz’s radio show, he would have to work at the Comedy Store if he wanted an outlet for his talent. “I love the Comedy Store, but not Sandi Shore,’’ he said. “If she’s upset about these things, she’s never once mentioned them to anyone."

At five o’clock one morning, Nailz pulls up in front of my house in his blue Volvo, honks the horn, and waits anxiously for me to run out to meet him. He and Gorse often tape their comic sketches for the morning show on 91X, but this morning they will be doing the show live, and I have asked to go along to see what takes place behind the mike, so to speak.

Nailz’s hair is still wet, and he is unshaven. We drive to Gorse’s house in Mission Hills without saying much; at this hour conversation comes only with determined effort. Gorse’s house is dark as we pull up, and we push open the front door to find a carpeted living room devoid of furniture except for a television and a large cardboard box full of dirty clothes. (Nailz explains that he recently moved out of the house, which is shared by about three people, taking most of the furniture with him.) Gorse appears sleepily in the kitchen, pulling on a pair of shorts; apparently he jumped out of bed only upon our arrival. In a few minutes he kneels in front of the box full of laundry and begins to paw through it for something suitable to wear. “What are you looking for?’’ Nailz finally asks impatiently. “Nothing,’* mumbles Gorse. “I’m just reminiscing.’’

A few moments later, wearing a not-so-dirty-after-all sweatsuit, Gorse loads a cheap red portable typewriter into the trunk of Nailz’s Volvo and we set off for the studio. On the way Gorse suggests a few lines for the Reverend Oral Hutton, a slick-talking, money-hungry electronic preacher who is one of Nailz’s characters on the morning show. “Money is evil, so send me your money and I will heal it,’’ Gorse says. Nailz chuckles appreciatively.

By the time we stop at Carl’s Jr. for breakfast, Gorse is fully awake. “Russ is only trying to impress you by stopping here,’’ he tells me. “Usually we go straight to the A.M./P.M. minimarket.’’ While Nailz and I wait for the food, Gorse dashes off to buy two newspapers — the Union and U.S.A. Today — and scans them for potential material as we continue on to the studio.

When we pull up at the studio. Gorse retrieves his typewriter from the trunk and carries it inside. Steve West, a lanky Englishman with a mop of red hair, is already at work spinning records in a ten-by-ten cubicle crowded with turntables and shelves full of records and tapes. (West is the latest in a series of radio partners for Nailz; “Russ has had more partners than Dirty Harry,’’ Gorse once quipped.) As West signals that it’s time to read the weather and surf report, Nailz sidles up to him and does his best imitation of a Southern California surfer into the microphone. “Like, are the waves going to be massive today, or what? We want to know. . . . Totally glassy? Oh, so bitchen, man.” Meanwhile, Gorse has plunked down his typewriter on a desk in the cubicle next door, and, with his newspapers spread out in front of him, goes to work. As music plays wildly he pecks at the keys of his typewriter, examines the front page of U.S.A. Today thoughtfully, pecks some more. He is working on a piece for Nailz’s “Nude News,’’ a news parody that is broadcast several times each morning. “When I tell people I write a lot of the stuff the same day as the show, most of them say, ‘Gee, that must be a lot of pressure, ’ ” he tells me later. “Boy, are those people right! But I enjoy it; I enjoy that pressure.’’

In thirty minutes Gorse pulls a half page of typewritten material out of his machine and hands it to Nailz. Nailz scans it, and not long afterward he is reading it live on the air, introducing it with his own ad-libbed, rapid-fire patter: “It’s time for News in the Nude, news in the buff, the bare facts behind the news. It’s all the news that fits like a glove, all the news that fits in my mouth, all the news that we can afford. I’m informal and you’re informed. In today’s top story, fire destroyed a Jack in the. . . . No, that’s not really our top story. Here’s something better. The suicide rate in Guyana continues to decline. ...”

During a break a few minutes later, Nailz explains he once tried to inject his humor into a more conventional rock music format, but that it seems to work much better when mixed with 91X’s new-wave songs. “It’s partly the names of the groups — they’re funny already,” he says. ‘’Tilings like Oingo Boingo, Romeo Void, the Psychedelic Furs. The punk scene is like the Fifties in color. ” Grinning, he adds that he once spoofed conventional FM rock stations by playing seven songs at the same time. “Some stations like to point out how they play ten songs in a row, well, we went them one better — seven at once!”

Nailz joins Gorse in the cramped room where he is working, and the two of them begin to work on a bit for Miss Julia, another character of Nailz’s who is based loosely (very loosely) on Julia Child. They decide to do something involving used cars, and talk to each other in Miss Julia’s booming falsetto, trying out lines on each other. Nailz embellishes almost everything that Gorse writes for him, but he depends on Gorse for a lot of basic ideas. This morning the brainstorming does not go particularly well; Gorse suggests a few lines. Nailz rejects them. “Well, you think of something then,” Gorse says.

“I’m trying.” replies Nailz. (The skit is eventually worked out, with at least one of Gorse's lines retained verbatim: “Never buy a used car that has a jaws of life device lying on the back seat.”) As the show nears its end, Nailz prepares to do the Reverend Oral Hutton, without a doubt the most popular character among those who listen to Nailz’s show. At precisely 9:10 he goes on, expanding greatly on the idea that Gorse hatched earlier that morning. In a vague Southern accent he practically shouts into the microphone, “Friends! Gather by your receivers. I want to talk to you about evilness. As you know, money is the root of all evil. Can I have an amen?” Gorse and West shout, “Amen!” “Can I have a hallelujah?” “Hallelujah!”

“Can I have large amounts of cash so I can heal it? Friends, send me your money and I will hold on to it and cure it. It will take about ten years, but I promise I will get it back to you. Now, as you know, the larger the bill, the more evil it is. Change is not evil. Coins are not evil, unless they are rare coins. Friends, reach out and touch your wallets and empty them into envelopes and send them to me. . . .”

Behind the studio, a dog is urinating on the front wheel of Nailz’s Volvo. In another forty-five minutes the show is wrapped up, and Gorse and Nailz prepare to leave. But they linger outside for a few minutes, bantering with West as the late morning sun glows brighter and brighter through the receding mist.

The management of 91X recently offered Nailz and Gorse a chance to translate their radio show into a television format; Nailz will be the host of an hour-long special featuring new-wave bands, and Gorse will contribute humorous lines and sketches for him. (The management of 9IX, who consider the television shows promotions, said they hope to air the first show this September.) Neither man is getting rich at what he does — they split $2200 a month for the radio show, with most of it going to Nailz — but they clearly enjoy collaborating, and for now, the free-wheeling lifestyle they are able to lead seems enough. When I asked if they had any particular goals or ambitions, Nailz responded that he might someday like to host a major television show. “But I don’t worry about it,” he added. “I figure people will always make me offers.”

Gorse, as usual, was more reflective. “Basically, all I want to do is create comedy,” he said. “I don’t see myself as the star of a TV show, and I don’t want to be known primarily as a stand-up comic. I’ve never seen anyone doing stand-up who was really happy. There’s pressure, your life is fragmented all over the country. . . . You don’t have a decent life. I like writing comedy, but I like to collaborate; I don’t really like writing by myself. And if it’s not any fun to do, I just don’t like doing it. It doesn’t really matter what I’m writing. I don’t think I’m motivated by finances. To me, having fun is what it’s all about.”

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Customer complaint chases bullying Starbucks barista from corona-crazed coffee collective

Star-BUCKS
Next Article

Kahlee310’s snitch rapper reactions

“He’d literally do anything for the money or fame”
Pat Gorse and Russ T. Nailz in 91X studio - Image by Jim Coit
Pat Gorse and Russ T. Nailz in 91X studio

Pat Gorse was sitting in the living room of his parents’ North Park home one night four years ago, watching Rodney Dangerfield on the Tonight Show. Suddenly it came to him: he wanted to write jokes for the famous comedian. Whenever Gorse went to parties he was constantly wisecracking, and his friends were always telling him he should be a comedian; he was the quintessential “funny guy.’’ So Gorse sat down at a desk and began working on one-liners for Dangerfield. Sometimes he would sit there for two hours or more, jotting down material, staring at the ceiling, crossing out what he’d written, starting again. After two weeks he had about fifty snappy jokes, and he sent the thirty best to Dangerfield. It took two weeks more for the jokes to come back in the mail, unread. “I could tell they were unread because they were in the same order, and they were still folded exactly the way I folded them,’’ Gorse remembers. “There was a note with them from Rodney’s manager that said, ‘Rodney Dangerfield writes all his own material.’ ’’

Pat Gorse. Dangerfield recognized him immediately, apologized for having lost the envelope with Gorse’s name and address on it.

But Gorse didn’t give up. A friend of his was a page for NBC studios in Los Angeles, and Gorse prevailed on him for two tickets to the Tonight Show the next time Dangerfield was scheduled to appear. When the show had ended, Gorse went down to the front of the stage and waved at Dangerfield, who came over. Gorse introduced himself, explained he was a comedy writer, and handed Dangerfield an envelope full of jokes. The comedian said he was flying out of L.A. that night and promised to read Gorse’s material on the plane.

That was the last Gorse heard from Dangerfield for a long time. He needed a job, and when he couldn’t land one in San Diego he decided to look for one in Elgin, Illinois, where a friend of his had moved. After just a few days in Elgin, Gorse was hired as a sports writer for the Elgin Herald (he lied and told the editor he was an experienced journalist), and for four months covered local basketball. It was a difficult period; Gorse, twenty-four years old, had his whole career in front of him but didn't know exactly what he wanted to do. To make matters worse, the basketball teams he covered made a habit out of losing.

One night he was watching the Tonight Show at his apartment when Dangerfield came on again. Midway through his routine the comedian launched into a couple of “fat” jokes: “My wife is kind of fat. She’s got a lot of water weight — eight- to ten-foot swells.” When the laughter had died away, Dangerfield added, “Actually, I shouldn’t joke about my wife. She’s connected to a machine that keeps her alive — a refrigerator.” They were good jokes, and Gorse had written them both. “From that moment on,” he says, “I knew what I wanted to do.” Dangerfield mentioned that he’d soon be performing at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, so Gorse quit his job at the Herald the next day and bought a bus ticket to Las Vegas. He paid his way into the show at the Riviera. and when it was over went down to the stage. Dangerfield recognized him immediately, apologized for having lost the envelope with Gorse’s name and address on it, and invited the young writer back to his hotel room. For two or three hours they discussed collaborating, Gorse says, and he later contributed seven jokes to Dangerfield’s Grammy Award-winning album No Respect.

Jimmy McGee got a standing ovation at Mickey D’s nightclub in Santee — “a place where I thought I was going to be hung after the show.”

But Gorse, who had by now moved back to San Diego, soon realized that the fifty bucks Dangerfield paid him for each joke wasn’t going to cover his monthly bills. “And I didn’t want to beat on other comics’ doors trying to sell them material. My brother kept telling me I should go to the [local] Comedy Store and give it a try.'but I don’t know — I wasn’t sure. So I called Rodney and asked him what I should do. He told me comedy was the toughest business he could think of. He didn't encourage me — I guess he didn’t want me to blame him if it didn’t work out. Anyway, a few weeks later I went to the Comedy Store on amateur night. But I wasn't prepared, and I didn’t go on stage. I just watched the other comedians. Then I went home, and for the next week 1 studied hard, memorized about fifteen minutes of material, practiced it over and over. Then I went back.”

The Comedy Store’s amateur night has long been a proving ground for local comedians. Since the club first opened here in Pacific Beach in 1976 (a branch of the original and highly successful Comedy Stores in Hollywood and Westwood, it has since moved to La Jolla), would-be jokesters have made it a mecca of sorts. There is no screening of talent on amateur night, and no pay — you simply sign up and wait your turn — but semiprofessional and professional comedians as well as beginners make it a point to show up regularly. They go to keep their acts in shape, to keep their names in front of the public, to try out new material. And they go because the Comedy Store is the best and just about the only place in San Diego that features live stand-up comedy.

Russ T. Nailz: “If you get in trouble telling a joke on radio, you can just cut to a commercial."

In spite of that, the Comedy Store can be a very difficult place to perform. On a recent amateur night (currently held on Sunday and Monday nights), a sparse crowd of about thirty-five people sat sipping drinks and casting a critical eye at the procession of comedians on stage. Nearly all of the performers needed practice — some fumbled their lines, some had to refer to notes when they forgot material, others spoke too loudly into the microphone. The customers were restless, and not above hurling insults such as “Nerd!” and “You’re a fag!” and, worst of all, greeting jokes with strained silence. The comedians fought back with put-downs:

“Once again, ladies and gents, proof that there is life after lobotomy.”

“What do you do for a living, ma’am? (Silence.) That’s OK, I don’t give a fuck anyway.”

“This is not a show for the hearing impaired.”

After one unfortunate comedian named Tyler had bombed stupendously, master of ceremonies Argus Hamilton (an accomplished comedian himself) attempted to smooth things over by saying, “Well, Pioneer 10 is leaving the solar system, and Tyler wishes he was on it.”

It was an audience like this that Gorse faced for the first time in May of 1980. But he had practiced well, and won the crowd over with one-liners such as, “Every time I go to a baseball game it’s ruined by these fat, loud, obnoxious people who are always yelling. They’re the umpires, so I guess they have to be there, but for me it ruins it. ” After performing on several amateur nights in a row, Gorse was encouraged by the club’s manager, Sandi Shore, to go to Los Angeles and audition for her mother Mitzi, a famed coach and patroness of comedians. Gorse went; it looked as if he were on his way.

But things were going better for Gorse than they do for most comedians — much better. More typical is the experience of Jimmy McGee. McGee, a trim, handsome black man with a soft-spoken manner, remembers that when he first started doing stand-up comedy in San Diego back in October of 1977, he and Larry Himmel (now a commentator for Channel 8 news and host of a talk show on KSDO radio) were the only local comedians around. Then, as now, the Comedy Store was virtually the only place in town to perform. “I got together a few minutes of material and performed for the first time on amateur night,” McGee said recently. “I figured in two weeks I’d be discovered and be on the Tonight Show, at least. Back in those days, that’s the way I thought.”

His thinking was all wrong. Not only was he not discovered, but the Comedy Store soon discontinued amateur night for almost a year because not enough local comedians were showing up. “After that I had to drive to the L.A. Comedy Store just to get on for five minutes [on amateur night]. Sometimes I’d drive there and not even get on. Or I’d get on stage about two in the morning, when there’s no one left but other comedians — and they ’re not going to laugh because they’re pissed off.

Like most comedians, McGee supported himself by working at a job that had nothing to do with comedy — in his case, as a food preparer at the Veterans Administration Hospital in La Jolla. But in late 1980 he decided to take $5000 in savings and go to New York City “to see if they’d laugh at me there.” For two months he worked at clubs such as the Comic Strip and Catch a Rising Star, mainly on amateur nights and mainly for free. A few times he appeared on paid nights as a warm-up act for bigger-name comedians, but even then the pay was bad — he says it was as low as five dollars a night for relatively unknown performers like himself. On top of that, he discovered comedians from the East Coast were all trying to move out to Southern California. “There are more clubs to work [on the East Coast], but everyone considers California a better place to work,” said McGee, explaining that most comedians realize the movie and television industries are their major markets, and both are based in Los Angeles.

McGee returned to San Diego, went to work part time as a supervisor of food preparation at Grossmont Hospital , and began performing wherever he could. Sometimes just the color of his skin was enough to turn off an audience or a club owner. “It’s a lot better now than when I started, but racism is in show business like everything else. You can spot racist members of the audience right away — some guy out there who isn’t laughing when everyone else is. You know it’s because they hate you. . . . But it isn’t a deterrent to me. I get a thrill out of finally making people like that laugh. For that brief second, they aren’t thinking about color, they’re just laughing.’’ One night, McGee remembers with a smile, he got a standing ovation at Mickey D’s nightclub in Santee — “a place where [at first] I thought I was going to be hung after the show.”

McGee, who is twenty-eight, currently performs on amateur nights at the Comedy Store and occasionally at other clubs around San Diego, such as McDini’s and My Rich Uncle’s. He said he plans to “pound the pavement’’ for the next few months to get work in Los Angeles, too. “The competition doesn’t scare me," he insisted. “I think I’m good enough to make a living at comedy. Some comedians are just developing, and some have already developed and are waiting for a break. I’m one of those.’’

Pat Gorse was still a developing comedian when he went to Los Angeles to audition for Mitzi Shore in June, 1980. Shore could see the young comic needed polish, but she was also savvy enough to recognize his talent, and encouraged Gorse to work on his act. He returned to San Diego, and for the next six months spent every amateur night at the Comedy Store, perfecting his timing, his delivery, his jokes. (Gorse: “I know my parents were mean. I found out how mean they were when I was five. I realized there was no such thing as Alpo baby food.’’) Finally he returned to Los Angeles and auditioned for Mitzi Shore again. Afterward, Shore invited him over to her table and told him he’d improved considerably. In her time-honored way of lending support to promising young comedians, she offered Gorse a job driving for the Comedy Store. He could run errands for the club during the day, and perform on stage at night several times per week. Gorse took the job.

Gorse is a stocky man with thick, curly dark hair and a wide mouth that seems permanently fixed in a sardonic expression. “People assume I’m Jewish from the get-go,” he says, but he is not. He was raised a Catholic in North Park — “North Viet Park,” as he likes to call it. (“I was an ugly kid. I went to the children’s zoo and everybody started petting me.”) Gorse used to read the newspaper out loud to his lunch-hour buddies in University High School’s class of ’73, adding his own funny comments and fantasy paragraphs to the day’s news items. He claims he was a good student in high school, but dropped out of junior college after half a semester, and did his best to avoid working for the next five years before deciding to become a professional comedian.

Unlike most local comedians, who say coming up with original material is difficult, Gorse is a fountain of humorous observations and stories. He brainstorms more or less constantly, often out loud. When he thinks of something funny he frequently makes a note of it on the nearest available scrap of paper — a napkin or a paper plate will do. “You scribble down something like that before it sails off into the universe and some other comedian picks up on it,” he explains. He still pores over newspapers to find potential material, but insists he has no favorite subjects. Anything can be funny to him, even his own career. “The first time I went on stage in Hollywood, I guess I was a little nervous,” he recalled a few weeks ago. “Argus [Hamilton] noticed it, and after the show he took me aside and told me I had to be more aggressive. He said, ‘When you’re on stage, your word is law. ’ So I took his advice, and when I went on stage the next time my word was law. Unfortunately, the audience had been issued a restraining order.”

Gorse drove a limousine for the Comedy Store in Los Angeles for five months, picking up comedians at hotels and airports, and running out for booze and other supplies whenever it was necessary. Often he’d return from an errand only a few minutes before he was scheduled to go on stage. He earned about $175 per week for his efforts. After a while, he admitted, the pace wore him out. He began to take amphetamines to get through his performances, and he began to resent Shore for working him so hard. “I was immature, and I kept trying to find ways to put things over on Mitzi, like taking her car for the weekend without her knowing.”

Finally Gorse approached Shore and asked her if he could move back to San Diego for a while and continue working on his act at the La Jolla Comedy Store. She agreed, and even paid him to take care of the store’s Pacific Beach condominium (where visiting comedians stay) and to perform regularly, for twenty-five dollars a night, at the club. But one June night in 1981 Shore learned that Gorse was using the Pacific Beach condominium for a private party. He lost his status as an employee of the Comedy Store the next day.

Now that two years have passed, Gorse can look back at the incident philosophically. “Mitzi had to punish me, and she did,” he says with a shrug, ‘it was like getting bawled out by your mother. But we’re friends now. I like her a lot. Mitzi loves comics, and she’s really dedicated to them. ” At the time. though, just about all Gorse could think about was what a stupid thing he’d done. He'd been given the chance of his life, and he’d blown it.

Gorse’s falling out with Mitzi Shore had particularly ominous implications for his career because of the pre-eminent position of the Comedy Store in what could be called Southern California’s laugh circuit. The Store and the nearby Improv are the two top joke clubs in Los Angeles; in San Diego it has a virtual monopoly on live stand-up comedy.

At about the same time Gorse was losing his job at the Comedy Store, however, another local comedian, Tony Stone, was organizing a booking service for San Diego-area comics. Stone, a native Texan who at thirty-eight is a decade older than most of the other comedians here, had moved to San Diego from the Bay Area in 1977. For several years he was the jokemaking regional director for the Sunasu vitamin distribution company, but he slowly drifted out of the vitamin business and into comedy.

Stone contacted club owners and tried to explain to them ‘‘that comedy is a good drawing card, and that it’s inexpensive compared to live bands. We did pretty well in some of the clubs, but the basic problem is, in a lot of these places, entertainment is kind of a passive thing. The audience can listen or not listen to music; they [often) look at comedy as an intrusion on their conversations.” Local watering holes such as the Boathouse, the Monterey Whaling Company, and Mickey D’s gave Stone and the comedians he worked with a chance, but the managers of those clubs found out the hard way what the management of the Comedy Store had known for some time: San Diego audiences need educating when it comes to comedy. (“We’ve brought Hollywood to San Diego,” says Sandi Shore. “People are afraid to walk in here at first. They don’t know what to expect, and they think it’s going to be expensive.”) Stone has since abandoned his efforts to serve as a booking agent, and supports himself by performing and teaching comedy workshops at local colleges. Nevertheless, he did have some success finding employment for local comedians, and Jimmy McGee commented recently, “We all owe Tony. All the little jobs we got around here for the last few years, he got ’em for us.”

Gorse was one of the comedians who worked with Stone, but like other comedians he found that nearly all of the local clubs have an atmosphere radically different from the Comedy Store. The Store is designed exclusively for comedy; its walls are black, which helps to focus attention on the stage, and there is no food service to distract patrons from the show. In contrast, comedians performing in other clubs often wind up competing with waitresses or a band playing in a nearby room. And it isn’t uncommon for the club’s manager to sit or stand in the back during the show, watching carefully to make certain he gets his money’s worth. Gorse remembers one night in particular when he and comedian Russ T. Nailz were trying to perform in Carlos Murphy’s in La Jolla. “The place is not conducive to comedy,” said Gorse. “The bar is right next to the stage, and we had to pump drink specials in the middle of our act — you know, explain that tonight’s special was the beer, or the schnapps.” On this night, Gorse decided to act more and more drunk each time he announced the specials, until late in the evening he came on stage and simply bellowed, “Where the fuck is my drink?” The club manager (whose first name was Stan) had missed the progression, and mistook Gorse’s final act for the real thing. “He jumped onto the stage and said, right in the middle of the show, ‘It’s off. I don t want all that dirty stuff. ’ I looked at him and said, ‘Stan the man not amusialed.’ ”

As Gorse told me this, he was sitting on a couch in the living room of Nailz’s Mission Valley apartment. Nailz was sitting in a chair nearby, and a television on the far side of the room droned with an endless succession of cartoons: Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Popeye. “It’s tough doing comedy at most of these local clubs,” Nailz agreed. “Most of the time you’re competing with potato skins [for the audience’s attention]. How do you compete with a potato skin?”

Nailz and Gorse are close friends; they met at the Comedy Store one night three years ago, and frequently go out on the town together. Both grew up in San Diego (Nailz, whose true name is Russ Stolnack, is a graduate of Helix High School, ’74), but they are opposites in almost every other way. In contrast to Gorse’s earthy, wisecracking Falstaff, Nailz seems like Louis XIV. He is tall and good-looking, with blond curls and bright blue eyes, and he can be both arrogant and irreverent. Unlike Gorse, who is known for his meticulous construction of jokes, Nailz comes up with most of his witticisms spontaneously. “I can spend two hours writing and rewriting a single joke, but Russ prefers to ad lib a lot of his stuff,” Gorse commented. “He doesn’t like all that work to get in the way of his creativity. But we work well together; we complement each other.”

Nailz first got involved in comedy in 1980, when he was working as a disc jockey for radio station KPRI. He has served as an m.c. for the Comedy Store’s amateur nights and has performed at several other clubs around town, but his comic roots are in radio, and he currently has a show every morning from six to ten on radio station 91X. While his partner Steve West spins records and reads announcements, Nailz carries on with a bizarre set of characters and comedy sketches that are inserted in and around the station’s new-wave hits. Gorse has been writing material for Nailz for the last four months, and was recently hired as the show’s “producer,” although his duties still consist primarily of writing one-liners that Nailz incorporates into his act. “Pat started out just contributing, but now it’s gotten to the point where I don't feel comfortable doing the show without him,” Nailz said as he sipped a glass of Seven-up. “If Pat writes it, I'll read it. If he believes in it, it’s funny.” (Nailz: “I joined the Navy. I only got one promotion . . . when the ship was sinking, they made me the captain.”)

Live comedy is not as enjoyable to perform as radio comedy. Nailz concedes, partly because radio is easier. “If you get in trouble (telling a joke on radio), you can just cut to a commercial instead of standing there on stage thinking, ‘Oh fuck, what do I do now?’ When you’re doing live comedy and you start to lose your crowd, you go for your best joke. Then if you bomb, you go for your car.”

“The first five or ten seconds is when you usually make it or break it (in a live performance!,” nodded Gorse. “You can change that, but the first five seconds are so important, just because it does so much for you to start well. . . . The guy who loses it — I’ve seen it a hundred times — he won’t be getting any laughs, but he'll just stand there, frozen. He won’t move and he won't stop talking. He will never leave until you take him away. I remember once it happened to a guy named Jeff when I was a master of ceremonies at the Comedy Store. I finally had to go up to the stage and say, “Jeff, we're going to try to talk you down safely. Bring your nose up’ — and he did, he brought his nose up — and I said. ‘Not too fast! Not too fast!’ And I eventually talked him off the stage. ...”

Gorse said he generally prefers writing comedy to performing it, “because I think I'm a lot better at writing than I am at performing. But when I’m having fun performing, it’s a lot more fun than it ever is when I'm writing. ” Both he and Nailz still occasionally take part in amateur nights at the Comedy Store, but not nearly as often as they did in the past. Nailz said he could probably use the practice performing live, but that his radio show is currently outlet enough for his humor. Gorse has deeper reasons for not going to the club as frequently.

Although he has patched up his relationship with Mitzi Shore since their falling out two years ago, Gorse’s relationship with Mitzi’s daughter Sandi (who manages the La Jolla Comedy Store) is beset by enduring problems. In this he is not alone; there are strong tensions between Sandi Shore and many local comedians. To a certain extent it is a tension that is bound to exist between a group of hopeful young performers and a businesswoman who can virtually grant or revoke their right to perform, at least in San Diego. But the tension is exacerbated by this: unlike her mother, who spends a great deal of time encouraging and evaluating young comedians, Sandi Shore prefers to concentrate only on the business side of the club. In a profession where the stakes are high and the successes few, resentment has been the result. “There are a lot of problems between the comics here in San Diego and Sandi Shore," said Gorse, voicing complaints that several other comedians here would talk about only when assured they wouldn’t be quoted. “I don’t think she likes comics. Naturally I resent that. But she won’t talk about her feelings; she’s distant. I don’t want what I say to make it impossible to reconcile things, but obviously, this bothers me. I used to enjoy going down to the Comedy Store so much, it hurts to go down there now and not get the same feeling. But there’s no point hanging out at a place where the management doesn’t like you. ’’

As an example of what he dislikes about Shore, Gorse brought up a recent incident in which a comedienne was not allowed to go on stage because she was a few minutes late. “She treats us like little kids,’’ he said. But Shore herself used the same incident as an example of how comedians try to take advantage of her. On a Friday night recently she sat in her office at the club and talked extensively about her feelings regarding local comedians, saying those feelings had been pent up inside her for a long time. At her request, much of the conversation was off the record, but what emerged was a picture of a woman who feels she has been taken advantage of by unreliable comedians and who is increasingly inclined to strike back. “It’s not that I’m distant, I’m just kind of immune to comedy,’’ she insisted. “My father [Sammy Shore] was a comedian; it’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s like a kid inheriting something. I inherited comedy. . . .

“I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to encourage or critique anyone at all. Mitzi loves that. She sends the comedians this way, and I run the club. . . . This business is the only business I like, but it’s like any kind of job. You get used to it. It’s a routine.

“As far as amateur night, I haven’t been coming lately. I’ve been letting a professional comedian [Argus Hamilton] work with the locals. If they’re ready to perform in L.A., I’ll highly recommend them. Some of the local people could make it, if they grow up. But they aren’t developing as fast as they should. They have to get serious, work on new ideas, try them out. That’s what amateur night is all about.’’ Shore also complained that “immature’’ local comedians have repeatedly tried to take advantage of the Comedy Store’s property and their policy on complimentary tickets, but refused to be more specific publicly regarding people or incidents.

Whether or not Shore and the local comedians get along with each other, neither can really get by without the other. But it is clearly Shore who holds most of the power, and most local comedians know it. They do what they can to stay on good terms with her. “There’s a certain amount of brownnosing in this business,’’ one comedian admitted ruefully. Even Gorse conceded that without his current job writing comedy for Nailz’s radio show, he would have to work at the Comedy Store if he wanted an outlet for his talent. “I love the Comedy Store, but not Sandi Shore,’’ he said. “If she’s upset about these things, she’s never once mentioned them to anyone."

At five o’clock one morning, Nailz pulls up in front of my house in his blue Volvo, honks the horn, and waits anxiously for me to run out to meet him. He and Gorse often tape their comic sketches for the morning show on 91X, but this morning they will be doing the show live, and I have asked to go along to see what takes place behind the mike, so to speak.

Nailz’s hair is still wet, and he is unshaven. We drive to Gorse’s house in Mission Hills without saying much; at this hour conversation comes only with determined effort. Gorse’s house is dark as we pull up, and we push open the front door to find a carpeted living room devoid of furniture except for a television and a large cardboard box full of dirty clothes. (Nailz explains that he recently moved out of the house, which is shared by about three people, taking most of the furniture with him.) Gorse appears sleepily in the kitchen, pulling on a pair of shorts; apparently he jumped out of bed only upon our arrival. In a few minutes he kneels in front of the box full of laundry and begins to paw through it for something suitable to wear. “What are you looking for?’’ Nailz finally asks impatiently. “Nothing,’* mumbles Gorse. “I’m just reminiscing.’’

A few moments later, wearing a not-so-dirty-after-all sweatsuit, Gorse loads a cheap red portable typewriter into the trunk of Nailz’s Volvo and we set off for the studio. On the way Gorse suggests a few lines for the Reverend Oral Hutton, a slick-talking, money-hungry electronic preacher who is one of Nailz’s characters on the morning show. “Money is evil, so send me your money and I will heal it,’’ Gorse says. Nailz chuckles appreciatively.

By the time we stop at Carl’s Jr. for breakfast, Gorse is fully awake. “Russ is only trying to impress you by stopping here,’’ he tells me. “Usually we go straight to the A.M./P.M. minimarket.’’ While Nailz and I wait for the food, Gorse dashes off to buy two newspapers — the Union and U.S.A. Today — and scans them for potential material as we continue on to the studio.

When we pull up at the studio. Gorse retrieves his typewriter from the trunk and carries it inside. Steve West, a lanky Englishman with a mop of red hair, is already at work spinning records in a ten-by-ten cubicle crowded with turntables and shelves full of records and tapes. (West is the latest in a series of radio partners for Nailz; “Russ has had more partners than Dirty Harry,’’ Gorse once quipped.) As West signals that it’s time to read the weather and surf report, Nailz sidles up to him and does his best imitation of a Southern California surfer into the microphone. “Like, are the waves going to be massive today, or what? We want to know. . . . Totally glassy? Oh, so bitchen, man.” Meanwhile, Gorse has plunked down his typewriter on a desk in the cubicle next door, and, with his newspapers spread out in front of him, goes to work. As music plays wildly he pecks at the keys of his typewriter, examines the front page of U.S.A. Today thoughtfully, pecks some more. He is working on a piece for Nailz’s “Nude News,’’ a news parody that is broadcast several times each morning. “When I tell people I write a lot of the stuff the same day as the show, most of them say, ‘Gee, that must be a lot of pressure, ’ ” he tells me later. “Boy, are those people right! But I enjoy it; I enjoy that pressure.’’

In thirty minutes Gorse pulls a half page of typewritten material out of his machine and hands it to Nailz. Nailz scans it, and not long afterward he is reading it live on the air, introducing it with his own ad-libbed, rapid-fire patter: “It’s time for News in the Nude, news in the buff, the bare facts behind the news. It’s all the news that fits like a glove, all the news that fits in my mouth, all the news that we can afford. I’m informal and you’re informed. In today’s top story, fire destroyed a Jack in the. . . . No, that’s not really our top story. Here’s something better. The suicide rate in Guyana continues to decline. ...”

During a break a few minutes later, Nailz explains he once tried to inject his humor into a more conventional rock music format, but that it seems to work much better when mixed with 91X’s new-wave songs. “It’s partly the names of the groups — they’re funny already,” he says. ‘’Tilings like Oingo Boingo, Romeo Void, the Psychedelic Furs. The punk scene is like the Fifties in color. ” Grinning, he adds that he once spoofed conventional FM rock stations by playing seven songs at the same time. “Some stations like to point out how they play ten songs in a row, well, we went them one better — seven at once!”

Nailz joins Gorse in the cramped room where he is working, and the two of them begin to work on a bit for Miss Julia, another character of Nailz’s who is based loosely (very loosely) on Julia Child. They decide to do something involving used cars, and talk to each other in Miss Julia’s booming falsetto, trying out lines on each other. Nailz embellishes almost everything that Gorse writes for him, but he depends on Gorse for a lot of basic ideas. This morning the brainstorming does not go particularly well; Gorse suggests a few lines. Nailz rejects them. “Well, you think of something then,” Gorse says.

“I’m trying.” replies Nailz. (The skit is eventually worked out, with at least one of Gorse's lines retained verbatim: “Never buy a used car that has a jaws of life device lying on the back seat.”) As the show nears its end, Nailz prepares to do the Reverend Oral Hutton, without a doubt the most popular character among those who listen to Nailz’s show. At precisely 9:10 he goes on, expanding greatly on the idea that Gorse hatched earlier that morning. In a vague Southern accent he practically shouts into the microphone, “Friends! Gather by your receivers. I want to talk to you about evilness. As you know, money is the root of all evil. Can I have an amen?” Gorse and West shout, “Amen!” “Can I have a hallelujah?” “Hallelujah!”

“Can I have large amounts of cash so I can heal it? Friends, send me your money and I will hold on to it and cure it. It will take about ten years, but I promise I will get it back to you. Now, as you know, the larger the bill, the more evil it is. Change is not evil. Coins are not evil, unless they are rare coins. Friends, reach out and touch your wallets and empty them into envelopes and send them to me. . . .”

Behind the studio, a dog is urinating on the front wheel of Nailz’s Volvo. In another forty-five minutes the show is wrapped up, and Gorse and Nailz prepare to leave. But they linger outside for a few minutes, bantering with West as the late morning sun glows brighter and brighter through the receding mist.

The management of 91X recently offered Nailz and Gorse a chance to translate their radio show into a television format; Nailz will be the host of an hour-long special featuring new-wave bands, and Gorse will contribute humorous lines and sketches for him. (The management of 9IX, who consider the television shows promotions, said they hope to air the first show this September.) Neither man is getting rich at what he does — they split $2200 a month for the radio show, with most of it going to Nailz — but they clearly enjoy collaborating, and for now, the free-wheeling lifestyle they are able to lead seems enough. When I asked if they had any particular goals or ambitions, Nailz responded that he might someday like to host a major television show. “But I don’t worry about it,” he added. “I figure people will always make me offers.”

Gorse, as usual, was more reflective. “Basically, all I want to do is create comedy,” he said. “I don’t see myself as the star of a TV show, and I don’t want to be known primarily as a stand-up comic. I’ve never seen anyone doing stand-up who was really happy. There’s pressure, your life is fragmented all over the country. . . . You don’t have a decent life. I like writing comedy, but I like to collaborate; I don’t really like writing by myself. And if it’s not any fun to do, I just don’t like doing it. It doesn’t really matter what I’m writing. I don’t think I’m motivated by finances. To me, having fun is what it’s all about.”

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Unexpected views from some San Diego African Americans

"I don't care if you're black or white"
Next Article

“I Come From the Andromeda Galaxy”

Alfred Howard, James Brady, Me, Myself and Eye, Orchid Mantis, Puttin’ on the Fritz
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close