Regardless of being named after a jet-black fowl, the Crow in Santa Monica provides the other of the darkish brick-walled trope audiences envision once they consider a comedy membership. As an alternative, you’ll discover mild catapulting off of pristine white partitions and seeping via the corrugated tin roof, spilling into corners and onto the nice and cozy, wood stage. Lush, inexperienced crops, each watered each Wednesday, spray and stretch towards the solar. Rows of velvet, midcentury chairs patiently anticipate an viewers. When you didn’t know jokes had been instructed right here, you’d suppose this was an area the place artists huddle to debate the nuances between Seurat and Signac or the place e-book golf equipment commun over cups of espresso.
The three-part membership, which homes a principal stage, a “nest” on the second flooring for smaller reveals, and a inexperienced room with a captivating studying nook, is the manifestation of Nicole and Mickey Blaine’s lifelong dream. “I began performing stand-up whereas pregnant with my second [child] and began going to open mics proper after I had given delivery,” Nicole says, her elbow propped on the membership’s bar, which at the moment serves chocolate milk and apple juice.
“I used to be 34 years previous once I began stand-up. I used to be actually pumping breast milk on the best way to the Meltdown, which was the good spot in LA for open mics, and I felt like no one regarded like me,” she says whereas surveying the stage. “They had been all very younger and really cool. And I’d put these little bottles of breast milk in a freezer bag, stroll in and hope that I wasn’t leaking.”
For Nicole, making a protected and accessible area for comics in any respect levels of their careers was a imaginative and prescient she shared with Mickey since they started performing.
“We’ve all the time believed in comedy. In our lowest factors, any individual’s all the time been there to rein us again in and make us really feel snug,” says Mickey. “We wished to offer this neighborhood area to offer a chance for those who possibly don’t all the time have alternatives.”
When you ask the Blaines, who’ve been married for 20 years, how the Crow bought its identify, 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.
When Nicole was 18, she stated goodbye to her household, Mickey and pals and moved to UC Davis. Then in the midst of her freshman yr, she bought a name from her brother, who begged her to return house instantly. “My stepdad had a extreme nervous breakdown and have become a crack addict,” says Nicole. “Within the midst of my mom making an attempt to avoid wasting him — his enterprise, the home — she grew to become addicted herself.”
In a taping of “Pipe Goals,” a one-woman present Nicole carried out on the Hudson Theater 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. “When you’re an ex-crackhead, you realize that there’s part of your mind that isn’t functioning with actuality in any respect,” her mom stated. “And I don’t suppose that I actually wished her to take it. I feel that what I actually wished was for her to let me proceed taking it.”
On the day she was again on the town from school, Nicole bumped into Mickey whereas hanging out with a mutual pal. On the finish of the night time, in correct ’90s courtship, he gave her his pager quantity, and when she returned to UC Davis, they talked every single day. “We all the time discovered ourselves in deep conversations in regards to the future and in regards to the type of individual we wish to be with,” Mickey recollects. A die-hard optimist, Nicole credit that probability assembly to her mom. “If it hadn’t been for that tragedy, I wouldn’t have run into him [Mickey] on that sooner or later, on that one spot,” she says. “I’d by no means have been house if it hadn’t been for that cellphone name.”
Two weeks later, Nicole’s roommate instructed her a man named Mickey had referred to as and was ready for her on the airport. “I borrowed a pal’s automobile and went to the airport,” Nicole laughs. “He checked out me, and he’s like, ‘I simply wish to let you realize, I really like you. And I’m gonna marry you sooner or later.’”
She left Davis to maneuver again to her childhood house 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 via that powerful interval. Finally, Nicole utilized to Loyola Marymount College and went again to school. ,[Mickey] put me via school, and I stated, ‘As quickly as I’m accomplished, I’ll flip round and I’ll get you in.’ We solely overlapped at LMU for a couple of yr. However 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 dwell 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 nearly 100 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 melancholy in 2020, her mom reminded Nicole of her dream of constructing a theater. “She goes, ‘I’ll get you there,’” says Nicole. “‘I’ll get you thru this. I’ll train you the right way to do it. I’ll co-sign no matter you want. I’ll watch your youngsters whilst you and Mickey work late. Let me present it again to you.’”
Over the subsequent yr, Nicole and Mickey looked for the Crow’s house round LA — their hometown of Santa Monica, the place comedy venues are sparse, drew them in. “There’s one thing homegrown, being from someplace and giving again to the neighborhood that gave a lot 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 principal public transit.
At present, the Crow provides a stage and a neighborhood for each sort of comedian. The lineup of reveals is keenly conscious of not simply in the present day’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 youngsters are taught the right way to write and carry out their very own materials; it ends with a dwell efficiency for household and pals. “I need you to have entry to top-level comedians as a way to see the highest execs and discuss to them and ask them, ‘Did this work?’ ” says Nicole when describing the teachings taught through the camp. “It’s integrating the skilled stage, seasoned comedians, and letting them connect with Gen Z, who’s going to have a lot to say, and we have to give them the instruments for it.”
The Blaines are additionally decided to dedicate weekly reveals for regulars and newcomers to collect, whether or not they’re first-timers or execs. Tuesdays are slated for “Boys Drool,” a 6 pm 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 pm, the Crow “welcomes all who welcome all” throughout “Homicide on the Mic,” the place your identify being plucked from a bucket provides you a three-minute set. There are additionally plans to host a BYOB comedian night time for moms. “It is a place constructed for breastfeeding, previous geriatric ladies. It’s going to be referred to as BYOB: Carry your personal child. Carry your personal boob. Carry your personal bottle,” grins Nicole. “Free stroller parking.”
Different reveals on the docket embrace “Name Me by My Hebrew Identify,” 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 Espaol,” a lineup celebrating Mexican Independence Day that can be 100% in Spanish. Veteran comics who’ve rolled via the Crow because it opened in June embrace Ian Edwards, Willie Macc, Jenny Zigrino, Jordan Conley, Danny Jolles and Dana Moon.
On a current night time, the comedian Kalea McNeill took to the stage for one of many membership’s flagship nights referred to as “Laughter After Darkish” to tape a sold-out, hourlong particular. “I knew that the particular that we’d shoot was going to be wonderful as a result of I used to be utterly at house in that area,” McNeill stated after the present. “It simply had a really grass-roots aesthetic that I really like. I’m a giant DIYer. Typically it’s a must to do it your self throughout 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, provides a spot “the place you’re not scared to activate the lights,” goes again to how it began: two youngsters in love making an attempt to determine life out.
When you 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, all of a sudden the timber burst into life, and what they thought had been leaves reworked into lots of of black-winged birds withdrawing. “When the crows flew away, all the sunshine poured in. There was no darkness, and every little thing 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 need it to be the kind of comedy membership that makes an impression on the human expertise and makes everybody notice that life goes to be OK,” says Nicole. “This is without doubt one of the strongest artwork kinds. If you stroll into my area, you need to be flooded with love and pleasure. Let this be your property.”