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(Louise Palanker video)

Somewhere in the early 2000s I was made a paid regular at The Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. This is a highly coveted credit and it was mine for the price of my self esteem, my courage and my dignity.

Bear in mind that much of my career was spent in radio, which is as bro-ey as any industry gets and I was faring just fine. But The Comedy Store was its own disturbing den of dysfunction.

I began my journey there as an open miker. I’m not certain how it works now. But back in those days, one enjoyed the privilege by prowling around the Sunset Strip sidewalk in front of The Comedy Store for several hours waiting for the opportunity to pull a ticket out of a hat.

That ticket could be blank or it could contain a number of 1-20. If you pulled a number, you came back the following night and you got to perform for three minutes.

The hope was that if you were good, you would eventually be given a showcase. The dream with the showcase was that the club owner, Mitzi Shore, would see you and promote you to the rarified position of paid regular.

I had been pulling numbers at The Comedy Store and hitting open mics around town for a few years. Jamie Masada gave me a hosting position at The Laugh Factory on Tuesday nights because we were friends. I cherished that honor but I was not truly ready for it. So I was working to get more stage time and improve.

One night at The Comedy Store, I pulled number 19. Awesome. I returned the following night and did my three minutes. About a week later, I got a phone call from a staffer at The Comedy Store asking me why I had not come in to do my paperwork.

“I’m sorry, what?”

“Yeah, um, so it looks like you’re a paid regular now or whatever, and you need to do the paperwork.”

The person calling me was a comic and a friend of mine. He worked at The Comedy Store and was not yet a paid regular. This delayed and unprofessional phone call from a person I knew and liked exemplified the tone that would color the next year of my life.

Apparently, the night before, Shore had arrived early to watch the showcases. I was open-miker No. 19. She caught my act, liked it and made me a paid regular, ahead of many people who had been showcasing many times and many guys who worked at the club, both in the office and as waiters and doormen, like the guy who eventually called me in exchange for stage time.

I filled out my paperwork and began the routine required of paid regulars hoping for stage time. This involved arriving at the club at about 11 a.m. on Sundays and Mondays, waiting for the manager to show up around 3 p..m, signing my name to a list and then returning to the club at 8 p.m. to wait until about 2 a.m. when I would finally get to perform my set to an empty room or to a couple of employee/comics yelling, “Show us your boobs!”

During these protracted waiting periods, I was the only female present and no one would speak to me unless I was being harassed. I know that sounds hyperbolic, but that was the atmosphere and that was my experience. There were guys in these groups who I liked very much and who were warm and friendly to me at other clubs and coffee houses.

Let’s see. What should I highlight here to best impart the repertoire of harassment visited upon me? I was bent over desks and dry humped. I was shown horse-on-woman porn. My hand was shoved down (not my own) pants. Recent sexual exploits were graphically described to me. These often included a recreation.

A “friend” of mine announced to me, in a room full of fellow men, “We don’t even know if you have a vagina!” The list of brutishly abusive behaviors is lengthy.

The only person I will name in this piece is Bret Ernst. That’s because he saw what was happening and pep talked with me for a couple of hours. I am grateful. Showing kindness in a sea of cruelty is courageous.

One night at The Laugh Factory, a friend and I decided to walk down the street and see who was performing at The Comedy Store. As I ran my finger down the posted list, I saw my own name and heard another comic growling, “Who the f*** is Louise Palanker?”

I did my set that night, but I had never been called and told that I had a spot. How many other nights had I been marked down as a “no show?” It was Shore’s choice to have aspiring male comics run her club. That gave her power over them.

It was not a great recipe for female comics, but I was toughing it out because I thought that was what was required. I wasn’t improving.

The toxic tone was impacting my confidence. So, too, was the club manager telling me one night that Shore had just seen my set and “she was not impressed.”

Oh, really? “Tell her that I just saw the way bullies run her club for her and I am not impressed.” That was the thought bubble anyway.

My final straw came on a night when I was sitting on the front steps of The Comedy Store landing. It’s a busy place, populated by an assortment of customers and comics but I was venting “privately” to fellow comic Erica Dohring about life on Lord of the Flies Comedy Club island when suddenly a fellow comedian, standing above us bellowed, “SHUT UP, PALANKER! NOBODY HERE WANTS TO F*** YOU!”

That was it for me. I just got up and said, “I don’t need to be spoken to this way.” I made the instant decision that I was done with The Store and I walked down the steps as Dohring called after me, “I’ll f*** you!” God love her.

I reserve the highest levels of respect for my female comedian friends who have thrived at The Comedy Store. Their nerves are steel and they persevere and shine, and I adore them for it. I didn’t have that right stuff, but I am proud that I knew when I needed to walk away.

I hear that things are much different and better at The Comedy Store now. I would love to hear your stories of The Comedy Store, or of women in comedy or women pushing past adversity to share their voices.

Louise Palanker is a co-founder of Premiere Radio Networks, the author of a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel called Journals, a comedian, a filmmaker (click here to view her documentary, Family Band: The Cowsills Story), a teacher and a mentor. She also co-hosts the podcast Media Path with Fritz Coleman, and teaches a free stand-up comedy class for teens at the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.