Will recession get the last laugh at new comedy clubs?


LOS ANGELES -- Two comedy mavens will open new clubs in Los Angeles this week -- even though the recent comedy climate has been no laughing matter.

After four years of planning, Richard Fields, Catch a Rising Star founder and chief executive officer, will open a comedy-variety club tomorrow in Universal City. He has signed a joint partnership deal with Universal Studios.

Fields opened his first club in New York 20 years ago and has several clubs around the country. He also maintains a management agency for comedians.

And today, Rodney Dangerfield will open his third club -- he also has part ownership in Dangerfield's in New York and owns Rodney's Place in Las Vegas -- inside the Twenty/20 club in Century City. Operating Wednesday through Saturday nights, the club is called Rodney's Place -- The Outrageous Comedy Club.

Fields and Dangerfield are bucking the trend, which has seen the demise of several comedy clubs and theaters:

* Second City sought to duplicate its Chicago and Toronto comedy improv theaters with a new theater in Santa Monica in February 1989. It lasted 17 months.

* The Sagebrush Cantina in Calabasas opened a comedy room last summer that lasted less than a year.

* The well-established Improv comedy club chain opened a satellite club at the Valley Hilton in Sherman Oaks in 1986. It lasted just over two years.

* Mitzie Shore's attempt to expand her Comedy Store chain to a hotel in North Hollywood in 1987 lasted less than a year.

Fields is banking on a partnership deal with Universal Studios to see him through what he knows is a tough market. The new Catch a Rising Star club has been built on the Universal Studios lot next to the Victoria Station restaurant. The club will use the studios' marketing, publicity and food departments to run operations.

Fields hopes in the future to operate the club during the day, hosting live variety television shows and, eventually, talk shows and game shows.

Fields has signed a deal with a major network to start production on a Catch a Rising Star prime-time variety show this summer.

The show would be "like the old 'Ed Sullivan Show,' " Fields said, and would feature talent that was nurtured at Catch clubs in New York and Las Vegas.

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