Despite the black bird in its name, Santa Monica’s Crow offers the opposite of the dark, brick-wall trope that audiences envision when they think of a comedy club. Instead, you see light catapulting from the pristine white walls and seeping through the corrugated tin roof into the corners and onto the warm wood on the stage. The lush, green plants, each watered every Wednesday, spread and stretch toward the sun. Rows of velvet, mid-century chairs patiently await the audience. If you didn’t know that jokes are being told here, you’d think this was a space where artists gather to discuss the nuances between Seurat and Signac, or where book clubs chat over cups of coffee.
The three-part club, with a main stage, a “nest” on the second floor for smaller acts, and a conservatory with a charming reading nook, is the realization of a lifelong dream of Nicole and Mickey Blaine. “I started doing stand-up when I was pregnant with my second [child] and I started opening mics right after I gave birth,” says Nicole, leaning her elbows on the club’s bar, where chocolate milk and apple juice are currently being served.
“I was 34 years old when I started stand up. I was literally pumping breast milk on the way to Meltdown, which was the coolest place for open mics in LA, and I felt like no one looked like me,” she says, watching the stage. “They were all very young and very cool. And I’d put these little bottles of breast milk in a freezer bag and walk in and hope I didn’t leak.”
For Nicole, creating a safe and accessible space for comics at all stages of their careers was a vision she shared with Miki since they began performing.
“We have always believed in comedy. At our lowest points, someone has always been there to hold us back and comfort us,” says Mickey. “We wanted to provide this community space to provide an opportunity for people who may not always have opportunities.”
If you ask the Blaines, who have been married for 20 years, how Varis got its name, you’ll get a love story. The couple grew up west of Los Angeles in the ’90s and joined the filming of their high school’s adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” Nicole, the munchkin, and Mickey, the scarecrow, talked for hours while painting the background of the Wicked Witch’s crows.
When Nicole was 18, she said goodbye to her family, Mickey and friends and moved to UC Davis. Then, in the middle of his freshman year, he got a call from his brother, who asked him to come home right away. “My stepfather had a major nervous breakdown and became a crack addict,” says Nicole. “When my mother tried to save him — his business, his house — he became addicted himself.”
In the taping of “Pipe Dreams,” a one-woman show Nicole performed at the Hudson Theater in 2005, she brings her mother on stage for a Q&A. An audience member asks her mother when she offered her teenage daughter crack. “If you’re an ex-husband, you know there’s a part of your brain that doesn’t work with reality at all,” his mother said. “And I don’t think I really wanted him to take it. I think I really wanted him to let me keep taking it.”
The day she returned to town from college, Nicole ran into Mickey while hanging out with a mutual friend. At the end of the night, dating in the ’90s, he gave her his pager number, and when she returned to UC Davis, they talked every day. “We always found ourselves in deep conversations about the future and what kind of person we wanted to be with,” Mickey recalls. Nicole, a tenacious optimist, trusts the meeting to her mother. “If that tragedy hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have come across him [Mickey] that day, in that place,” he says. “I would never have been home without that phone call.”
Two weeks later, Nicole’s roommate told her that a guy named Mickey had called and was waiting for her at the airport. “I borrowed my friend’s car and went to the airport,” laughs Nicole. “He looked at me and said, ‘I just want to tell you that I love you.’ And I’ll get married one day.”
She left Davis to move back to her childhood home in Santa Monica and take care of her 14-year-old brother. Mickey moved in with her and she worked three jobs to help Nicole and her brother get through that difficult time. Nicole eventually applied to Loyola Marymount University and returned to college. “[Mickey] put me in college, and I said, “As soon as I’m done, I’ll turn around and get you in.” We only overlapped at LMU for about a year. But we did it.”
Since then, Nicole and Mickey have produced several projects together, including “Life is short”, Nicole’s stand-up special on Prime Video and “A virgin victim,” a live performance at the Westside Comedy Theater, where the first-timers shared the stage with the likes of Damon Wayans, Ali Wong, and Jeff Garlin. “I’ve had almost a hundred virgins,” Nicole jokes.
However, the pandemic and the encouragement of Nicole’s mother, who is now clean, led to the creation of the Crow. When Nicole struggled with depression in 2020, her mother reminded Nicole of her dream of building a theater. “He goes, ‘I’ll take you there,'” Nicole says. “‘I’ll get you over this. I’ll teach you how to do it. I’ll sign everything you need. I’ll watch your kids while you and Mickey work late. Let me gift it back to you.’
Over the next year, Nicole and Mickey sought out Crow’s home in Los Angeles – lured by their hometown of Santa Monica, where comedy venues are few and far between. “There is something homely about being from somewhere and giving back to a community that gave so much. for you,” Nicole says. The two settled in Bergamot Station, an artists’ colony owned by the city of Santa Monica since 1994 and a major stop for the Big Blue Bus, the city’s main form of public transportation.
Today, Crow provides a platform and community for comics of all kinds. The show’s line-up is acutely aware that today’s crowd will not fill every club’s 75 seats, but also the people who will be sitting there 10 years from now. Crow’s big focus is a comedy summer camp where kids are taught to write and perform their own material; it ends with a live performance for family and friends. “I want you to have access to top-level comedians, so you can see the top pros and talk to them and ask them, ‘Is this going to work?'” says Nicole, describing the lessons taught at the camp. has so much to say, and we need to give them the tools to do so.”
Blaines has also decided to dedicate weekly shows to regulars and newcomers, whether first timers or pros. Tuesdays feature “Boys Drool,” a 6:00 p.m. open mic for female and non-binary sets. $5 gets you five minutes on the mic. That night at 7:30 p.m., Crow will “welcome everyone” during “Murder at the Mic,” where picking your name out of a bucket gets you a three-minute set. There are also plans to hold a BYOB comic for moms. “This is a place built for lactating, old elderly women. It’s called BYOB: Bring Your Own Baby. Bring your own tit. Bring your own bottle with you”, smiles Nicole. “Free parking for prams.”
Other shows include “Call Me by My Hebrew Name,” hosted by Abby Feldman each month in honor of Shabbat — Nicole visualizes stand-up as a “full comedy Seder” — and “Comedia en Español,” a lineup celebrating Mexican Independence Day that’s 100% in Spanish. Veteran comics who have toured through the Crow since it opened in June include Ian Edwards, Willie Macc, Jenny Zigrino, Jordan Conley, Danny Jolles and Dana Moon.
One night, comic Kalea McNeill took the stage for one of the club’s flagship nights called “Laughter After Dark” to record a sold-out, hour-long special. “I knew we were going to shoot a great special because I was completely at home in that space,” McNeill said after the show. “It just had a very grassroots aesthetic, which I love. I’m a big DIY guy. Sometimes you have to do it yourself in the seat that works.”
The Crow’s knack for creating a haven for comics and audiences that transforms from day to night, or, as Mickey says, provides a place “where you’re not afraid to turn on the lights,” goes back to where it all began: two kids in love trying to figure life out.
If you ask the Blaines about their matching tattoos, they’ll tell you the story behind the Raven. On their first weekend together in Davis, Mickey had a flight to catch. Outside the dormitory, a taxi was waiting, and the sky was dark, strange for the early morning. As the couple walked hand in hand towards the driver, suddenly the trees came alive, and what they thought were leaves turned into hundreds of black-winged birds taking flight. “When the crows flew away, all the light flooded in. There was no darkness, and everything became bright,” says Nicole. To remember that day, Nicole and Mickey inked their arms with a tree, half of its branches exposed under a flock of crows.
“I want it to be the kind of comedy club that affects the human experience and makes everyone realize that life is going to work out,” says Nicole. “This is one of the most powerful forms of art. When you walk into my space, you should be filled with love and joy. Let this be your home.”
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