It was 1986, and Eddie Murphy was the biggest movie star in the world because of his leading role in Beverly Hills Cop 1. He had gotten his start at The Comic Strip, where owner and founder Richie Tienken was his manager, and when he’d stop by the club, everyone would go crazy, especially the audience.
One night in 1986, Eddie dropped by unexpectedly. It was late, and he asked if there were any Black comics he could see. Interestingly enough, in those days there were actually very few Black comics. Richie and club manager Lucien Hold, who managed the club for 25 years, didn’t want Eddie to leave. They were frantic.
The only Black comic in the place was the totally inexperienced, 21-year-old Chris Rock who was setting up chairs and cleaning up the club in exchange for stage time. He only got to perform on “late night,” the time when brand new comics get a chance to go on stage for whoever was left from the earlier shows— usually like six drunks who don’t even know they’re there.
Richie Tienken, Chris Rock, and Jeffrey Gurian in front of the photo wall at The Comic Strip. To Richie’s right is a young Jerry Seinfeld, behind Chris is a young Adam Sandler, and between Chris and Jeffrey is a young Louis CK. They all started at The Comic Strip.
It was a Friday night, and the place was packed. Richie and Lucien decided they had to put Chris Rock up on stage so that Eddie Murphy would stay. It was Chris Rock’s first time performing for any sort of crowd, and Eddie Murphy was his idol.
Chris went up, and he killed it. According to him, he didn’t think he did that great, but Eddie sure did. Chris said he heard Eddie’s distinctive laugh from the stage.
When he got off the stage, Eddie was waiting for him. They sat in a little window seat while Eddie’s bodyguard Fruity stood by making sure nobody bothered them. Chris remembers Eddie talking to him as if he was already destined to be a star. When Eddie left, he gave Chris his number and told him to call him. Word quickly spread through the comedy community that Eddie Murphy liked Chris Rock.
A couple of days later, Eddie ran into Louis Faranda who now runs Carolines on Broadway, but in those days, he was the bartender at Rick Newman’s Catch a Rising Star. Louis said, “Hey Chris, I heard that Eddie Murphy liked your set,” and Chris said, “Yeah, he gave me his number.” Louis asked if he had called him, and Chris said he hadn’t because he was too nervous to call. Louis said something to the effect of, “Schmuck, if Eddie Murphy gives you his number, he expects you to call him.” So he did, and Eddie invited Chris to come out with him and his entourage, which included his mom, to go and see a Spike Lee movie. As Chris recalls, it was so long ago that Spike was out in the street selling t-shirts. Chris said it was that night when Eddie invited him to come to LA for the reshoots of the movie Golden Child.
Chris said he had never been on an airplane or stayed in a hotel before. He grew up poor in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. He said that with seven children, he never even had a shrimp cocktail. His father used to buy one shrimp and cut it up into seven pieces. So he borrowed a suitcase and clothing from his brothers and headed out to LA with Richie Tienken. They put him up at L’Ermitage hotel in Beverly Hills, and Richie noticed that he wasn’t eating. Chris thought he had to pay for his food and couldn’t afford to order anything. Richie assured him that Eddie and Paramount were taking care of everything. It was on that trip that Eddie offered Chris a part in Beverly Hills Cop 2 and created the part of the hotel valet just for him, and that’s what made Chris’s career.
When he left to go back to New York, Richie said he can still remember as Chris walked down a long corridor, looked back, and yelled out, “Hey Richie, don’t forget me man!” and Richie promised he wouldn’t. He called Lucien back in New York and told him to make sure to give Chris prime spots, and no more “late night.”
For more cool stories like this check out the book Laughing Legends: How The Comic Strip Club Changed the Face of Comedy by Jeffrey Gurian and Richie Tienken.
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