The Story of Comediac

In 1979, I decided to leave the Young Adults. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that Jeff Shore, who along with Dave “Sport Fisher” Hansen and I created the band (and the 3 of us wrote all the songs) had announced that he was leaving. When I thought about continuing on with Dave, Thom Enright and John Rufo and getting a new piano player, I thought that the main dynamic that would be impossible to replicate would be the creative direction of the band. It would be totally altered and I decided that, without Jeff’s guiding hand in musical arrangements and his ability to work with such disparate personalities as Dave and I, the Young Adults would be seriously weakened. So I announced that I was leaving too.

This meant that I had to figure out two things: what would be the next project and how would I make enough money to stay alive. The Young Adults had been my “job” for the past few years and, although we all made a living solely from the band, we didn’t make enough to have any money saved. So, at the age of nearly 30, I went back to what I knew. I started washing dishes at a new restaurant owned by my friend John Rector who owned Leo’s. This accomplished a couple of things. I would have enough money to pay rent and otherwise stay alive, I would get free meals while at work and I would have a job where I was on “automatic pilot” and could plot out my next move.

At the same time that this was happening, Rich Lupo decided to purchase a small Italian restaurant across the street from his club. Not that he was going to run an Italian restaurant but he wanted the second liquor license that went along with purchasing the business. It was being sold on the cheap because everyone knew that the entire block of buildings that the restaurant was part of was being torn down within the next year or two to make way for a new Federal government office building. So, Lupo took over the restaurant, renamed it “The West End” and put his pal, the filmmaker, Jim Wolpaw, in charge of booking and creating the entertainment for the club.

Jim had a couple of good ideas about the entertainment. As a filmmaker, he wanted to screen films in the bar a couple of nights a week. He also wanted to present stand-up comedy because there was no place in the metropolitan area where comics were appearing on a regular basis at that time (this was before Periwinkles in the Arcade or the Comedy Connection in East Providence had started operation). There was a Chinese restaurant in the Boston/Cambridge area called the Ding Ho where the Boston stand-up scene was centered around and Jim got in touch with the comics that were working there and booked them into the West End. The West End also became home base for a number of good local bands, one of which was our buddies, Rubber Rodeo, who were just starting out and would later get a major record deal and lots of exposure on MTV when that started up a few years later.

The West End opened up in the late summer of 1979 and business was a little slow at first. On the nights when Jim was screening movies, there were few people there to see the films. This could have something to do with the fact that Jim favored European and Asian “art” films like Murmur of the Heart, Woman in the Dunes, Rashomon and The Four Hundred Blows. One evening, Jim, the author Les Daniels (writer of gothic horror novels for Charles Scribner & Sons) and I were sitting around drinking beer after one of the films and we were trying to figure out how to get more people down to the West End. Les let it be known that he thought that the films Jim wanted to show were never going to draw large crowds because fans of these films would not like seeing them in a noisy bar and noisy bar patrons had no interest in Truffaut and Kurosawa.

It so happened that, back in the mid-1960’s, Daniels and John Peck (aka, The Mad Peck and Dr. Oldie on the radio) had booked the Shipyard Drive-In in Providence and he was familiar with a wide range of really bad horror and sci-fi films. Les’s idea was to screen the very worst of these films. I suggested that I could guide the audience through the films if I had a microphone and presented running commentary. The name “Comediac” came almost instantly out of my mouth. This was self-promotion at it’s best and, to my knowledge, no one had ever done anything like this. But I knew, from years of watching lousy movies and bad shows on television, that I could entertain people with the running commentary that I did at home with my friends.

I needed a team to do this and my buddy Bree, an actor from Texas with Trinity Rep (and now, sadly, deceased, as is Les) was hanging out and we decided he could wear a pillow on his back and be the hunchback assistant to Comediac, Bree-gore (Les would be Les-Gore, just sort of a consultant). I can’t recall who our original projectionist was but soon Marc Michaud, the publisher of Necronomicon Press appeared and became my trusty projectionist for many years (when Marc was unavailable, his buddy, S.T. Joshi (one of the world’s leading experts on H.P. Lovecraft) became our alternate projectionist.

As luck would have it (and probably since there was still a large group of Young Adult fans in the area), Comediac was an instant success. The first film we screened (at Les’s suggestion) was Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space which became a perennial favorite in the next 6 or 7 years that we did Comediac. We did Monday and Tuesday nights and, when West End final faced the wrecking ball, we moved to One Up, the club above the 3 Steeple Street restaurant at the other end of downtown.