In the midst of the stark racial and political tensions that encompassed Los Angeles in the 1990s, there was Phat Tuesdays at The Comedy Store — a weekly showcase that generated laughter and created a spotlight for some of today’s top comedians.
Almost three decades later, the story behind the legendary comedy club is explored through "Phat Tuesdays: The Era of Hip-Hop Comedy." The three-episode Prime Video docuseries features commentary from Phat Tuesdays creator Guy Torry and other comedians such as Tiffany Haddish, Nick Cannon and Chris Tucker, who discuss how the comedy club impacted their careers, while also providing the perspective from those who sat in the audience, like the rapper Snoop Dogg.
“When Guy created the Phat Tuesday night, he was really responding to a need in the entertainment environment,” Reginald Hudlin, the show’s producer, said. “There would need to be a place where this incredible new generation of comedy superstars can be discovered by the mainstream.”
The series features archival footage from performances of notable Black comedians. He said that revisiting the history of Phat Tuesdays shows how pivotal it was for the success of many Black comedians.
Phat Tuesdays launched in 1995 at Los Angeles’ iconic Comedy Store, located on the Sunset Strip. In the 1990s, many Black comedians were often excluded from mainstream comedy clubs, which generally showcased a majority white talent. As a response, Torry approached The Comedy Store about dedicating a night to Black comedy.
Having received Tuesday — a day that originally had the least traction — he then launched Phat Tuesdays, bringing the “'hood to Hollywood” and providing a spotlight for Black comedians, including women and other marginalized groups facing hurdles in the industry. It became what the comedian Anthony Anderson described in the docuseries as the Hollywood renaissance for Black comedians, attracting celebrities like the comedian Eddie Murphy, the rapper Tupac Shakur and the boxer Mike Tyson to a space at the club’s famous Belly Room that became treasured in Black culture for a decade until it’s end in 2005.
“Phat Tuesdays was needed because it came at the right time and it was at the right place,” Torry said, “because The Comedy Store in the 90s was going down, and The Comedy Store needed Phat Tuesdays. But Phat Tuesdays needed The Comedy Store because that was a worldly, prestigious place that had respect — that was the mecca of comedy.”
He gained inspiration to enter the comedy world from his older brother and comedian Joe Torry, and from others such as Martin Lawrence, Bill Bellamy and Yvette Wilson who were showcased on Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, which aired on HBO through the 1990s.
After moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles in 1992 to pursue his career in comedy, Torry said, being excluded from mainstream clubs impacted how others saw him as a comedian. Many Black comedians at the time, including Torry himself, performed at venues in more dangerous areas of South Los Angeles. He said he was putting his life at risk during these shows, from the negative — and sometimes physical — reactions from gang members targeted by a joke.
“With jokes, they get upset,” he said. “They get embarrassed because they’re around their peers. They get embarrassed because the girls around them are laughing at them and not with them. So now after the show, in the parking lot or driving home, you may get got.”
Mounting racial tensions across the city throughout the early 1990s led to the infamous Los Angeles riots in 1992.
“L.A. was divided,” Torry said. “The country was divided — and what purifies the air? Laughter purifies the air and cuts through all that tension.”
That racial tension played out across the city, as well as within entertainment spaces. Black comedians, including Torry, said that working in white-managed comedy clubs, outside of spaces like Phat Tuesdays, had meant they’d have to curtail their acts or censor themselves to appeal to white audiences.
“Sometimes they would tell you what you can and cannot say, basically — not The Comedy Store particularly,” Torry said. “I didn’t have that experience with them. But a lot of places, you know, even if they don’t tell you, it’s implied — and sometimes you censored yourself.”
Phat Tuesdays also attracted talent scouts looking for the next comedic television star or film star. Comedians who’ve entered the space have further experienced fame since then, including Kevin Hart, Flame Monroe and Dave Chappelle. In addition to reaping commercial success, Phat Tuesdays also inspired mainstream comedy clubs around the country to launch comedy clubs dedicated to Black artists, in cities such as Dallas, Miami, Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Besides generating humor, Hudlin said, he wants others to be inspired by the comedians who had the will, determination and craftsmanship that led to success.
“Not only did Guy Torry had a dream that came true, but all these comedians,” he said. “They all arrived at L.A. sleeping on somebody’s couch. Now they all live in mansions.”
Torry said he hopes people become both inspired and enlightened.
“If there’s anything that I’m proud of in this whole Phat Tuesdays world is that I was chosen to be a vessel to inspire others to pay it forward,” he said, “and if that’s my legacy, then that’s a pretty damn good legacy. It was never about me. It was never about money. It was about community, period. The culture.”