This weekend I sat down to watch what I expected to be a thorough history of one of the many gems that took place in 1990s Los Angeles. I saw the previews and just knew that watching the documentary Phat Tuesdays would make me wish I was there for all of the pageantry, brilliance and peak Blackness that was on full display during its heyday. And I wasn’t disappointed. The three-part documentary, directed by Reginald Hudlin, took the audience on a thrill ride, giving the good and bad, the highs and lows, and the ultimate success story that was–for years–the Comedy Store’s diamond in the rough.
Phat Tuesdays was the moniker given to the night of comedy curated back in the early 90s by comedian Guy Torry , who put the night together out of sheer necessity. The Comedy Store, owned by Mitzi Shore, was awful when it came to diversity, often shutting Black comics off from the main stage if they didn’t have major credentials. And while the weekend lineups featured the heavy hitters (again, mostly white comics), no one was doing anything on Tuesdays. So Shore gave Torry a shot to do his thing, albeit in the smallest part of the club, The Belly Room.
What Torry did with that shot, and that night, was legendary.
Hudlin does a good job navigating us through the night’s beginnings, walking us through Torry’s migration from St. Louis to Los Angeles, and how the shunning of Black comics at the Comedy Store was so blatant, in order to even perform regularly most had to go south of the “three dead presidents” (which in LA terms means past Washington, Jefferson and Adams Avenues) to the Comedy Act Theater, where the late Robin Harris ruled the nest. The first part of the series gives a great history of Harris, who suffered a fatal heart attack at just 36, placing a spotlight on his brilliance and his potential for greatness. All of that history, along with the 1992 LA Riots, played a huge part in Phat Tuesdays becoming what it would be.
At its peak, Phat Tuesdays was the place where every celebrity, athlete and producer would assemble to laugh, drink, hook up, and sign deals. And it was all because of Torry, who started as a PA on the show Martin and worked his way up to the position of staff writer, where he became responsible for one of the funniest episodes the series would ever air: “Chilligan’s Island.”
The series also gave us the stories of Tiffany Haddish, who had to learn how to perform in front of a Black audience after spending most of her early days on stage in mainstream clubs, and Nick Cannon, who actually was part of a music group before trying comedy, making the stage at Phat Tuesdays when he was still a minor.
The roster for the docuseries is star-studded, featuring a who’s-who of Black comedy and never before seen footage, plus the revelation that the night was not only popular, it was also lucrative, so much so that it single handedly kept the venue afloat for years.
Now, that’s a legacy to leave behind.
I suggest you watch all three parts, which includes the story of Guy’s famoust fallout with his older brother Joe, the times Chris Tucker and Guy Torry both landed roles in major films based solely on their stand up acts, and how so many of the comics who were regulars at Phat Tuesdays went unrecognized or credited for their work for years. I especially liked Parts 1 & 2 for their thoroughness, while Part 3 left me wanting more, even after sticking the landing. I think you’ll know what I mean when you watch.
But also, please watch.
Phat Tuesdays is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.