Retiring owner Bob Fisher handing over the “Key to The Ice House” to new owner Johnny Buss. (Courtesy The Ice House)

Pasadena comedy institution sells to LA Lakers part-owner

Bob Fisher, who has owned Pasadena, Calif., stand-up comedy venue The Ice House for 41 years, has sold the club to Johnny Buss, one of the owners of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers. The sale closed Nov. 1.

The Ice House has an intimate 200-seat main room and a second showroom called Stage 2, as well as an outdoor deck and courtyard.

This year is the 59th anniversary of The Ice House. Eternal presidential candidate Pat Paulson was the first comedian to hit the stage in 1960. The Ice House has hosted Robin Williams, Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, Steve Martin, Jerry Seinfeld, Bob Newhart, Billy Crystal, Jay Leno, David Letterman and many more. Over 50 live albums have been recorded at the venue, by performers including the Smothers Brothers and George Lopez.

“It’s time for me to move on,” Fisher said. “I’m at peace with it and feel like the club is going into really good hands.”

The club had been up sale for two years and Fisher had several offers, but he did not care for either of the two other groups that made bids.

“I was not happy and did not want to sell to anyone I did not believe would continue our legacy,” he said. “I was stalling till I found the right owner.”

Fisher’s moment of truth came when Buss sent word that he was interested in buying the club.

“I knew he could afford to buy it, but I wanted to be sure he was interested in comedy and our place in the comedy world. I also wanted to make sure he’d keep The Ice House name and all of our employees and keep the club going just as it is, maybe with a new coat of paint and some improvements,” Fisher said.

Fisher was quickly convinced that Buss was a legit comedy enthusiast and that Buss wanted more than just a good investment.

“It was clear right away that Johnny’s heart has been in entertainment for a long time,” Fisher said. “He appreciates comics and comedy. He’d been to the Ice House seven or eight times prior to the day I met him. He was familiar with the club and very interested in carrying on the legacy of the club. He wants the Ice House to be what it should be.”

Fisher thinks that comedians’ right to free speech is essential in today’s political climate.

“There has to be a place for artists to say what they want to say without fear of censorship,” he said. “Johnny is like-minded. He wants there to be a place for them to play.”

Negotiations started seven months ago. Buss bought 100% of the The Ice House. Fisher still owns the building.

“We have a 10-year lease,” he said.

The Ice House has 43 employees, and Fisher will stay on as a consultant for one year. He expects to be present at least two days a week and at least one night a week.

Fisher is going to take a few months to decide what he wants to do next.

“This is not a retirement,” he said. “I’ve been working straight for 53 years, and I’m going to take a break and I’ll see what interests me next.”

As for The Ice House, his 59-year-old baby, Fisher said he has no regrets.

“Johnny Buss is going to make sure it’s around for another 59 years,” he said.