Pasadena venue is the country’s oldest comedy club
“We would say, ‘Wouldn’t this guy be good to bring into the comedy club?’” said Johnny Buss, the semi retired Los Angeles Lakers co-owner.
“We thought it would be fun to have tablecloths with our name on it. We talked about it, and we started realizing that, maybe, we really should do this.”
That plan came to fruition decades later in mid-February when Buss reopened the country’s oldest comedy club, The Ice House in Pasadena, with guest entertainer Margaret Cho.
“I love the new club,” Cho said. “It retains the same magic, but with an upscale and modern reimagining. I ran into a few comics, and we were so excited to have a brand-new old friend in The Ice House.”
Buss took ownership of The Ice House in 2019, when the venue’s owner, Bob Fisher, retired.
“I ended up having lunch with the owner,” Buss said. “We hit it off right away and I purchased it right then and there.”
That was in April 2019. Buss took it over in November 2019 and COVID-19 shut it down in March 2020. Instead of wallowing, Buss used the time to renovate the club.
“I said, ‘Now that I have the oldest comedy club in America, what do I do with it?’” Buss recalled. “I said, ‘Let’s remodel it and make it last another 60 years.’ That’s when I went into that endeavor.”
Subsequent supply shortages delayed the grand reopening of the club.
When it did open, it was bittersweet for Buss.
“Sadly, my dad became ill and passed away in 2013,” he said of former Lakers owner Jerry Buss. “When he passed away, a lot of us were lost. That’s what happens when parents leave us. Truthfully, I teared up last night. I’m almost tearing up right now because he would be so proud.
“But it’s a great story. I met a lot of wonderful, great people along the way. It’s nice to hear comedians who used to play The Ice House in the ’80s or ’90s say, ‘Oh my God. You cannot believe how happy we are that somebody like you is taking over The Ice House and doing the right thing with it.’”
The Ice House, when it was founded in September 1960, was primarily a concert hall for folk singers. As it evolved into a comedy club, The Ice House hosted the likes of Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Jay Leno, Dennis Miller, Howie Mandel, Jerry Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres and Rosie O’Donnell.
“Margaret Cho last night was phenomenal,” Buss said of opening night. “This is also where you’re going to find all the new young comics. We’re going to give them a place to play, get them comfortable and watch them become stars. They will then come back and sell out the place. It’s almost a comedy mill. We’re grinding out new comics all the time.”
Buss said he sees musicians returning to the club weekly by late spring.
Not one to fully retire, Buss, 66, said he’s looking forward to the challenge of running The Ice House. He said it’s not much different than his experiences with the Lakers.
“I could not stop working, that’s for sure,” he said with a laugh. “What’s really cool is a lot of the experience and education I got through sports management easily moves over to comedy management. The Ice House is a small venue, but it’s no different than running the Forum in Inglewood or managing players or coaches.”
He hopes that The Ice House becomes an important stop for comedians.
“If you’re going to be a magician, it’s a rite of passage to play at one of the oldest magic clubs in America,” he explained about Los Angeles’ The Magic Castle.
“If you’re wanting to be a comedian, your rite of passage is through The Ice House in Pasadena. That’s the way I’m going to create it, and hopefully it becomes that.”