Despite being named after a jet-black bird, the Crow in Santa Monica offers the opposite of the dark brick-walled trope audiences envision when they think of a comedy club. Instead, you’ll find light catapulting off of pristine white walls and seeping through the corrugated tin roof, spilling into corners and onto the warm, wooden stage. Lush, green plants, each one watered every Wednesday, sprawl and stretch toward the sun. Rows of velvet, midcentury chairs patiently wait for an audience. If you didn’t know jokes were told here, you would think this was a space where artists huddle to discuss the nuances between Seurat and Signac or where book clubs commune over cups of coffee.
The three-part club, which houses a main stage, a “nest” on the second floor for smaller shows, and a green room with a charming reading nook, is the manifestation of Nicole and Mickey Blaine’s lifelong dream. “I started performing stand-up while pregnant with my second [child] and started going to open mics right after I had given birth,” Nicole says, her elbow propped on the club’s bar, which currently serves chocolate milk and apple juice.
“I was 34 years old when I started stand-up. I was literally pumping breast milk on the way to the Meltdown, which was the coolest spot in LA for open mics, and I felt like nobody looked like me,” she says while surveying the stage. “They were all very young and very cool. And I would put these little bottles of breast milk in a freezer bag, walk in and hope that I wasn’t leaking.”
For Nicole, creating a safe and accessible space for comics at all stages of their careers was a vision she shared with Mickey since they began performing.
“We’ve always believed in comedy. In our lowest points, somebody’s always been there to rein us back in and make us feel comfortable,” Mickey says. “We wanted to provide this community space to provide an opportunity for people that maybe don’t always have opportunities.”
If you ask the Blaines, who have been married for 20 years, how the Crow got his name, you will get a love story. The pair grew up on the Westside of Los Angeles in the ’90s and bonded on the set of their high school’s adaptation of “The Wizard of Oz.” Nicole, a munchkin, and Mickey, the scarecrow, talked for hours while painting a backdrop of the Wicked Witch’s crows.
When Nicole was 18, she said goodbye to her family, Mickey and friends and moved to UC Davis. Then in the middle of her freshman year, she got a call from her brother de ella, who begged her to come home right away. “My stepdad had a severe nervous breakdown and became a crack addict,” says Nicole. “In the midst of my mother trying to save him — his business de ella, the house — she became addicted herself.”
In a taping of “Pipe Dreams,” a one-woman show Nicole performed at the Hudson Theater in 2005, she brings her mother onstage for a Q&A. An audience member asks her mother about the time she offered her teenage daughter crack. “If you’re an ex-crackhead, you know that there’s a part of your brain that is not functioning with reality at all,” her mother said. “And I don’t think that I really wanted her to take it. I think that what I really wanted was for her to let me continue taking it.”
On the day she was back in town from college, Nicole ran into Mickey while hanging out with a mutual friend. At the end of the night, in proper ’90s courtship, he gave her his pager number from her, and when she returned to UC Davis, they talked every day. “We always found ourselves in deep conversations about the future and about the kind of person we want to be with,” Mickey recalls. A die-hard optimist, Nicole credits that chance meeting to her mother of her. “If it hadn’t been for that tragedy, I wouldn’t have run into him [Mickey] on that one day, on that one spot,” she says. “I would never have been home if it hadn’t been for that phone call.”
Two weeks later, Nicole’s roommate told her a guy named Mickey had called and was waiting for her at the airport. “I borrowed a friend’s car and went to the airport,” Nicole laughs. “He looked at me, and he’s like, ‘I just want to let you know, I love you. And I’m gonna marry you one day.’”
She left Davis to move back to her childhood home in Santa Monica and take care of her 14-year-old brother. Mickey moved in with her, and he worked three jobs to help get Nicole and her brother from her through that tough period. Eventually, Nicole applied to Loyola Marymount University and went back to college. “[Mickey] put me through college, and I said, ‘As soon as I’m done, I’ll turn around and I’ll get you in.’ We only overlapped at LMU for about a year. But we did it.”
Since then, Nicole and Mickey have produced several projects together including “Life’s a Bit,” Nicole’s stand-up special on Prime Video, and “Virgin Sacrifice,” a live show at the Westside Comedy Theater, where first-timers shared the stage with the likes of Damon Wayans, Ali Wong and Jeff Garlin. “I’ve had almost a hundred virgins,” Nicole jokes.
Yet it was the pandemic and the encouragement of Nicole’s mother, who is now clean, that led to the creation of the Crow. When Nicole struggled with depression in 2020, her mother reminded Nicole of her dream of building a theater. “She goes, ‘I will get you there,’” says Nicole. “’I will get you through this. I’ll teach you how to do it. I’ll co-sign whatever you need. I will watch your kids while you and Mickey work late. Let me gift it back to you.’”
Over the next year, Nicole and Mickey searched for the Crow’s home around LA — their hometown of Santa Monica, where comedy venues are sparse, drew them in. “There’s something homegrown, being from somewhere and giving back to the community that gave so much to you,” Nicole says. The duo settled on Bergamot Station, an artist colony owned by the city of Santa Monica since 1994 and a major stop for the Big Blue Bus, the city’s main public transit.
Today, the Crow offers a stage and a community for every type of comic. The lineup of shows is keenly aware of not just today’s audience filling each of the club’s 75 seats, but also the people who will be sitting there 10 years from now. A big focus of the Crow is a comedy summer camp where kids are taught how to write and perform their own material; it ends with a live performance for family and friends. “I want you to have access to top-level comedians so that you can see the top pros and talk to them and ask them, ‘Did this work?’ ” says Nicole when describing the lessons taught during the camp. “It’s integrating the professional level, seasoned comedians, and letting them connect to Gen Z, who is going to have so much to say, and we need to give them the tools for it.”
The Blaines are also determined to dedicate weekly shows for regulars and newcomers to gather, whether they’re first-timers or pros. Tuesdays are slated for “Boys Drool,” a 6 pm open mic for female and nonbinary comics where $5 gets you five minutes on the mic. Those same evenings, at 7:30 pm, the Crow “welcomes all who welcome all” during “Murder at the Mic,” where your name being plucked from a bucket gives you a three-minute set. There are also plans to host a BYOB comic night for mothers. “This is a place built for breastfeeding, old geriatric women. It’s going to be called BYOB: Bring your own baby. Bring your own boob. Bring your own bottle,” Nicole grins. “Free stroller parking.”
Other shows on the docket include “Call Me by My Hebrew Name,” which will be hosted by Abby Feldman every month in honor of Shabbat — Nicole visualizes the stand-up as “a full comedic Seder” — and “Comedia en Español,” a lineup celebrating Mexican Independence Day that will be 100% in Spanish. Veteran comics who have rolled through the Crow since it opened in June include Ian Edwards, Willie Macc, Jenny Zigrino, Jordan Conley, Danny Jolles and Dana Moon.
On a recent night, comic Kalea McNeill took to the stage for one of the club’s flagship nights called “Laughter After Dark” to tape a sold-out, hourlong special. “I knew that the special that we would shoot was going to be amazing because I was completely at home in that space,” McNeill said after the show. “It just had a very grass-roots aesthetic that I love. I’m a big DIYer. Sometimes you have to do it yourself within the seat that’s working.”
The Crow’s knack for creating a haven for comics and audiences that translates from day to night or, as Mickey puts it, offers a place “where you’re not scared to turn on the lights,” goes back to how it all started: two kids in love trying to figure life out.
If you ask the Blaines about their matching tattoos, they’ll tell you the story behind the Crow. After their first weekend together in Davis, Mickey had a flight to catch. Outside the dorm, there was a taxi waiting, and the sky was dark, odd for the early morning. As the couple walked hand-in-hand toward the driver, suddenly the trees burst into life, and what they thought were leaves transformed into hundreds of black-winged birds taking flight. “When the crows flew away, all the light poured in. There was no darkness, and everything turned to brightness,” says Nicole. To remember that day, Nicole and Mickey inked their arms with a tree, half of its branches bare under a flock of crows.
“I want it to be the type of comedy club that makes an impact on the human experience and makes everyone realize that life is going to be OK,” says Nicole. “This is one of the most powerful art forms. When you walk into my space, you should be flooded with love and joy. Let this be your home.”