Richie Tienken, the founding owner of The Comic Strip on New York City’s Upper East Side and former manager of Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler, has died.
As Sandler said back in 2012 for a TV tribute to Murphy: “I tried to do everything he did in his career,” Sandler said. “I started doing stand-up at the world-famous Comic Strip in New York City like he did. I got on Saturday Night Live like he did. I got the same manager like he did. And then, when I became a big star, I fired the same manager like he did. (laughs) I love you Richie, and so does Eddie. That manager actually said to me the same thing he said to Eddie, but he changed the racial slur to an anti-Semitic slur, so…”
Managing young superstars allowed Tienken to run The Comic Strip the way he wanted to without the usual fears or concerns most club owners have, and the club has remained in the same location on Second Avenue between East 81st and 82nd Streets all this time since 1976, the oldest comedy club in the city.
In a 2019 profile with FOX-5 NY, Tienken recalled stealing a car and leaving home at age 13, for fear of getting put into reform school. He eventually returned to the Bronx, where he was running a giant bingo hall and several bars. An employee from one of the bars brought Tienken to see him try stand-up, and from there, Tienken saw his future in that packed club.
“And I said: Well, now I’m interested,” Richie recalled.
Among the earliest stars to find a home at the Strip were Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Paul Reiser, Carol Leifer, Gilbert Gottfried, and George Wallace.
Wallace, fpr the book “Make Em Laugh,” about the club, recalled: “I thought I’d lose a lot of money when I finally left advertising, but The Comic Strip paid me back by putting me onstage and letting me be a comedian. I was so excited to be there, I would help them seat people. I would do everything I could, ’cause I wasn’t doing anything else anyway. But thank God for Richie Tienken. He would put me on every night, and we all became friends, and of course I was there with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry Miller and Paul Reiser, who probably came along about a year later.”
Seinfeld even renovated the Strip’s showroom so he could film his 2017 Netflix special there: Jerry Before Seinfeld.
The club has been famous for holding annual auditions.
You can listen to more stories from Tienken in this interview with Jeffrey Gurian, with whom they wrote “Make Em Laugh” oral history about the Comic Strip. The interview starts three minutes into this video…
RIP Richie. A true original in the comedy business. You will be missed.