FUNNY BUSINESS: Meet La Jolla Comedy Store booker Mike Vinn

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It’s been nine months since the death of Mitzi Shore, queen of Hollywood’s famous Comedy Store since 1972, who expanded it to San Diego four years later. (Originally, It was in Pacific Beach before relocating to 916 Pearl St., but only for a year.)

So the Light paid a visit to the La Jolla franchise to see what, if anything, had changed. We sat for a chat with Mike Vinn, its talent coordinator and marketing director since 2006.

Not everyone gets to achieve all their dreams by age 25, but Vinn says he only had two: 1) to serve in the military; and 2) to become a standup comic. After a four-year stint in the Marines, the former Chicagoite stayed on in San Diego to sample the open-mic circuit. A year later, he achieved a veritable comedy impossibility — a fulltime job in comedy.

Vinn, now 38, books comics at the La Jolla Comedy Store on weeknights and serves on the team that decides which to recommend to the company’s Hollywood talent coordinators, who book La Jolla’s weekend acts.

Vinn also still performs regularly at the club. (His current set addresses his recent marriage and life as a stepfather.)

What’s your favorite Mitzi story?

“I don’t really have one. I didn’t meet her until she was already a little bit older. But I was more or less in awe the first time I met her. She was the one who changed everything. Before Mitzi, they used to put musical acts between each comic. Comics didn’t go back to back and she went, ‘No. Comics can go after comics.’ She was also the one who painted everything black and just put the spotlight on the stage. No bells and whistles, no random artwork and stage props. All the focus is on the comic and that’s it.”

Has anything changed about the La Jolla Comedy Store since she died?

“No. We’re continuing to move forward develop new talent. Before Mitzi passed, it got switched over to Mitzi Shore Incorporated, and her son Peter took over as head. Then there’s a VP of operations, who is great. We’re still packed almost every night. Business has been booming.”

Pauly Shore fought Peter for ownership, right?

“I don’t know. I stay out of any family issues. I’m just here to do my job.”

Is it accurate to think of the La Jolla Comedy Store as the farm team for Hollywood?

“Yeah, basically. Cheech and Chong used to get sent down here to work on their stuff, and look what happened to them. I think of this place like the movie ‘Bull Durham,’ and I’m Kevin Costner.”

Is there something in a comic that you look for that’s a good predictor of future success?

“Stage presence and how they talk to people. Some people go up there with the idea that this is their persona, this is who they’re going to be, and that’s not how comedy goes. Other people think, ‘I’m going to be just like this other comic and it’s going to be the funniest thing.’ And that’s not it, either. It’s all about you and your own personality.”

Does your military background help you do your job?

“I would say it helps anybody do any job smoothly and efficiently — to keep things in order and not be afraid to keep people in line when you need to. It helped me mature, too, because I went to boot camp when I was 17 — my mother had to sign a permission slip — and was out by the time I was 21.”

Did you do standup in the Marines?

“No, not until later, but I was always the one in the platoon that made everybody laugh. My mouth got me in trouble a bunch of times. Once, I left my car on base instead of moving it off base, but I just hid it. And when the battalion commander asked me why I did it, I told him the honest truth, which was that I thought I could get away with it. And he didn’t like that answer. But I do have an honorable discharge, I should probably state (laughs).”

Why did you leave?

“My contract was up. I served my country and I wanted to move on and see what else was out there. And I fell in love with San Diego while stationed at Camp Pendleton. They don’t have winter here.”

What’s the funniest thing about La Jolla?

“For me, the funniest thing about La Jolla is that it’s Whoville. Dr. Seuss was a resident and was probably inspired to write ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ by looking over downtown La Jolla at all the people buying tons of presents being (whiny) about Christmas. Once you realize that, you’ll never look at La Jolla the same.”