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That Time Eddie Murphy Did a Surprise Set at Zanies

As the iconic comedy club celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, executive VP Bert Haas recounts its wildest moments.

Photos: Courtesy of Zanies

1Flocked up

“In about 1980, Rick Uchwat [the late owner] said, ‘We’ve got to do something to get people here [over Thanksgiving weekend].’ So the Wednesday before, we got a live turkey, put it on a leash, and put it in a Zanies T-shirt. I wore a tuxedo and walked around with it at Water Tower Place. We couldn’t get it butchered because the shops were closed, so we had it in a cage onstage the whole weekend. One guy got cute and opened the gate, so we had a turkey running around.”

2Too hot for Zanies

“There used to be an apartment above Zanies with two bathrooms, a steam room, and a kitchenette. A comedy team whose name shall not be mentioned got a little amorous, had some female company up there, and forgot to turn off the steam room motor, so we had an electrical fire. That’s when Rick said, ‘That’s it. They’re getting hotel rooms.’ We turned it into an office.”

3Primal scream

“In 1986, Sam Kinison came in to tape his special Louder Than Hell. He was truly like a rock star, such a force onstage. It’s the loudest that room has ever been. Sam was prowling the stage, and he would get down on one knee and scream at the front row. We did two shows that night. I was more exhausted than from an entire week of work.”

4Surprise set

“I was working the front door on a Saturday night. This guy pushed to the front of the line. It was the comic Paul Mooney, and he goes, ‘Hey, Bert, a friend of mine wants to get onstage.’ I said, ‘That’s cool.’ He goes, ‘By the way, my friend is Eddie Murphy.’ As soon as he got into the light, the place went wild. Eddie did at least a 45-minute set. I remember a lot of jokes about sodomy.”

5Jeff Garlin, prankster

“The stage is in the front, and at one time if you opened the curtains behind it, you could see out onto the street. During a set one night, Richard Belzer opened them, and by then people had lined up for the second show, so he started making fun of them. Jeff Garlin saw this and decided to play a trick. When Belzer opened the curtain to riff during the next show, a young lady flashed him. I thought it was a random customer until Garlin fessed up many years later.”

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