Rick Newman, the founder of New York City’s hugely influential Catch a Rising Star comedy club that provided a training ground for the stand-up comics who would change the landscape of entertainment in the 1970s, died Feb. 20 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 81.
His wife Krysi Newman told The Washington Post that he died of pancreatic cancer.
Among the comics who began or developed their careers on the Rising Star’s Upper East Side stage are Jerry Seineld, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, Richard Lewis, Andy Kaufman, Freddie Prinze, Robert Klein, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Adam Sandler. Larry David, Elayne Boosler, Rodney Dangerfield, Jay Leno, Joy Behar and Ray Romano.
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One of the performers most associated with Catch a Rising Star was Richard Belzer, the longtime host of the club who died Feb. 19, just a day before Newman.
Newman, tweeted Billy Crystal, “gave me and so many our starts as stand ups.” Crystal wrote that Newman’s death was “devastating” coming so soon after Belzer’s. “2 pillars of my career gone.”
“You made Catch A Rising Star such a great hang while a generation of comedians were learning their craft,” Richard Lewis tweeted. “You were beloved.”
Newman opened the club in 1972, signaling the venue’s mission in its name: Catch a Rising Star would welcome the comedy newcomers that might have a tougher time getting booked at the more established Improv club across town.
Four years after its opening, the club hosted the launch of Seinfeld’s stand-up career. Kaufman would use the stage to develop his “Foreign Man” character that would evolve into Taxi‘s Latka Gravas, and David Brenner, already a popular comedian when the club opened, told The New York Times in 1982, “You can’t practice on The Tonight Show or in Vegas. Catch is a place where you can be bad, and that’s how you get to be good.”
Newman sold the business to partner Richard Fields in 1986, and the original Upper East Side location closed in 1993.
Newman is survived by wife Krysi Newman and two children.
In addition to Crystal and Lewis, other comics posted tributes to the club founder. Read them below.
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