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NYC Comedy Club Owner Robert Wachs Dies at 73

Tess and Bob Wachs - P - 2013
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Robert Wachs and his wife, Tess.

He co-founded the Comic Strip in New York City in 1975, became Eddie Murphy’s manager and produced several of Murphy’s films.

Robert Wachs, a co-founder of the famed New York nightclub the Comic Strip who went on to manage Eddie Murphy and produce several of the stand-up comic's films, died Dec. 2 in Manhattan. He was 73.

Wachs died of pancreatic cancer, his wife, Tess, told The New York Times.

Wachs kicked Murphy, then 18, out of the Upper East Side comedy club in 1979 when he tried to sneak onstage for an audition before it was his turn. An apologetic Murphy came back the next week and performed, and Wachs and fellow club owner Richard Tienken would go on to become his managers.

Wachs got Murphy a pay raise after he became a hit on NBC’s Saturday Night Live and then produced the documentaries Eddie Murphy Delirious (1983) and Eddie Murphy Raw (1987) and the features The Golden Child (1986), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Coming to America (1988), Harlem Nights (1989) and Another 48 Hrs. (1990).

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Wachs, who received a writing credit on Beverly Hills Cop II, also managed Arsenio Hall. Wachs and Murphy severed ties in the mid-1990s.

A native New Yorker and Harvard-trained lawyer, Wachs opened the Comic Strip in May 1975 with Tienken and John McGowan. The club, on Second Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets, is still in business (now called Comic Strip Live); its chief comedy-club competition back in the day were The Improv and Catch a Rising Star.

Among the other young stand-ups to showcase their talents at the Comic Strip were Hall, Richard Belzer, Billy Crystal, Gilbert Gottfried, Carol Leifer, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Colin Quinn, Paul Reiser and Chris Rock (who was discovered by Murphy).

A documentary about the club, Eat, Drink, Laugh, was released this past spring.