Listen Live

Rick Newman, whose Catch a Rising Star comedy club in New York City ignited the careers of stand-up comics like Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Freddie Prinze and Jay Leno, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81.

>> Read more trending news

Peter Martin, Newman’s partner in Manhattan’s Triad Theater for the past 15 years, said the cause of death was cancer and complications of heart operations, The New York Times reported. His wife, Krysi Newman, said the cause was pancreatic cancer, according to The Washington Post.

Newman’s death came a day after comedian-actor Richard Belzer died. Belzer was the club’s longtime emcee, the newspaper reported.

“What really bound us all together back in those days was this place we felt safe in, where the common goal was to just get laughs. And for me, there was no better place to do that than in New York at Catch,” Crystal said in a telephone interview with the Post. “It was a gymnasium where you worked out your stuff.”

Located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Newman’s club supercharged “the stand-up comedy explosion of the 1970s,” Richard Zoglin wrote in “Comedy at the Edge.” At its zenith, the club rivaled Studio 54 as a “celebrity-studded icon of the drugs-and-disco decade,” the Post reported.

Richard Belzer, comedian and ‘Law & Order’ actor, dies at 78

“For the first time in my life I’ve got a reason why I was born,” Newman told United Press International in 1975. That is when Catch, as it became known, was drawing crowds and making careers, the Times reported.

“It’s unbelievable,” Newman told UPI. “Sometimes I just want to bust.”

One Friday night David Brenner, who already had a national profile thanks to his appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” came in the club to watch the show, the Times reported. Newman convinced him to do some material at the club and received a raucous response from the audience.

“You can’t practice on ‘The Tonight Show’ or in Vegas,” Brenner told the Timesin a 1982 interview. “Catch is a place where you can be bad, and that’s how you get to be good.”

In addition to comedy, the club’s biggest discovery was singer Pat Benatar, who showed up during an open-mic night in 1975, the Times reported.

“I want you to come back as a regular performer,” Newman told her, “But I don’t think you have to do ‘Bye Bye Blackbird’ anymore.”

Benatar took his advice and became one of rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest female stars in the 1980s. Newman managed her for almost 15 years, according to the Times.

In 1976, Seinfeld chose the club for his first attempt at stand-up comedy, the Post reported.

He was terrible, the comedian remembered.

“I got up and all I could remember were the subjects that I wanted to talk about,” Seinfeld said. “So I just stood there and went, ‘The beach … cars …’ I did about three minutes and I got off. And the sad thing is I’m not embellishing the story to make it funny.”

Other comedians who appeared at the club included Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Lewis, Robert Klein, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, Larry David, Elayne Boosler, Ray Romano and Adam Sandler.