The Laugh Factory will be hosting Christmas dinner on December 25th for both the homeless as well as those not fortunate enough to be with family in Los Angeles and Chicago this year. Entertainment will be provided by a steady stream of comedians, some of whom have been making folks laugh on Christmas Day since Masada started the tradition.
Masada’s Laugh Factory holiday dinners began 33 years ago as Masada’s response to an aspiring actor/comedian he knew who committed suicide on Thanksgiving Day.
“Hollywood is a town that people come to and there’s a lot a rejection. Thirty years ago this kid came here from a small town. Everyone compared him to Robert Redford at the time. So he comes to town and suddenly he’s rejected. Now when he got rejected, this kid couldn’t take it. And he sure couldn't go back to his small town because they had all been so sure he would make it in Hollywood,” Masada continued.
“Most homeless people know how to survive on the streets, broke, without family. But when this kid was broke and alone on Thanksgiving, he committed suicide…”“These are the people we gotta watch out for, the ones who are alone. These are the people we want to come here to the Laugh Factory and be a part of our family. Sit down and share food.”
About 62 people attended Masada’s first holiday dinner. Once the ball got rolling, more people began to show up, along with more comedians. Now thousands of people will show up in both Los Angeles and Chicago for dinner, companionship and comedy.
“Some of the comedians that used to wait in line to get in here for a free holiday dinner are now making $3 or $4 million dollars a year, but they still come back here and perform on these two days a year for free,” Masada said. “They remember.”
Some of Masada’s guests have been attending his Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners since he began serving them in 1979.
“Skippy was one of the first guys that started coming by for dinner in Los Angeles when we first started doing this. The second or third year, Skippy invited people, like it was his party,” Masada laughed. “So I’m on the street greeting people and I see, like all these people pull up in limos. I walked up and told a woman that this was for homeless people and people without family around at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Well she told me that Skippy had sent her an invitation to this, along with about 50 other people who were already here. Seriously, I couldn't believe it, I laughed my ass off. This is Hollywood. People do that every few years now.”
A 94 year old former actress, has been attending the Laugh Factory holiday dinners in the same dress since they started.
“She starred as an extra in a Clark Gable movie years ago,” Masada said. “Every year when we give her a napkin with her meal, she always autographs it and hands it back to whatever volunteer handed her the napkin. She greets us all like we’re her fans and has every single year for over 30 years….As funny as it sounds, these dinners kind of restore their dignity and ours. What human being can do without hope? These dinners seem to give a lot of people hope.”
During the last few years’ economic distress, families began showing up at the Laugh Factory’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
“One family has six children, the father lost his job of 28 years and they’ve been coming here the last three years or so,” Masada said. “When the children sit down, they all bow their heads and pray before they eat. It’s really touches my heart.”
All day long, on both Thanksgiving and Christmas, Masada stands at the door greeting his guests with open arms, welcoming them like family.
“I want us to be their family. Whether someone is down on their luck or just having a bad year, we consider ourselves lucky to have them with us and we want them to feel that,” Masada said.
“One homeless guy I know that comes by every Thanksgiving said to me, ‘Jamie our government may be the greatest government in the world, but they are for Wall Street, not the man on the street. They give our money to Wall Street and forget about people on the street like me who don't have anything. People who don't know where our next meal is coming from,’ ” Masada said. “So how do I answer this wise man? I hug him and I feed him and I hear what he is saying.“
Masada knows firsthand the challenges faced by the homeless of Los Angeles, Chicago or any large city. When Masada first arrived in Los Angeles, he had no where to live. Thanks to the kindness of a stranger, Masada lived in a garage off La Cienaga.
“The manager of this building had me paint and prime the building in exchange for a place to sleep,” Masada said. “It kept me out of trouble.”
With his organization for under-privileged kids, Comedy Camp, Masada has spoken to high school kids around the country for 27 years, giving hope to kids for whom the future can look bleak.
“I tell them the story of how I came to this country with nothing and I made it. This country is the greatest country on earth for this reason, “ Masada said. “You have to depend on your own self and work hard. If you do that, you can achieve whatever you want.”
With the inspiration and genuine interest Masada gives them, 98% of the kids who attend Masada’s Comedy Camp do end up finishing high school.
“They look at me and they’re like look at this guy! He has an accent. He’s not very good looking. He’s nothing special,” Masada laughed and said. “But if this guy can make it, then I could own this country.”
That ability to inspire even one young person is what keeps Masada going. “I see these kids and they just need one person to tell them they can,” Masada said.
Masada has been known to offer the kids he meets jobs at the Laugh Factory if they need a hand, but they have to finish high school.
Famous for discovering and grooming world famous comedians at the Laugh Factory like Richard Pryor, Dane Cooke and Jim Carey, Masada invites all those without family nearby as well as anyone homeless or just hungry to come to the Laugh Factory in Chicago and Los Angeles for dinner on Christmas Day.
For more information on the Laugh Factory holiday dinners in Los Angeles and Chicago on Christmas or about Laugh Factory comedians and show times; go to www.laughfactory.com.