Robert Wachs Dies at 73; Promoted Comedy, Including Eddie Murphy’s
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: December 7, 2013
Robert D. Wachs, a founder of the Comic Strip, a New York nightclub that was a proving ground for star comedians like Eddie Murphy, whom Mr. Wachs managed for more than a decade, died on Dec. 2 in Manhattan. He was 73.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his wife, Tess, said.
Mr. Wachs opened the comedy club, now known as Comic Strip Live, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan in 1975 with Richard Tienken and John McGowan. He used his contacts as an entertainment lawyer to recruit talent.
The club’s founding coincided with a stand-up comedy boom. Among the other comedians who worked there early in their careers were Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler, Joe Piscopo and Sam Kinison.
In 1979 a brash teenager came into the club and tried to sneak onstage for an audition without waiting his turn. Mr. Wachs asked him to leave, but he came back the next week and this time was allowed to perform.
“His material wasn’t out of this world, but he had great presence,” Mr. Wachs told Newsweek in 1985.
The teenager was Eddie Murphy. He began performing at the club, and Mr. Wachs soon became his manager.
By the fall of 1980, Mr. Murphy was appearing on “Saturday Night Live.” In 1982 he made his first film, the action comedy “48 Hours,” with Nick Nolte. By the end of the decade he was one of the most recognizable entertainers in the world.
Along the way Mr. Wachs, as part of Eddie Murphy Productions, produced two stand-up television specials featuring Mr. Murphy and the films “Beverly Hills Cop II” (1987), “Harlem Nights” (1989) and the hugely popular comedy “Coming to America” (1988).
Mr. Wachs and Mr. Murphy parted ways in the mid-1990s.
Robert Donald Wachs (pronounced “wax”) was born in New York City on May 1, 1940. He graduated from the College of William and Mary in 1961 and from Harvard Law School in 1964. He worked in the entertainment department of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison until he left to start his own firm.
He remained involved as an owner of Comic Strip Live and as a manager.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a daughter from an earlier marriage, Ilana Davis; a son from that marriage, Scott; and four grandchildren.