On Friday, Nov. 10, The CROW hosted one of their signature shows, Read the Room, featuring Reiki master and tarot reader, Jovan Illa, and comedian Orion Levine. The premise of the show is that Illa pulls names of audience members from the “Mystical Goblet” and pulls them onstage for a reading that responds to a personal question, while Levine helps heighten and lighten the mood following the arcane answer. 

The CROW, an acronym that stands for Comedy Reflects Our World, is located in Santa Monica adjacent to the 26th Street/Bergamot Station. The CROW is the new home of comedic, social belonging and inventive, original programming. With shows and workshops open to everybody, including G-rated classes and performances, the space is coming into its own and thriving in the process.

Nicole Blaine, founder and operator of The CROW, was excited to share the history and progress the venue has made so far. The idea for hosting her own space came after a little over a decade as a stand-up comedian and the concept of being the change one wishes to see in the world. 

“I just wanted a space that was legitimately the way that I dreamed it would be, which would be amplifying voices that I felt deserved to be amplified,” Blaine said. She is holding space for those who haven’t previously been heard. 

The CROW’s PR representative, Daphne Ruiz, told me that the venue started as a mom-and-pop effort by Nicole and her husband Mickey during the COVID pandemic. They are both from Santa Monica, wanted to build something family-friendly, and include everything a club should be that they hadn’t previously seen.

“I think we have really unique shows; I think we have such a good mission; I think we’re so about the community,” Ruiz said. “We’re contributing to the comedy community but we’re also creating it and so we have so many different kinds of initiatives. We have teen programming, we have this initiative called Tomorrow’s Ladies of Late Night, where we are trying to get more women and nonbinary comics out there.” They also host showcases twice a year, have a program called Storyectomies, a mental health initiative for anyone affected by cancer, and have a kids’ comedy camp in the summer with scholarships available. 

In the middle of our pre-show interview, Matthew Schaler, the chef from Birdie G’s, the restaurant next door, popped in. Birdie G’s is hosting a Hanukkah-inspired guest chef series, Eight Nights, hosted from Dec. 4-7 and Dec. 11-14. Blaine spontaneously asked if Schaler would like a quick reading from Illa. Schaler agreed and asked Illa, “Is Eight Nights going to go well?” One of the cards he received was the Ten of Cups, “One of the happiest cards you can get,” according to Illa, representing cohesiveness, joy, and community. Birdie G’s also offers 10 percent off food to CROW ticket holders. 

Illa, who has been practicing tarot reading for about eight years, and professionally for five, started out by reading for herself daily as well as offering free readings to people so she could practice and improve. The night’s questions focused on love, finance, family, or life path. 

“Oh my god, it’s so much fun,” Illa said about reading alongside comedians. “The first time I did it, I was amazed at how great comedians can alchemize a reading.” She added, “I try to deliver the truth as compassionately and technically as possible but sometimes there’s no way around certain things. But what’s great about comedians is that they just know how to make something funny and light and palatable.” Illa teaches tarot reading on top of being a Reiki master and sound healer. 

Levine has been performing comedy for six years this month. The set he’s most proud of is a set he landed on “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” His general schtick is about his family, which he admits is starting to get on their nerves. “This is one of my favorite alternative shows. It’s fun being onstage with a non-comedian, but [Illa] very clearly knows her [stuff] when it comes to card reading,” Levine said. “I feel like we’re so different, but we’re experts in our own field so it’s fun to collaborate with someone like that. We both know when to give each other a turn.” 

Blaine acknowledges the show works because Illa and Levine know that they are ultimately serving the audience. She likes knowing that her talent is happy, her audience is happy, and it’s a moment in life that works. Blaine also wants the artists to feel like The CROW is their house. She is most proud of building a stage for others and having those others propelled into their careers. 

“I think that stand-up is one of the coolest art forms that can be used for social progress and empathy with others,” Blaine said. “If we can all see everyone’s point of view there’s a bit less hate in the world.” 

Blaine hopes to expand The CROW’s presence by getting the word out about the club. She realizes there are people who could use this platform but don’t yet know it exists. Her dream booking for the club is Sarah Silverman.

Photo by Mike Falzone. Provided by The CROW/Daphne Ruiz

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