When you're feeling low, there's nothing like some laughs and warm vittles on Christmas.
And for Los Angeles' down and out, there's nothing like a taste of holiday funnies and food at the World Famous Laugh Factory in Hollywood.
"Laughter fills the heart when it's empty," said a smiling Susan Kramer, 46, of Hollywood, an unemployed clerk with two young daughters in line for the free jollies and feast. "I'm going to try to get my fill."
The Laugh Factory opened the doors of its Sunset Boulevard palazzo Tuesday for its 33rd Annual Christmas Dinner & Toy Giveaway.
They hobbled in with bedrolls. They rolled in on bicycles and wheelchairs. They hopped off the bus with suitcases.
They came by the hundreds - the homeless, the struggling, the low-in-spirit or the just plain lonely - to whoop it up with some of America's best comics.
And to fill their gullets with some of the finest free food anywhere.
"It's a grateful feeling," said host Jamie Masada, 50, founder of the Laugh Factory, as he gazed up the line stretching around the block. "Because in Hollywood, people get caught in this black hole.
"They forget to count their blessings. To be kind to people. To give. All the people, they forget."
Inside, dozens of volunteers stood poised before a table of glistening turkeys, festooned with fresh grapes and cut pomegranates, lined with fresh persimmons, toasted almonds, golden raisins and Lindt truffles. And that didn't include all the fixin's.
Many had been struggling comics, and they did not forget.
And neither had such comic notables as Arsenio Hall, Paul Mooney, Iliza Shlesinger or Dave Chappelle, slated to drop Christmas bombs in four afternoon and evening shifts.
So what's so funny about Christmas?
"Christmas, it's hysterical," said comedian Jason Stuart, a Jewish New York native wisecracking over mashed potatoes. "Because you can get away from your mother who just called during this conversation, wondering why I'm not eating.
"Eating food, she gets a commission."
"You wanna know what's so funny about Christmas?" said attorney Mark Zafrin, who is married to comedian Sunda Croonquist, who with their two young daughters volunteered to serve food and drinks. "All the toys are made in China."
Masada, a native of Iran, launched his funny bone empire from nothing but the shirt off his back. When he was six, as the story goes, his father David took him outside a TV store, where they watched "The Three Stooges" playing through a window.
Even without hearing Moe, Larry or Curly, the future funnyman split a gut. His father soon sold his beloved accordion so that the boy could head to America.
David Masada, a comedian in Iran, had told his son to heed the Jewish moral commandments by saying, "Making people laugh is the greatest mitzvah of all."
In Los Angeles, Masada cranked up his first Laugh Factory in a building once owned by Groucho Marx. He was 16. It was 1979. His first comic was Richard Pryor.
When he tried to pay the comedic legend, Pryor handed him a C-note inscribed: "You need this for
Since then, Masada has built other Laugh Factory comedy clubs and produced numerous magazines, TV shows and films.
But he's never forgotten what it was like to struggle, he said. Each Christmas and Thanksgiving, he regales and feeds the region's struggling artists and poor. Each summer, he hosts a comedy camp for underprivileged kids. During the Jewish High Holidays, he hosts free services.
Comedians are "doctors of the soul," Masada said. "It's an excuse to be together as a family. To give back."
One year, he said, a poor kid asked him for two toys - not for himself, but to give to his younger sisters.
This year, as she has for three decades, Pat O'Connor sashayed in with a "Santa's mistress" outfit, white braids, and a penchant for singing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer."
The waiting crowd joined her in song.
"Nobody wants to marry me," said O'Connor, of Pacoima, a widow who is pushing 70. "I know men don't want fat, white-haired women, so I don't bother anymore. ... For me, if I don't laugh at Christmas, I'd cry."
Up the line was another San Fernando Valley woman, Lucy Gracian, who'd been in a homeless shelter 18 months until she'd landed on her feet.
"It's great, just great," Gracian, 53, of Sherman Oaks, "Really (fills) the heart. I'm very thankful and appreciative. Laughter is the best medicine."
Across Sunset, a woman named Sparkles struggled with a giant green suitcase without a handle, strapped with plastic bags containing her life's belongings. She'd just arrived from Minnesota, she said, where Minneapolis topped 19 degrees.
As she headed toward Hollywood's Laugh Factory, she could only smile and say, "Merry Christmas!"