The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, California, adorned with the names of hundreds of great comedians who have passed through its doors, honors founder Mitzi Shore on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

The Comedy Store in West Hollywood, California, adorned with the names of hundreds of great comedians who have passed through its doors, honors founder Mitzi Shore on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore dead at 87

She was “equal parts talent scout, employer, lifestyle enabler, landlord and performance critic.”

  • By Valerie J. Nelson Los Angeles Times
  • Wednesday, April 11, 2018 2:25pm
  • LifeNation-World

By Valerie J. Nelson / Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — In the 1970s, David Letterman baby-sat her children and Jay Leno slept on the back stairs of her Sunset Strip club, where Jim Carrey later tended the door.

Mitzi Shore was “the den mother of some berserk Cub Scout pack,” as Letterman once said — one that brimmed with a breathtaking array of now-famous comics who broke through because she tapped them to perform.

Shore, who was regarded as the godmother of comedy in Los Angeles and whose Comedy Store was one of the most important showcases for stand-up in the country, died Wednesday after battling Parkinson’s disease, according to a statement from the Comedy Store. She was 87.

“Mitzi was an extraordinary businesswoman and decades ahead of her time who cultivated and celebrated the artistry of stand-up comedy. She was also a loving mother, not only to her own four children, but to the myriad of comedians who adored her. She leaves behind an indelible mark and legacy and has helped change the face of comedy. We will all miss her dearly,” the statement said.

Shore had been in hospice care for some time. Her son, actor Pauly Shore, had been helping care for her and tweeting updates about her final days.

For at least a dozen years, she was “all-powerful, during a remarkably fertile time for stand-up comedy — the 1970s and early ’80s — when many of today’s comedy stars showed up in L.A. to go onstage at the only place that mattered,” Paul Brownfield, who covered comedy for The Times, wrote in 2003.

The first comedian to officially share her life was her husband, Sammy Shore, who founded the Comedy Store in 1972 with fellow comic Rudy DeLuca. When the Shores divorced two years later, Sammy gave her the club as a way of lowering his alimony payments.

A mother of four, Mitzi Shore in essence gained a fifth child — the Comedy Store that she had named. When she took over, it was more of a variety room than a comedy club, but she transformed it into a three-room showcase for stand-up.

“Comics felt very belittled in those days — they always had to work with a singer,” Shore recalled in 1993 in The Times. “I wanted it to be all comics. No jugglers and magicians. I wanted to give them respectability.”

Her timing was excellent. In 1972, Johnny Carson had moved “The Tonight Show” from New York to Los Angeles, helping to make L.A. the place for young comedians who strove to appear on his show, and the Comedy Store was “the place to be seen,” Brownfield wrote in 2003.

Eventually, she opened three branches, in Westwood, in La Jolla and at the old Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas.

Shore saw herself as an “impresario,” she told The Times in 1979, and few would have disagreed.

The networks’ prime-time schedule in the late 1970s “read like a roster of young comics whose careers she’d fostered,” according to the 2009 book “I’m Dying Up Here,” which documents what author William Knoedelseder calls “the golden age” of Los Angeles comedy.

The list of careers Shore influenced included those of Letterman and Leno as well as Jimmie Walker, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams, Bob Saget, Richard Lewis, Garry Shandling, Elayne Boosler and dozens of other readily identifiable names.

Richard Pryor used the club almost exclusively to prepare for his 1974 breakthrough album, and the money made from his shows helped Shore rapidly expand her comedy empire, Knoedelseder wrote.

The Comedy Store was an “artists colony,” a workshop for experimenting that wouldn’t work if the comedians were paid, she often said.

For years, the comics acquiesced because a spot on her stage meant exposure to industry insiders looking for the next breakout star. But by 1979, the comedians were openly upset that she paid the commercial headliners who packed the club’s Vegas-style Main Room.

The up-and-comers staged a walkout, picketing the Sunset Strip location. More than five weeks later, Shore settled, agreeing to pay most comics $25 per set.

“I loved each and every one of them,” Shore told The Times during the strike “but they misunderstood. My fairy tale is over.”

She was almost prescient. The strike left scars that never truly healed.

Some activists never again worked her stage and others complained that she penalized strikers by refusing to book them. A booking war also broke out between Shore and Bud Friedman, who had opened the competing Improv a mile away.

The passage of time brought more competition, including from cable television, which found stand-up to be a cheap form of programming, giving audiences one less reason to go out.

The Comedy Store also burned less brightly because Shore was unwilling to extend the club’s brand into TV and media ventures that could help build a younger audience, industry observers told The Times in 2009.

But the first comedy picket line in 1979 did have a positive and lasting effect. News coverage of the strike raised the profile of the fast-growing profession, helping “to fuel the nationwide comedy club boom of the 1980s,” according to the 2008 book “Comedy at the Edge.”

She was born Mitzi Lee Saidel on July 25, 1930, in Michigan. The daughter of a traveling salesman, she grew up near Green Bay, Wisconsin.

At the University of Wisconsin, she studied art but left to marry Sammy after meeting him in 1950 at a summer resort where they both worked. She toured with Sammy, who would later open for Elvis Presley.

The Shores moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and bought a mansion above Sunset Boulevard built by filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille. Mitzi got the house in the divorce.

Only her youngest son, Pauly, became a comedian; in the early 1990s he had his own show on MTV.

“I didn’t encourage Pauly,” his mother told The Times in 1994. “I made it tough for him. He had to work hard all around town before he got a break” at her club.

As their mother’s health declined, Pauly and his older brother Peter took on more responsibilities at the Comedy Store. Pauly helped review and book talent while Peter oversaw finances. But the brothers began to quarrel over club matters.

In 2009, Pauly filed a lawsuit against his brother that charged Peter was exerting “undue influence” over their mother. The suit did not mention details about Mitzi’s will or plans for succession.

Tommy Morris, the club’s longtime talent coordinator and operations manager, told The Times in late 2009 that Pauly and Peter stood to inherit the Comedy Store. They survive her, as does another son, Scott, and a daughter, Sandy.

Over the decades, Shore had developed a reputation as the comedy world’s eccentric mother hen, “equal parts talent scout, employer, lifestyle enabler, landlord and performance critic,” The Times said in December.

Comedians made fun of her squeaky voice and frizzy hair, and her dark, rococo office lit only by Tiffany lamps. In that office, Shore kept a sign that read, “It’s a sin to encourage mediocre talent.”

Times staff writer Nardine Saad contributed to this report.

Talk to us

More in Nation-World

FILE - Britain's Queen Elizabeth II looks on during a visit to officially open the new building at Thames Hospice, Maidenhead, England July 15, 2022. Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II is under medical supervision as doctors are “concerned for Her Majesty’s health.” The announcement comes a day after the 96-year-old monarch canceled a meeting of her Privy Council and was told to rest. (Kirsty O'Connor/Pool Photo via AP, File)
Queen Elizabeth II dead at 96 after 70 years on the throne

Britain’s longest-reigning monarch and a rock of stability across much of a turbulent century died Thursday.

A woman reacts as she prepares to leave an area for relatives of the passengers aboard China Eastern's flight MU5735 at the Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Guangzhou. No survivors have been found as rescuers on Tuesday searched the scattered wreckage of a China Eastern plane carrying 132 people that crashed a day earlier on a wooded mountainside in China's worst air disaster in more than a decade. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
No survivors found in crash of Boeing 737 in China

What caused the plane to drop out of the sky shortly before it was to being its descent remained a mystery.

In this photo taken by mobile phone released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of wreckage of the China Eastern's flight MU5735 are seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday, March 21, 2022. A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, officials said, setting off a forest fire visible from space in the country's worst air disaster in nearly a decade. (Xinhua via AP)
Boeing 737 crashes in southern China with 132 aboard

More than 15 hours after communication was lost with the plane, there was still no word of survivors.

In this photo taken from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks to the nation in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Street fighting broke out in Ukraine's second-largest city Sunday and Russian troops put increasing pressure on strategic ports in the country's south following a wave of attacks on airfields and fuel facilities elsewhere that appeared to mark a new phase of Russia's invasion. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Ukraine wants EU membership, but accession often takes years

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s request has enthusiastic support from several member states.

FILE - Ukrainian servicemen walk by fragments of a downed aircraft,  in in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. The International Criminal Court's prosecutor has put combatants and their commanders on notice that he is monitoring Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity. But, at the same time, Prosecutor Karim Khan acknowledges that he cannot investigate the crime of aggression. (AP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak, File)
ICC prosecutor to open probe into war crimes in Ukraine

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet confirmed that 102 civilians have been killed.

FILE - Refugees fleeing conflict from neighboring Ukraine arrive to Zahony, Hungary, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. As hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians seek refuge in neighboring countries, cradling children in one arm and clutching belongings in the other, leaders in Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are offering a hearty welcome. (AP Photo/Anna Szilagyi, File)
Europe welcomes Ukrainian refugees — others, less so

It is a stark difference from treatment given to migrants and refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

Afghan evacuees disembark the plane and board a bus after landing at Skopje International Airport, North Macedonia, on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. North Macedonia has hosted another group of 44 Afghan evacuees on Wednesday where they will be sheltered temporarily till their transfer to final destinations. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)
‘They are safe here.’ Snohomish County welcomes hundreds of Afghans

The county’s welcoming center has been a hub of services and assistance for migrants fleeing Afghanistan since October.

FILE - In this April 15, 2019, file photo, a vendor makes change for a marijuana customer at a cannabis marketplace in Los Angeles. An unwelcome trend is emerging in California, as the nation's most populous state enters its fifth year of broad legal marijuana sales. Industry experts say a growing number of license holders are secretly operating in the illegal market — working both sides of the economy to make ends meet. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)
In California pot market, a hazy line between legal and not

Industry insiders say the practice of working simultaneously in the legal and illicit markets is a financial reality.

19 dead, including 9 children, in NYC apartment fire

More than five dozen people were injured and 13 people were still in critical condition in the hospital.

15 dead after Russian skydiver plane crashes

The L-410, a Czech-made twin-engine turboprop, crashed near the town of Menzelinsk.

FILE - In this March 29, 2018, file photo, the logo for Facebook appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York's Times Square. Facebook prematurely turned off safeguards designed to thwart misinformation and rabble rousing after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 elections in a moneymaking move that a company whistleblower alleges contributed to the deadly Jan. 6, 2021, invasion of the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram in hourslong worldwide outage

Something made the social media giant’s routes inaccessable to the rest of the internet.

Oil washed up on Huntington Beach, Calif., on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. A major oil spill off the coast of Southern California fouled popular beaches and killed wildlife while crews scrambled Sunday to contain the crude before it spread further into protected wetlands. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
Crews race to limited damage from California oil spill

At least 126,000 gallons (572,807 liters) of oil spilled into the waters off Orange County.