National News

Mitzi Shore, Whose Comedy Store Fostered Rising Stars, Dies at 87

Posted April 12, 2018 12:55 p.m. EDT

Mitzi Shore, who fostered generations of up-and-coming stand-up comics as the longtime owner, talent scout and booking agent of the Los Angeles club the Comedy Store, died Wednesday at her home in West Hollywood. She was 87.

The club confirmed her death. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 that she had Parkinson’s disease.

Shore opened the Comedy Store, on Sunset Strip, in 1972 with her husband, comedian Sammy Shore, in a building that had once housed the nightclub Ciro’s. After they divorced in 1974, Mitzi Shore took control and turned the club into a hothouse for comedy.

She was a critic, confidante and caretaker for many of the comedians who drifted through the Store. In time she bought the building that housed it and created several performance spaces, one of which, an upstairs stage called the Belly Room, was reserved for female comics in the mid-1970s.

“We’re like a school, or a boxers’ gym,” Shore told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “We’re here to help people develop their skills, and to get them seen by supportive comedy crowds, as well as by TV and movie people.”

It would be faster to list comics from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s who never performed at the Store than all those who did, but some memorable ones include Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Garry Shandling, Elayne Boosler, Andy Kaufman, Jim Carrey, Sandra Bernhard, George Carlin and Sam Kinison.

The club also served as a talent pool for Johnny Carson, who often chose young comedians who performed there, like Jay Leno and David Letterman, to be guests on his “Tonight Show.”

“Mitzi Shore was at the top of a long list of people responsible for my career,” Letterman wrote in a statement after her death. “She was a unique figure in a unique time.”

The Comedy Store and the comics who performed there in the 1970s were chronicled in “I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era” (2009), by William Knoedelseder. The book was adapted into a Showtime series, “I’m Dying Up Here,” which features a club owner, played by Melissa Leo, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Shore.

Marc Maron, the comedian, actor and host of the podcast “WTF With Marc Maron,” wrote in an email Wednesday that the Store “was a dark, mythological castle in my mind,” adding, “I lived for the place.”

“Mitzi was the queen,” he continued. “She determined your fate. All you wanted was her approval, and you were terrified of not getting it. No person or place has bent my brain like that before or since.”

The club and Shore were sometimes at the center of controversy, not least because for some years Shore did not pay her comedians. She told The Los Angeles Times that she saw comics as “independent contractors” and the Store as “a workshop environment” where they could work on material without the stress of a paid performance.

In 1979, a group of comedians went on strike for several weeks, and Shore agreed to pay them. But some of her regular acts departed for other clubs, like the Laugh Factory and the Improv, and Shore saw the whole affair as a betrayal.

“I didn’t deserve what they did to me,” she said.

Rick Newman, founder of the Catch a Rising Star comedy clubs, said in an interview Wednesday that new comedy clubs usually struggle to cover expenses and also pay comics for at least a few years. Shore, he said, looked at the Store as “a comedy university” that helped young comics during their formative years.

“She was very opinionated, and the comedians appreciated her advice, her guidance, even the way she put shows together,” he said.

She was born Lillian Saidel on July 25, 1930, in Green Bay, Wisconsin, to Morris and Fanny Saidel. She met Sammy Shore at a resort on Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and they married and moved to California, where they had four children.

Her survivors include a daughter, Sandi; three sons, Peter, Scott and Pauly; and two grandchildren.

Pauly Shore is the comedian and actor who rose to fame on MTV and appeared in 1990s films like “Encino Man” and “Bio-Dome.” He also appeared at the Comedy Store.

But Mitzi Shore could be a critical, honest audience even when she was related to the person on stage.

“I didn’t encourage Pauly,” she told The Times in 1994. “I made it tough for him. He had to work hard all around town before he got a break on the stage at the Comedy Store.”