Mitzi Shore, the Matriarch of Modern Stand-Up: An Appreciation

Mitzi Shore
Via The Comedy Store Facebook
– Mitzi Shore

Garry Shandling couldn’t stand her, mainly because she terrified him. Roseanne Barr recently told Howard Stern she was a nurturing mother figure, at once demanding and devoted.

Jim Carrey, who once manned the door at the Comedy Store, and produced the Showtime series, I’m Dying Up Here, about her reign, tweeted simply about the passing of Mitzi Shore at the age of 87 this week in Los Angeles, “No words can express the gratitude I have for her.  We met in 1979. She opened the door to my dreams! If she loved you, you did well.  If she didn’t, you did something else. I will love her forever ;^)”

The Comedy Store’s eulogy read, “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.”

Kathy Griffin also took to Twitter to add, “Mitzi Shore was a pioneer who gave more comics their start than I can count…I did my first legit comedy gig at the Store. She was a woman in a male dominated business who pulled no punches, something I always admired.”

Bob Saget, who spoke fondly of Mitzi on Judd Apatow’s recent HBO documentary, The Zen Diaries of Gary Shandling, wrote, “Mitzi Shore started my career when I was 21 by believing in me. I will forever be indebted to her and love her and always knew that she loved me. My heart goes out to her children and all those she touched. You will be greatly missed Mitzi.”

Joked Patton Oswalt, “I should’ve taken the doorman job when you offered it to me. RIP Mitzi Shore.”

Love her or hate her – and there were people on both sides, the Green Bay, WI-born Mitzi Lee Saidel — the daughter of a traveling salesman who moved into Cecil D. DeMille’s mansion overlooking Sunset Blvd. with her husband, comic Sammy Shore in 1964 — is arguably modern stand-up comedy’s most important influence alongside Johnny Carson’s couch.

Her husband opened the Comedy Store on Sunset with his comedian partner Rudy DeLuca, in 1972, the very same year Carson moved the Tonight Show from New York to Burbank, opening up two of the most important venues for worldwide success.  Mitzi took over the club just two years later in a divorce settlement with Sammy, hoping to save $600 a month on alimony payments.  As portrayed by Melissa Leo’s Goldie in I’m Dying Up Here, Mitzi was a tough businesswoman, who insisted her fledgling comics perform for free in exchange for working their craft and being discovered on one of the venue’s stages.  But her comic instincts were fierce, and she knew who had the talent to succeed, and who didn’t.  The current comedy tour circuit owes its very existence to her groundbreaking, iconic venue.

Both David Letterman and Jay Leno honed their acts at the Comedy Store in the ‘70s ultimately preparing them for their eventual late-night duels. Letterman famously called her “the den mother of some berserk Cub Scout pack,”

Comedy Store
AP Photo / Reed Saxon
– Comedy Store
The Comedy Store pays tribute to Mitzi Shore, who died April 11.

During the ‘70s and ‘80s, The Comedy Store set the tone for comedy in Los Angeles, unique as a venue in which stand-up comics could hone their craft without opening for singers as they usually did in Las Vegas and on tour. The famous list of alumni includes the likes of Andy Kaufman, Jimmie Walker, Robin Williams, Richard Lewis, Freddie Prinze, Richard Belzer, Sam Kinison, Andrew Dice Clay, Howie Mandel, Elayne Boosler, Eddie Griffin, Chris Rock and Richard Pryor, as well as Leno, Letterman, Schandling and Saget.

William Knoedelseder, whose 2009 book of the same name serves as the inspiration for the Showtime series based on the Comedy Store, calls the ‘70s-early 80’s era as “the golden age” of L.A. stand-up.

At its height, Shore franchised the Comedy Store name with locations in Westwood, La Jolla and at the old Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas, but steadfastly resisted the urge to spread the brand into TV or movies, which turned out to be a mistake, as the success of National Lampoon, cable specials and Budd Friedman’s crosstown Improv bore out.

Her sons, comic Pauly and Peter, who were running the Comedy Store as talent booker and business manager, respectively, had previously been involved in a law suit over the latter’s “undue influence over Mitzi,” but now stand to inherit it together. Shore, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, is also survived by another son, Scott, and daughter, Sandi.

Last December, the L.A. Times described her as “equal parts, talent scout, employer, lifestyle enabler, landlord and performance critic.”

A more recent graduate, WTF podcast host Marc Maron, once lived in the legendary 8420 Crestwood Road stand-up “frat house,” famously dubbed Cresthill, which loomed above the Comedy Store and was at least a temporary shelter for a who’s-who of comedians, including Andrew Dice Clay, Yakov Smirnov, Bill Hicks, Kinison, Carrey, Pryor and Robin Williams.  He described his time spent there as a “bid, dark baptism.”

 “Mitzi Shore made an indelible mark on comedy and my brain,” Maron tweeted, remembering a sage piece of advice she once gave him. “You’re a poet. You should wear a scarf on-stage.”

RIP, Mitzi.