Comedy Club Owner Mitzi Shore, A Gatekeeper Of Careers, Dies At 87

Apr 11, 2018
Originally published on April 11, 2018 9:06 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Comedy Store on LA's Sunset Strip is closed today. The club's owner, Mitzi Shore, died early this morning at the age of 87. She had been battling Parkinson's disease. Shore nurtured generations of the country's funniest comics, and NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this remembrance.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: David Letterman once called Mitzi Shore the den mother of some berserk Cub Scout pack. He was on her comedy club's roster; so was George Carlin, Freddie Prinze, Jay Leno, Jim Carrey and Chris Rock. Here's Robin Williams improvising on stage in 1988.

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ROBIN WILLIAMS: Oh, look. You're on Hollywood Boulevard - junkies, transvestites and pimps - oh, my.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARO: Richard Pryor often packed the house.

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RICHARD PRYOR: I went to Africa, man, and it was real fun in Africa being with black people who were different black people, you know. I was - I asked an African man - I asked him - I said, what tribe do I look like I came from? And he told me, Italian.

(LAUGHTER)

DEL BARO: Shore was born Mitzi Saidel in the Midwest, the daughter of a traveling salesman. She moved to LA after marrying comic Sammy Shore. In 1972, he founded The Comedy Store with comedy writer Rudy De Luca. After the Shores divorced two years later, Sammy gave her the club, reportedly to lower his alimony payments. She told the LA Times that in those days comics felt belittled having to work on stage with singers, jugglers and magicians. She wanted to give comics respectability, and she did.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE")

JERRY SEINFELD: This was the kingdom and the power.

DEL BARO: On his web series, "Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee," Jerry Seinfeld reminisced about his old stomping grounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COMEDIANS IN CARS GETTING COFFEE")

SEINFELD: In the '70s and '80s, this was the place you had to come to if you wanted to be a real comedian.

DEL BARO: On an E! Entertainment special, Tom Dreesen talked about getting his start there.

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TOM DREESEN: We used to stand outside The Comedy Store and say, God, I wish I could get on that stage. I wish I could be on at The Comedy Store. And so you became a Monday nighter, and you got a chance to be on at Monday night, finally, to showcase for Mitzi. And if Mitzi liked you, then, OK, you would get, like, 1:30 in the morning on Tuesday.

DEL BARO: Shore famously handpicked the order and length of her comics' sets.

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MITZI SHORE: And after him, Ron Jones and Flame. I don't know. I hope it's not a strip act.

DEL BARO: Comedians often made fun of her nasally voice and frizzy hair. Mitzi Shore did not pay her comics. She considered the venue as sort of comedy college, a workshop for comics to experiment, improvise and hone their craft. On the E! special, Robin Williams said Shore provided a creative playground.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAMS: Mitzi didn't dictate content, which was great. I think she would sometimes advise you like. Oh, you don't need to do all those penis jokes. I said, I have to. It's an advertisement. But she, you know - it was a release for me. It was cheaper than therapy.

DEL BARO: But by 1979, many of the unpaid comics got upset when she paid commercial headliners. Up-and-coming comedians went on strike, staging a walkout and picketing outside on the Sunset Strip. Eventually, Shore agreed to pay most of them $25 a set. By then, Hollywood talent scouts became regulars. Shore's comics got booked on "The Tonight Show." Some got their own sitcoms.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MORK & MINDY")

WILLIAMS: (As Mork) Nanoo, nanoo.

DEL BARO: Mitzi Shore leaves behind four children, including her youngest, comedian Pauly Shore. Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.