The Comedy Store is one woman’s dream in a three-showroom palace. The palace is the Comedy Store, the dream is an artist’s colony of stand-up comedians and that woman is the legendary Mitzi Shore, part-Ziegfeld, part Garbo, part Picasso and all heart. Born and raised in Wisconsin, she married into the world of stand-up comedy in the 1950s when she met Sammy Shore while she worked in a Wisconsin resort one summer. Mitzi quickly became den mother to her husband’s cohort of fellow young comics—Shecky Green, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, Shelley Berman Alan King, and Rodney Dangerfield—all future Vegas superstars. Mitzi also became close to Elvis Presley when Sammy opened for him for three straight years at the Las Vegas Hilton. During this time, Mitzi and Sammy produced four children, Scott and Sandi in the mid-50s, and Peter and Pauly in the late ‘60s. They did so well opening for Elvis that they decided to open a little 99-seat club on the Sunset Strip where Sammy and his peers could keep their material sharp. In their kitchen up on Doheny Drive, Mitzi suggested to Sammy, “Let’s call it the Comedy Store! – a switch on a famous Beverly Hills discotheque called The Candy Store. The Candy Store now long-forgotten, The Comedy Store the most famous nightclub in the world.
Mitzi and Sammy divorced in 1974. Mitzi got the Comedy Store in the divorce and found herself working her dream of becoming an artist by putting together line-ups of comedians every night. Mitzi scheduled the shows, sold the tickets, cleaned the toilets, and gave encouragement to the talented and blunt direction to the rest. Mitzi kept a plaque on her desk which read, “It Is a Sin to Encourage Mediocre Talent.” Mitzi judged every comedian who auditioned for her on charisma alone. If they had charisma, she’d give them the stage time to create an act. She developed her own comics, through what she called a “graduated process of development.” She’d select a promising comic on Open Mike night to be a “regular.” The most coveted status among young comics then and now is to be a Comedy Store regular. Mitzi would send the comic to start performing at the Westwood Store, then months later up to the Sunset Store Original Room, then to La Jolla, then to the Comedy Store Main Room, and eventually to the Las Vegas Comedy Store at the Dunes Hotel. Mitzi would busy herself during the day talking to agents, managers and TV execs about her hot young comics and recruiting the industry to drop by and see the talent she’d assembled. It all worked like a charm, a product which Mitzi possessed in abundance.
Mitzi threw her heart, soul, ingenuity and creative force into developing comedy stars for the world to enjoy. Mitzi convinced David Letterman in 1974 not to quit and go home to Indianapolis, she gave Richard Pryor his own shows every night to cut his albums, she’d schedule Jay Leno three shows a night if his bike could get around town fast enough. A couple of years later, when Robin, Michael Keaton, Arsenio, Howie Mandel, Garry Shandling, and Saget and came along, Mitzi sent everyone to the Westwood Store to develop, and Mitzi came over once a week to monitor their progress, encourage their dreams, and put the fear of God in them if they were slacking off.
For thirty-five years, Mitzi gave the Comedy Store everything she had, from second chances to wayward comics, to second and third mortgages to keep the operation running through the slow 1990s. The Hollywood press followed her closely, as the Comedy Store grew under her direction from a 99-seat sublet on Sunset Boulevard, to the three-showroom palace it is today. She expanded to Westwood, Pacific Beach, to La Jolla, Honolulu, Universal City, Las Vegas, and even to network television. Along with specials on ABC and NBC, not to mention her star-studded anniversary shows on HBO, Mitzi opened her Main Room to countless Comedy Specials, and big band performances from Buddy Rich and Count Basie, when the club rocked like it once did in its old days when it was Ciro’s.
Mitzi’s health began to decline in the late 1990s, followed by further decline as the next decade progressed, but not before she picked and encouraged and developed the next generation of superstars now packing them in every night; Bill Burr, Marc Maron, Joe Rogan, Rick Ingraham, John Caparullo, Sean Pelofsky, and Iliza Schlesinger. For over forty years, the real star of the show has been Mitzi Shore’s character: it developed as she grew up in the only Jewish family in Green Bay, when she threw away an art degree to marry a comedian after she found her true love in laughter, when she insisted on ownership of the Store in the divorce, when she endured an emotion-shattering comedian’s strike in 1979, when she helped comic after comic put their lives back together after alcohol and drug abuse, as she backed the dreams of her children through thick and thin, as she faced her own illnesses with a determination to continue writing the Comedy Store legacy with her line-up sheets every night, until her hands shook too badly to write them, so she would dictate them, but only if her assistant could duplicate her handwriting! This was Mitzi’s show and it had to look like Mitzi’s show. As long as the Comedy Store survives and thrives, it will always be Mitzi’s show.