Mitzi Shore, owner of The Comedy Store and maker and breaker of careers, dies at 87

Mitzi Shore, the hard-driving proprietor and mother hen of The Comedy Store on The Sunset Strip who lorded over the white-hot center of the stand-up universe of the late 1970s and ’80s, died Wednesday. She was 87.

Shore gave such young comics as Robin Williams, David Letterman and Jay Leno a chance to thrive on stage before a live audience and be discovered.

"It is with great sadness and very heavy hearts that we report the passing of Mitzi Shore, the legendary Godmother of the world famous Comedy Store," according to a statement from The Comedy Store. "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."

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The Comedy Store through the years
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The Comedy Store through the years
Robin Williams at the Comedy Store in the 1970s.
The Comedy Store's tribute to the late Garry Shandling, who got his start on its stage in the 1980s.
JIm Carrey with Mitzi Shore.
David Letterman heads to the Comedy Store for a benefit night.
Richard Pryor performing at the Comedy Store years ago.
Chris Rock performing at The Comedy Store in 2005, decades after he got his start there.
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No cause of death was provided.

Shore, the mother of comedian Pauly Shore, took over the club in a 1974 as part of a divorce settlement with her husband, comedian Sammy Shore, who had founded the business with comedian-writer Rudy De Luca. Two years later, she took out a loan to buy the building, which had been the site of the glamorous nightspot Ciro’s (once owned by the late Hollywood Reporter publisher Billy Wilkerson). Some of the biggest names in the comedy world cut their teeth at the Store, including Williams, Richard Pryor, Leno, Jim Carrey, Chris Rock and Roseanne Barr.

"My heart lays heavy," Pauly Shore tweeted in part Wednesday.

She came up with The Comedy Store name after De Luca talked her husband out of calling it The Sammy Shore Room. The club opened on April 10, 1972, right about the time that Johnny Carson’s The Tonight Show had moved from New York to Burbank.

It proved to be great timing for the club. Comics from around the country flocked to L.A., dreaming of hitting it big after attracting the attention of Tonight Show talent bookers in search of those who could deliver a funny, rapid-fire six-minute set.

The constellation of stand-up comedians who honed their acts amid intense competition at The Comedy Store included Richard Pryor, Tom Dreesen, Garry Shandling, George Miller, Jeff Altman, Jimmy Walker, Louie Anderson, Barry Levinson, Bob Saget, Billy Crystal, Gallagher, Freddie Prinze, Marsha Warfield, Sam Kinison,Jim Carrey, Chris Rock, Howie Mandell, Andrew Dice Clay, Chelsea Handler, Mark Maron, Joe Rogan, Whitney Cummings, Carlos Mencia and Maz Jobrani. There are way too many to mention.

“We’re like a school or a boxers’ gym,” Shore told the Los Angeles Times in a 1994 interview. “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.”

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Jim Carrey out and about
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Jim Carrey out and about
MONTREAL, QC - JULY 28: Jim Carrey attends the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival 2017 held at the Hyatt Regency on July 28, 2017 in Montreal, Canada. (Photo by GP Images/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Jim Carrey attends the 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond' premiere during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival at Winter Garden Theatre on September 11, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 11: Actor/comedian Jim Carrey speaks to the media at the premiere of 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond' during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival at Winter Garden Theatre on September 11, 2017 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by J. Countess/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Jim Carrey attends 2017 Harper's Bazaar Icons at The Plaza Hotel on September 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 08: Jim Carrey and David Copperfield attend the 2017 Harper ICONS party at The Plaza Hotel on September 8, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Michael Moore and Jim Carrey perform as Carrey guest stars and makes his broadway debut in 'Michael Moore's play 'The Terms of My Surrender' on Broadway at The Belasco Theatre on September 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 07: (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Jim Carrey guest stars and makes his broadway debut in 'Michael Moore's play 'The Terms of My Surrender' on Broadway at The Belasco Theatre on September 7, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
Venice, ITALY - September 5: Actor Jim Carrey attends the red carpet of 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond. The Story of Jim Carrey, Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton' during 74th Venice International Film Festival at Palazzo del Casino in Lido of Venice, Italy on September 5, 2017. (Photo by primo barol/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 05: Jim Carrey walks the red carpet ahead of the Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton' screening during the 74th Venice Film Festival at Sala Grande on September 5, 2017 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/WireImage)
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 05: Jim Carrey attends the 'Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond - The Story Of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman With A Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention Of Tony Clifton' photocall during the 74th Venice Film Festival on September 5, 2017 in Venice, Italy. PHOTOGRAPH BY P. Lehman / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read P. Lehman / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 31: Producer Jim Carrey attends the premiere of 'I'm Dying Up Here' at DGA Theater on May 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 31: Producer Jim Carrey attends the premiere of 'I'm Dying Up Here' at DGA Theater on May 31, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES - MAY 23: Jim Carrey chats in the green room with James Corden during 'The Late Late Show with James Corden,' Tuesday, May 23, 2017 (12:35 PM-1:37 AM ET/PT) On The CBS Television Network. (Photo by Terence Patrick/CBS via Getty Images)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that includes celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human-interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Monday, May 22 included Jim Carrey ('I'm Dying Up Here'), Rachel Lindsay ('The Bachelorette') and musical guest Bush. (Randy Holmes via Getty Images) JIMMY KIMMEL, JIM CARREY
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight at 11:35 p.m. EST and features a diverse lineup of guests that includes celebrities, athletes, musical acts, comedians and human-interest subjects, along with comedy bits and a house band. The guests for Monday, May 22 included Jim Carrey ('I'm Dying Up Here'), Rachel Lindsay ('The Bachelorette') and musical guest Bush. (Randy Holmes via Getty Images) JIM CARREY
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 17: Mel Brooks and Jim Carrey at the LA Premiere of 'If You're Not In The Obit, Eat Breakfast' from HBO Documentaries on May 17, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 22: Jim Carrey is seen at 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' on May 22, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by RB/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 09: Executive producer Jim Carrey of the television show 'i'm Dying up here' speaks onstage during the Showtime portion of the 2017 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 9, 2017 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 08: Jim Carrey is seen at LAX on August 08, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by starzfly/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 30: Jim Carrey, Gilbert Gottfried, Jim Gaffigan and Vanessa Bayer attend An Amazing Night Of Comedy: A David Lynch Foundation Benefit For Veterans With PTSD on April 30, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for David Lynch Foundation)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: (L-R) Jim Carrey, Ari Graynor and Michael Angarano attend the Showtime Emmy Eve Party at Sunset Tower on September 17, 2016 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images)
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BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 10: In this handout photo provided by NBCUniversal, Presenter Jim Carrey speaks onstage during the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
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Pryor, who hadn’t done stand-up in a couple of years, returned to the West Hollywood club to develop material for his 1978 tour, which spawned the mega-selling double-album, Wanted: Live in Concert. In the early 1990s, stricken with multiple sclerosis, he performed onstage from his wheelchair.

Shortly after he was killing it at The Comedy Store, Williams became an “overnight” sensation as the wacky star of the ABC sitcom Mork & Mindy.

“Mitzi was a maternal influence,” Letterman, who was a weekend TV weatherman in Indianapolis before driving out to L.A. in 1975, said in Richard Zoglin’s 2008 book, Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America. “She had this place where we could all come and be silly and make mistakes and have fun and go home with a waitress. I left a job for what I thought could be nothing and then found this life and friends and home and creative order. And without Mitzi, I don’t know what I would have done.”

Letterman baby-sat her kids and took them to Little League games; Carrey served as a doorman. She dated Steve Landesburg. Maron, who lived with Clay in a house Shore owned in the hills above Sunset Boulevard, once described the club as “a demonic home away from home for a lot of people."

A native of Green Bay, Wis., Mitzi Saidel was a college student and working as a secretary at the Pine Point Resort in Elkhart Lake, Wis., when she met her future husband, who was the vacation spot’s social director and a fledgling comic. She became his assistant.

In the mid-1960s, the Shores moved to L.A. after Sammy landed a gig opening for singer Trini Lopez on the Sunset Strip. (Later, he famously would serve as the opening act for Elvis Presley from 1969-72.)

The Comedy Store was popular but not profitable during its first few years. De Luca had stepped away to write for The Carol Burnett Show, and when Sammy left for weeks to perform in Vegas, Mitzi took over and “made it a real business,” Sammy once recalled. “She built it to what it is today.”

He added in the Zoglin book: “The booths had been moved around, there were plants in the men’s and ladies’ room. It had a woman’s touch. I came back and it was a different place.”

35 PHOTOS
Carol Burnett through the years
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Carol Burnett through the years
A portrait of American actor and comedian Carol Burnett sitting on a lounge, wearing a black dress with her hands folded. The dress is classic 60's style with sequins and a high neckline.
Carol Burnett and Joe Hamilton during 27th Annual Golden Globe Awards. Carol is seen wearing a white neck scarf with a delicate circular broach.
Joe Hamilton and Carol Burnett during International Radio and TV Society Gold Medal Awards wearing a chic yellow dress with sequins and a polka dot red coat.
Joe Hamilton and Carol Burnett during Carol Burnett Testimonial Dinner. Carol is seen wearing a sleeveless dress with a matching shawl covering her arms.
Entertainer Cher attends an event with Carol Burnett. Carol is seen in a gorgeous embroidered dress with some serious shoulder pads. A sign of the times. 
Carol Burnett and Joe Hamilton were spotted outside their hotel, Carol wearing a loose fitting striped dress with an oversized flower around her neck.

Carol attends the 36th Annual Golden Globe Awards in an all white dress, completely covered up.

Carol attends the 7th Annual People's Choice Awards showing off a serious suntan in a strapless, beachy dress with a purple seashell cover-up.

Carol Burnett and her daughter Carrie Hamilton attend the Kennedy Center Honors in gorgeous dresses. Carol is wearing an intricate floor length gown with plenty of sequins.

Ahead of her time, Carol is seen wearing a wrap dress with a chic diamond clutch.

Carol Burnett is all smiles, wearing a black and white polka dot top while hugging Phyllis Diller.

Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore attend the "Carol Burnett Exhibit" on display in Los Angeles. You know you've arrived when you have an entire exhibit dedicated to you.

Carol is not afraid of an over-the-top blazer to go with a simple black dress.
Saying hello to the paparazzi, Carol is seen wearing a brown coat with colorful blocking. 
Carol Burnett during 5th Annual Sterling Awards in red from head to toe.
Carol's hair transformed along with her style, and she was sporting a beautiful short red hairstyle in 1993.
Carol's style was all her own, and she looked fabulous in this cropped blazer with white trim.
Talk about two style icons, Carol and Liza Minelli are spotted chatting at a party. Carol is wearing an all-gold sequin blazer while Liza is subdued in black.
Dressed for the occasion, Carol looks gorgeous in a black gown with a sheer shawl.
Nothing like adding a pop of color to get noticed!
We're seeing a trend in Carol's style, SEQUINS! The funny gal is in love with wearing the sparkly embellishments.
Carol shows off her American Comedy Award in an all pink skirt and blazer.
Wearing darker colors, Carol is seen wearing a turtleneck under a chic black blazer.
Even in the late '90s Carol can make herself laugh. The actress sure knows how to use color in her favor with this gorgeous striped skirt.
Carol Burnett is showing quite a bit of leg in this photo, wearing a skirt and matching blazer.
Pretty in purple, Carol attends the premiere of the Producers on broadway.
Carol Burnett is a Kennedy Center Honors recipient, dressed in all white. She looks stunning. 
Carol poses outside at the 5th Annual TV Land Awards in a purple blazer and black skirt. The funny lady always looks her best for a red carpet.
Carol Burnett attends the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in a firey red ensemble. The outfit perfectly matches her hair.
Dressed in all black, Carol is totally age appropriate in this conservative number.
While making an appearance at the Tonight Show, Carol wears a red blazer with a black turtleneck underneath.
Oversized tunics start to become Carol's red carpet staple, seen here in coral with a long necklace.
Carol Burnett poses backstage following a performance by Linda Lavin in a classic black ensemble.
Actress and comedian Carol Burnett arrives at the Hooray For Hollywood event wearing a similar black outfit with ruffles.
Carol Burnett attends the naming ceremony and plaque unveiling Of "Carol Burnett Square" in Los Angeles, wearing one of her classic white blazers.
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“Mitzi revolutionized comedy,” Dressen said in Yael Kohen’s 2012 book, We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. “[Sammy] would let Redd Foxx come in and do 45 minutes or an hour, and then another guy would come in an do an hour. When she took over the club, she gave each one a 15-minute set, she did two shows, and all of a sudden we had what we in show business call continuity. It was a good evening. It was smart programming, and so the audience wanted to stay more.”

In the divorce settlement, Sammy surrendered control of The Comedy Store in return for a $600 a month reduction in alimony payments, according to Zoglin.

Comics would line the sidewalks for hours outside the club, looking to audition for Mitzi, who had the final say on who would perform. For years, she was the only game in town; caring or cutthroat, she could make you or break you.

Louis C.K. had to audition for Shore even though he had been performing for two decades.

“She’s sitting at this table directly across from me,” he told Letterman on CBS’ The Late Show in January 2015. “I said hello and started a joke and the light [the signal to get off the stage] immediately went on. I said that can’t be it, so I kept going, and then I see Mitzi [waving at him] to get off. My manager called me later and Mitzi told her, ‘I hated him, he was terrible.’ ”

When Budd Friedman, owner of the Improv comedy club in New York, came west to open a branch on Melrose Avenue in 1975 — just a mile from The Comedy Store — Shore banned any comic who would perform at her rival’s place. (Leno did anyway, and Shore caved.)

In 1979, comedians went on strike to protest comedy clubs’ policy of not paying performers. (They felt that the exposure the comics were getting was payment enough.) Shore turned against them, too. One was a comic who committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the hotel next door. He left a note that read: “My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at The Comedy Store.”

Shore put aside a separate upstairs room, The Belly Room, at the club in 1978 to showcase female comics, and she opened other Comedy Stores in such locations as Westwood, Universal City, La Jolla, Calif., Las Vegas and Honolulu.

In February 2014, she sold her home in the Hollywood Hills — owned by actress-singer Dorothy Lamour before her — for $5 million.

Survivors include sons Pauly, Peter and Scott and a daughter, Sandi.

 

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