Mitzi Shore, who for decades ran The Comedy Store, the legendary club on the Sunset Strip, died on April 11 following a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She was 87.
“It is with great sadness and very heavy hearts that we report the passing of Mitzi Shore yesterday morning,” The Comedy Store said in an April 12 statement. “Mitzi was an extraordinary woman and leader who identified, cultivated and celebrated comedy’s best performers. She helped change the face of comedy and leaves behind an indelible mark and legacy in the entertainment industry and stand-up community. We will all miss her dearly.”
Shore was born Mitzi Lee Saidel on July 25, 1930, in Menominee, Mich., and raised in Green Bay, Wis. She attended the University of Wisconsin but dropped out to marry comedian Sammy Shore, whom she met while working at a Wisconsin resort one summer. In the 1950s, through her marriage, Shore met Rodney Dangerfield, Don Rickles, Shelley Berman and Buddy Hackett, and she became a mother figure to the comedians.
On April 7, 1972, Sammy opened The Comedy Store — Mitzi came up with the name — with comedy writer Rudy De Luca. It was the world’s first all-stand-up-comedy nightclub. Two years later, the Shores divorced and Mitzi received control of the club in their divorce settlement.
According to veteran journalist William Knoedelseder, author of “I’m Dying Up Here,” Shore deserves partial credit for transforming the 1970s into the golden era of comedy. Shore nurtured many talented young comedians, including David Letterman, Jay Leno, Robin Williams, Bob Saget, Richard Lewis, Garry Shandling and Elayne Boosler. Working behind a sign on her desk that read, “It is a Sin to Encourage Mediocre Talent,” Shore pushed those she saw as having that special spark to perform, allowed them on her stage and encouraged authenticity in their comedy.
In 1976, she expanded the 99-seat nightclub to a multistage venue, featuring three rooms: the Original Room, the Main Room and the Belly Room. She operated The Comedy Store as an artists’ colony, where comedians could tinker and work out their material before fellow comedians, comedy lovers and entertainment industry professionals. However, Shore did not pay her comedians until 1979, when performers began picketing outside the club.
“Looking back on my mom’s life, the one word that comes to mind is giver. She gave her heart, her soul, and her stages.” — Pauly Shore
Shore eventually opened additional Comedy Store locations, including in La Jolla, Calif., Las Vegas and Honolulu.
In the late 1990s, Shore’s Parkinson’s became so severe that her hands shook when she wrote the lineup sheets for each evening’s show. Two of her four children, including actor-comedian Pauly Shore, took control over the operation of the club. Shore spent her final days in hospice care.
On Twitter, Pauly said his mother’s legacy was her compassion for her performers.
“Looking back on my mom’s life, the one word that comes to mind is giver,” he wrote. “She gave her heart, her soul, and her stages.”
Saget and other comedians also posted tributes on Twitter.
“Mitzi Shore started my career when I was 21 by believing in me,” Saget wrote. “I will forever be indebted to her and love her and always knew that she loved me.”
The Comedy Store closed on April 11 to honor Shore, only the ninth night in its 46 years that the club closed.
Shore’s funeral was held on April 13. She is survived by her four children — Pauly, Peter, Scott and Sandy.
The Motion Picture & Television Fund’s Comedian’s Assistance Fund is accepting donations in Shore’s memory.