Mitzi Shore, the comedy impresario who helped launch the stand-up careers of Robin Williams, David Letterman and more, and exerted widespread influence in the 1970s and 1980s as the owner of the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, died Wednesday at 87.
The Comedy Store confirmed Shore’s death in a brief statement posted on Twitter. “It is with great sadness and very heavy hearts that we report the passing of Mitzi Shore,” the tweet read. “Mitzi was an extraordinary woman and leader who identified, cultivated and celebrated comedy’s best performers.”
“She helped change the face of comedy,” the statement continued, “and leaves behind an indelible mark and legacy in the entertainment industry and stand-up community.”
“Mitzi Shore made an indelible mark on comedy and my brain,” Marc Maron tweeted. “‘You’re a poet. You should wear a scarf on stage.'”
“I love you Mitzi Shore,” added comedian Whitney Cummings. “Rest In Peace. Thank you for giving me a family and a home.”
“Her creating the Comedy Store was one of the most important things in the history of stand up comedy, and I will forever be in her debt,” Joe Rogan wrote earlier this week upon news that Shore was in hospice care.
Mitzi Saidel was born in 1930 and later met and married a young comic, Sammy Shore, while working as a secretary in Wisconsin. The Shores moved to Los Angeles, where Sammy landed gigs on the Sunset Strip. Sammy co-founded the Comedy Store in 1972 with Rudy De Luca, and Mitzi took charge of the venue in 1974 after divorcing her husband.
The Comedy Store was ideally positioned to fuel – and benefit from – the rapid growth in L.A.’s stand-up scene that took place in the 1970s. This period was memorialized recently by Jim Carrey, who performed at the Comedy Store, in Showtime’s series I’m Dying Up Here. Rising comedians like Williams, Letterman, Jay Leno and more took the stage at Shore’s club.
Shore viewed her venue as a nurturing environment for comedians. “I see marvelous new talents all the time,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1994. “I know it’s hard for them to develop out on the road, where you have to worry about pleasing the guy that’s selling the beer. It’s hard to treat yourself as an artist under those circumstances. In a workshop environment like the Comedy Store, you just worry about pleasing yourself. If you’re naturally funny, you’ll get the laughs you deserve.”
Letterman credited Shore with providing crucial early direction in his career in We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “Without Mitzi, I don’t know what I would have done,” he said.
Comedian Tom Dreesen went further. “Mitzi revolutionized comedy,” he said in the same book. “[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.”
Comedians also valued the club as an important step towards reaching a mainstream audience, hoping to perform for and connect with those in the movie and TV industries. Williams performed at the Comedy Store before becoming famous on the TV show Mork & Mindy. Richard Pryor honed his set at the club before recording Wanted: Live in Concert, which went on to sell more than 500,000 copies. Her son, comedian Pauly Shore, wrote on Twitter that “My heart lays heavy.”
The Comedy Store will be closed today in Shore’s memory.