Mitzi Shore, Owner of Legendary Comedy Club The Comedy Store, Has Died

Comedy News Mitzi Shore
Mitzi Shore, Owner of Legendary Comedy Club The Comedy Store, Has Died

Mitzi Shore, the founder and owner of the Los Angeles comedy club The Comedy Store, has passed away, according to a statement on The Comedy Store’s Instagram page. She was 87 years old, and has been suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.

The statement reads:

It is with great sadness and very heavy hearts that we report the passing of Mitzi Shore. 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.

The Comedy Store will be closed today.

Through The Comedy Store Shore helped launch the careers of hundreds of stand-up comedians over the last four decades. She co-founded the club with her husband Sammy Shore in 1972, and took over sole ownership of it in 1974 after they divorced. Regular performers at the Store included Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Garry Shandling, Elaine Boosler, Dave Chappelle, Jay Leno, Kevin Hart, Ellen DeGeneres, David Letterman (who served as emcee in the late ‘70s), and dozens more famous comedians. Shore was also one of the first comedy club owners to regularly feature woman performers, converting a smaller theater within the building into a room that exclusively booked women. In the ‘90s the Store started to run specialty shows for gay and Latino comedians. She’s such a significant figure in the industry that Tom Hanks tried to develop a movie about her life, and Showtime’s show I’m Dying Up Here based Melissa Leo’s club-owner character on her.

Shore’s career wasn’t without controversy. For most of The Comedy Store’s first decade it didn’t pay comedians anything. In 1979 several Comedy Store regulars went on strike, picketing in front of the club and demanding that they be paid for their work. Two of the most notable picketers were Leno and Letterman. Shore fought against paying her performers for weeks, arguing that the exposure and experience was payment enough, but eventually relented and reluctantly agreed to pay comics $15 per regular set. That rate remained unchanged until December of 2016, when it was raised to $20. According to Richard Zoglin’s book Comedy at the Edge, Shore cut back on the total number of slots available to comedians after the strike, and some of the strike’s leaders were never allowed to play the Store again. One of them, Steve Lubetkin, a Store regular who was blackballed after the strike, eventually killed himself by jumping off the Continental Hyatt House, right next to the Store, with a suicide note that said he used to work there. Zoglin’s book includes a Shore quote from a Los Angeles Times article that summarizes her antipathy towards the strike and disappointment with the agreement they reached. “It was against my basic philosophy and the principles of the Comedy Store that this settlement was made,” Zoglin quotes Shore as saying to William Knoedelseder of the TImes. “You might say I was unionized into a corner.”

Shore ran the club for several decades after starting to pay her talent, taking its reputation to the national stage through HBO’s annual Young Comedians specials in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. A number of comedians filmed or recorded specials at the Store, with Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K. and Jerrod Carmichael among the comics who have taped there in the last few years. It remains a legendary club and a place that pretty much every comedian hopes to play, and Shore’s impact on the comedy industry and the stand-up scene, both in Los Angeles and nationally, can’t be understated.

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