The story of The Comedy Store on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood can’t be told without telling the story of owner, Mitzi Shore.
The legendary comedian haunt has been the launching pad for some of our favorite stand-up stars like Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and David Letterman among many others.
Shore was behind it all, allowing new comedians to test out their material on the audience, selecting those that shined brightly among those that didn’t quite have the chops and even guiding those young funny men and women when their choices would lead to their own demise. She became what students of the Store called the Godmother of the world famous business.
How It All Started
In the 1940’s and 50’s Ciro’s was the major hangout spot for everyone from Hollywood’s elite to mobsters of the day. It was the place to be and frequented by celebrities.
Shore’s husband Sammy and comedy writer Rudy DeLuca purchased Ciro’s in 1972 out of a need for a location to work when not out on the road, but it was Shore who soon assumed nightly operations and was quickly recognized for her eye for true talent.
Making It Her Own
She came up with the name The Comedy Store and comedians flocked to the already famed location to test out their material before taking it on the road.
Just two years later, Shore became sole owner after she and Sammy divorced, allowing her to take the Store to levels unreached across the country.
Comedians would even work at the Store full-time and earn their way to being considered ‘Paid-Regulars’ on the evening shows. Those ‘paid-regulars’ earned notoriety and a historical place along the walls of The Comedy Store.
The Idea Behind The Store
For Shore, she wanted to develop an artists school of sorts, letting stand-up comedians develop their craft and learn from each other. A family-like environment was created, where veterans who had already earned their notoriety could shepherd the newcomers.
Up and coming stars wanted their chance to perform and eagerly took her advice and guidance to create a future in the craft they loved. She was the one to encourage them, but also to shoot straight. It was Mitzi who told regulars like Sam Kinison they couldn’t returned until they had attended rehab.
A Growing Business
Shore was able to purchase the building in 1976 and quickly transformed the 99-seat theater to a 450-seat main room.
As the Sunset location became enormously popular, what was once a single-stage venue held in the Original Room, became three stages; The Original Room, The Belly Room and the Main Room and additional locations opened in Westwood, Pacific Beach, La Jolla and Las Vegas.
Today, the store in La Jolla still exists as well as the original famous location.
From Store To ‘Home’
The 1970’s comedian Richard Pryor famously worked his material in front of an audience for his ‘Live From the Sunset Strip’ album night after night. Now famous comedians can say they officially got their start with their time on The Comedy Store’s stage. According to The Comedy Store website, future stars included Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Garry Shandling, Andy Kaufman and Michael Keaton.
By the early 90’s, new voices landed on the stage from celebrities like Howie Mandel, Louie Anderson, Jim Carrey, Arsenio Hall and others.
According to Celebrity Net Worth, Shore allowed many of these young hopeful stars to crash at her 5,000 square foot home on Cresthill Rd. near The Comedy Store and the place quickly became the spot for all-night parties, drinking and cocaine use. Some young comedians even lived in the home, including Full House’s Dave Coulier, Jim Carrey and Bill Hicks. In 1988, Shore kicked all of them out and reestablished the house as a recovery home. for a few years, until it was eventually sold.
Not Always a Good Time
In 1979, as the club expanded, comedians began demanding to get paid. Shore felt that she and her ‘flock’ benefited each other and while they weren’t top notch yet, they were headed toward high paying gigs. The comedians decided to picket, resulting in a strike that lasted six weeks. Mitzi eventually gave in, agreeing to pay $15 per set, but she never forgave some of the most vocal, banning them from her Store for life.
In addition, Shore saw the untimely deaths of comedians over the years, whether from natural causes, addiction or health decline. She said goodbye to Freddie Prinze, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams , John Witherspoon, Bob Saget and many others.
Shore noticed a male majority forming at the club and began creating opportunities for others to grace the stage. Upon the opening of a second stage at The Comedy Store, a 50-seat location upstairs called the Belly Room specifically catered to female comedians. Open Mic night brought the likes of Roseanne Barr and Whoopi Goldberg to the stage. She later created evenings like Phat Tuesdays, featuring Black comedians, Latino and LGBTQ performers.
At the time of her death, Shore had a net worth of $20 million. She passed away at a West Hollywood hospice in 2018 at the age of 87 and the love famous comedians had for her became evident. Comedian Joe Rogan had performed at The Comedy Store for free for 13 years and dedicated his comedy special Strange Times to Mitzi a few months after her death. Other celebrities thanked Shore for her impact on their lives and the life of stand-up comedy as a whole.
The Comedy Store lives on, however, in the hands of one of Shore’s sons, Peter. According to the L.A. Times, he took over as the Store’s CEO 20 years ago, when Mitzi began showing signs of Parkinson’s disease. He’s not the one scouting talent – that job was always his mother’s, but has continued the tradition of making The Comedy Store home to up and coming comedians.
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Sources: The Comedy Store, Celebrity Net Worth, L.A. Times
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