After 21 years of operation, the Comedy Store is still a vital steppingstone for Hollywood's developing comics, as well as a respected workshop for proven vets. And Mitzi Shore is still there most nights, continuing as the godmother of Los Angeles comedy.
"We're like a school, or a boxers' gym," Shore says. "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."
The Comedy Store was opened in 1972 by Mitzi and her husband, comedian Sammy Shore, on the site of the legendary Hollywood nightspot Ciro's. The Store began life as more of a variety room than a comedy club, but when Sammy resumed his career on the road, Mitzi was left in charge. She decided to create a showcase for stand-up comics--the only one in town until the Improv opened in 1976.
When the Shores separated in 1973, bettering the club became Mitzi's primary focus. In 1976, she bought the Sunset Strip building in which the club was housed and developed it into the three-room venue it is today. David Letterman was an early emcee at the club, and Robin Williams, Garry Shandling and Jim Carrey are all graduates of the Store's stage. A more recent graduate is Mitzi's son Pauly, who did not get the maternal push into comedy one might expect.
"I didn't encourage Pauly," his mother exclaims. "I made it tough for him. He had to work hard all around town before he got a break on the stage at the Comedy Store."
Despite the troubled economic times, and the national slumps in comedy club attendance, Mitzi Shore remains highly optimistic about the comedy business in L.A.:
"I think what's happening to the scene is actually very healthy. Across the country, a lot of clubs that have been nurturing mediocre talent are closing down, so more of the real stand-up talent is coming to Hollywood. I'm relieved to see that process happen. It's a healthy purification."
With Sunday potluck nights offering anyone the chance to test his or her comic prowess--and specialty nights for women, Latino, and gay and lesbian comics--Shore believes that the Comedy Store provides a crucial training ground for all kinds of comics and all kinds of comedy.
"I see marvelous new talents all the time," she says. "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."