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Mitzi Shore with her son Pauly
Mitzi Shore with her son Pauly
Alex J. Berliner/BEI/REX/Shutterstock

Rest in Comedy: Mourning Mitzi Shore, the Godmother of the L.A. Stand-Up Scene

Mitzi Shore, the brazen, outspoken owner of the Comedy Store, Sunset Boulevard’s iconic comedy club, was the unquestioned mother of stand-up comedy in Los Angeles, but most comics who were lucky enough to be famously “passed” by her called her their godmother or fairy godmother. When Mitzi, the mother of comedian Pauly Shore, died Wednesday at age 87, the L.A. comedy world mourned her on social media.

As she struggled in her last days in a long battle with Parkinson’s, Pauly had posted a classic black-and-white photo on Instagram of his mom and him at the front bar of the Comedy Store from the mid-1980s, with Mitzi in a cheetah fur wrap and matching headband and a huge smile, and Pauly in a suit and bowtie: “Partying it up with the queen. #ourgodmotherofcomedy.”

Early Wednesday, Pauly Shore posted a statement on Facebook and Twitter, with the same photo.

The Comedy Store posted a statement and announced it would be closed in tribute to Mitzi.

"Mitzi was an extraordinary businesswoman and decades ahead of her time who cultivated and celebrated the artistry of stand-up comedy. She was also a loving mother, not only to her own four children, but to the myriad of comedians who adored her. She leaves behind an indelible mark and legacy and has helped change the face of comedy. We will all miss her dearly,” the Comedy Store said.

This morning, the Comedy Store posted thanks and an announcement that it will reopen tonight, along with a photo of the club, with its legendary wall of names of regular paid performers and last night’s marquee in view: “GOODNIGHT OUR GODMOTHER WE WILL LOVE YOU FOREVER.”

Known for providing an early stage and tough words for comics including Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Garry Shandling, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Bob Saget, Tom Arnold, Jim Carrey and Marc Maron, Mitzi Shore also gave a platform for female comics to rise up in a male-dominated field, including Kathy Griffin, Natasha Leggero, Whitney Cummings and Fortune Feimster, and a place for gay comedian Justin Martindale, the last comic to be “passed,” aka given a regular paid spot as a performer at the club, by Mitzi in person.

After Pauly’s announcement, love and respect for Mitzi poured out on social media.

It’s a really sad day. Mitzi was the best .

A post shared by Chris Rock (@chrisrock) on

Comedian Iliza Schlesinger said via Twitter: "#MitziShore created something very special for comics and a very special space for women. She was ahead of her time, a true outlier. Her legacy has had a direct impact on the comic I have become and, for that, I am forever grateful. I'm sorry @PaulyShore."

Pauly had begun calling on the L.A. comedy community to send tweets to Mitzi on Tuesday as it became clear she was struggling in hospice. Celebrity comics came through, including Tom Arnold, Joe Rogan and Whitney Cummings, one of the more recent female comics, along with Natasha Leggero, passed by Mitzi at the Comedy Store.

The Comedy Store opened on April 10, 1972, in the heyday of the Sunset Strip. Mitzi Shore took over in 1974 as part of a divorce settlement with her ex-husband, comic Sammy Shore, who co-founded the club with comedian Rudy De Luca. According to Richard Zoglin in his 2008 book, Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America, Sammy exchanged his share in the club for a $600-a-month reduction in alimony. Not only did the move empower Mitzi to become a major player in the lives and careers of countless comics but it also proved profitable for the native of Green Bay, Wisconsin, born Mitzi Saidel. In 2014, Mitzi sold her Hollywood Hills home — also once owned by actress-singer Dorothy Lamour — for $5 million.

The Comedy Store held a 46th-anniversary party on Saturday, April 7, and posted a video on Twitter with tributes to Mitzi Shore from comics, including Marc Maron and Justin Martindale, who expressed a common thread: “I love you, Mitzi. Thank you for changing my life.”

Martindale, the E! Entertainment host of #WhatTheFashion on Snapchat, is known as the last comic who was hand-picked by Mitzi at the club.

“It’s a fact,” Martindale told L.A. Weekly. “I had come from Texas a few years before and was performing for the first time at the club in 2009 when [the booker] Tammy Jo Dearen pulled me aside and said, ‘Mitzi just saw you from the booth and said, ‘This kid’s got it. He’s melodious. Just pass him. He’s developed. He’s got it.’ I was told that this kind of thing hadn’t happened since Jim Carrey. Of course I had to look up ‘melodious.’ And the whole thing was like being whisked away by the Wizard of Oz.”

Although he didn’t get to meet Mitzi that night, Martindale was instantly given a regular paid spot at the club, which he’s had ever since. His name was added the following summer to the highly coveted wall of regular paid performers. He finally got a chance to meet Mitzi and thank her six years ago at that year’s anniversary show.

“I grabbed her hand and said, ‘Thank you for seeing that in me.’ She squeezed my hand and I got that contact and validation that I missed that first night, the magic,” Martindale said. “It’s a bittersweet time now that she’s gone. We are a close family of misfit, broken toys and she saw something special in us and helped us soar. She was our godmother and, in my case, my fairy godmother.”

Comedian-actor Fortune Feimster, who stars on Mindy Kaling’s Champions on NBC, also got her start at the Comedy Store, where she performed for the first time in 2007 after taking a stand-up class at the club, and was also one of the last passed by Mitzi.

“In a male-dominated world, Mitzi wanted women to succeed and be as good as the men if not better, and she pushed women to find their voice. That push is what helped me hone my skills and it made me stronger. Now I’m a working comedian and so glad I got started at the Comedy Store,” Feimster told L.A. Weekly. “Mitzi was so important not only for the comedy community but also to L.A. Losing her is almost like the end of an era. Hopefully we’ll all do her proud by keeping comedy strong and alive and well in L.A.”

Theo Von, a more recent paid regular who performs four nights a week at the Comedy Store and has his name on the wall, echoes Feimster and thousands of L.A.’s comics.

“Mitzi created a magical place where audiences and comedians show up to make each other well; a hospital for the human condition. If laughter is indeed the best medicine, then this is Cedars-Sinai. Mitzi was our Florence Nightingale,” the host of the Allegedly podcast with Matthew Cole Weiss and star of the Netflix special No Offense told the Weekly. “I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 15 years and never feel at home. But the second I step into that building, my soul calms, my smile curls and my worries rest. And I’m not alone. I’m one of many, many, many. This place is a womb. It gives life to people. Thousands of women and men became comedians here. And she started that. She was the mother of it all.”

Finally, L.A. comedian Patton Oswalt speaks for all. “Mitzi created a boisterous, competitive meth lab of comedy for decades inside the Store,” Oswalt told L.A. Weekly. “It’s no surprise some of those most vibrant, original minds came out of that chaos.”

Mitzi Shore’s survivors include sons Pauly, Peter and Scott and a daughter, Sandi, as well as all the comedians she nurtured and the city that loves her. In lieu of flowers, the Comedy Store is asking fans to consider a donation to the Motion Picture & Television Fund, where the Comedy Store has created a Comedian's Assistance Fund: mptf.com/donate.

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