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Legendary Comedy Store Owner Mitzi Shore Has Passed Away

This story might not resonate with a lot of you, but Mitzi Shore is a legend in the world of standup comedy. The Comedy Store is the most iconic club in Los Angeles and, arguably, America (I would put the Comedy Cellar in Manhattan ahead of it, but that’s because I’m a New York comic). The Store was the starting ground and workout room for so many great comics– Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Johnny Carson, Garry Shandling, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, and on and on. It is spoken of with reverence and the occasional wry chuckle as Mitzi Shore was notorious for refusing to pay the comics. She saw the club as a training ground, a place for comics to get seen by representation and booked on the Tonight Show and other TV shows. Obviously, I’ve never even come close to stepping foot on its exclusive stage but I’ve watched enough comedy documentaries to know how much getting “passed” at the Store meant to comedians (getting passed means trying out and impressing the booker/owner enough to work the club regularly).

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As I’ve continued my work as a comic, I’ve learned that there are two forms of success in standup: commercial success, but also what I guess I’d call “comedian” success, for lack of a better term. Comedian success is where you gain the respect and admiration of the insider comedy world, the respect of your peers; where you become a “comic’s comic.” In New York, this means getting passed at the Comedy Cellar–a feat tougher than gaining membership to Augusta National. The reason is that the admission process is based off peer recommendation: you have to get referred by other comics. Then, Estee Adoram, the booker, might invite you for an audition spot. You have to DESTROY and only then will you be put into the rotation. The reward? Spots on the most celebrated comedy stage in New York City as well as a spot at the coveted comic’s table upstairs in the Olive Tree cafe. This is the green room for the comedy cellar, and on any given night, as you wait for your set, you’ll find yourself sandwiched in between Jerry Seinfeld and Dave Chappelle as the three of you pore over your notes for your upcoming 12-15 minutes. To many of us, getting passed at the Cellar would mean more than getting a role on a new TV show.

I’m a little sidetracked here, but I’m fairly sure Mitzi ran her club in similar fashion. I know that for LA comedians, the equivalent of getting passed at the Cellar is to get passed at the Store. Mitzi was a pioneer and one of the great influencers of the comedy world for over 40 years. There’s a great show on Showtime called “I’m Dying Up Here.” It’s based on Mitzi and the Comedy Store in the 1970s, and Melissa Leo takes a mesmerizing turn as the stoic, uncompromising Mitzi character. Season 2 premiers on May 6th.

Here’s to one of the great architects of the world of comedy.

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