The House that Mitzi Built: A Brief History of The Comedy Store
The story of The Comedy Store is also the story of a family. Sammy Shore was a comedian who had his own local TV show in Detroit when he met Mitzi, a young college student who would become not only his assistant, but also his wife. In the mid-1960s, Sammy moved his family to Los Angeles after landing a gig opening for Trini Lopez on the Sunset Strip. It was in this sunny vista that Sammy decided to open a club with his friend and fellow comedian/writer Rudy Deluca. The pair rented a room in the building that had formerly housed Ciro's, a nightspot that had for years attracted some of Hollywood's most glamorous stars. Sammy originally wanted to call it The Sammy Shore Room, but Deluca talked him out of it. Mitzi then came up with the name The Comedy Store, and on April 10, 1972, the venue opened to huge business. It was helped even further by the decision by Johnny Carson to move The Tonight Show to the West Coast, essentially creating a seismic shift in the comedy world, which had previously been centered in New York and Las Vegas.
Despite its popularity, The Comedy Store was not profitable during its first two years in business. When Sammy was hired to perform in Vegas, Mitzi stepped in to run the club. The changes she made, such as creating a roster of young comedians that she would nourish, turned the cash-strapped The Comedy Store into a moneymaking success.
Home life during this time was not quite as rosy, however, and Mitzi and Sammy soon divorced. The settlement left The Comedy Store in Mitzi's hands, and she was determined to maintain its winning ways. She even opened up a second club in Westwood, which drew a large college crowd for such performers as David Letterman and Jay Leno. Soon, producers and agents could be found in the audience at The Comedy Store, looking for new talent for television and movies.
In 1976, the building which housed the original The Comedy Store was up for sale, so Mitzi bought it, eventually turning the building's largest room into a new main stage where the most popular comedians would get a chance to perform. At this time, she also moved one of her The Comedy Store venues to La Jolla, where her daughter, Sandi, became manager.
In the often-segregated world of comedy in the late 1970s, female comedians rarely had a chance to perform side by side with male comedians. Mitzi decided to give the female comedians a place of their own, opening up The Belly Room at the original The Comedy Store venue.
But things were not going very well for the comedians performing for Mitzi, who had always believed the experience and exposure comedians received at The Comedy Store was their payment. They decided they wanted some monetary compensation as well, and they were willing to go on strike against not only The Comedy Store but also the Improv and other comedy venues in Los Angeles until they got paid. The strike went on, with even David Letterman joining the picket line, and eventually Mitzi and the other comedy club operators capitulated.
As The Comedy Store continued to thrive, Mitzi became known as one of Hollywood's most important comedy brokers, often helping television networks cast their upcoming sitcoms from her talent pool. During this time, Mitzi's young son Pauly had been growing up at The Comedy Store among its stable of comedians, who often served as his babysitter. Pauly spent the latter part of the '80s honing his own act, finally making it to The Comedy Store stage in 1988. Less than a decade later, Mitzi convinced Pauly and Sammy to go on a father-son comedy tour together, which turned out to be an enormous success for the pair.
Today, Pauly is running The Comedy Store, but Mitzi is still the power behind it. For more than 30 years, this family business has featured some of the biggest names in standup comedy, from Robin Williams to Richard Pryor to Jim Carrey. It now stands as an icon in the world of American humor.