Hailed as the “legendary godmother” of comedy and “den mother” to four decades of stand-up comedians, Mitzi Shore, owner of the famed Comedy Store in Los Angeles, died early Wednesday. She was 87.
Shore’s death, which followed a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, was confirmed by the club’s spokesperson Jodi Gottlieb. In a statement cited by the Associated Press, Gottleib described Shore as “an extraordinary businesswoman… who cultivated and celebrated the artistry of stand-up comedy.”
Mitzi’s son, comedian and actor Pauly Shore, described her as a “giver,” who “gave her heart, her soul, and her stages,” to generations of aspiring comedians.
Born in 1930 in Marinette, Wis., Shore assumed ownership of a new comedy club on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip following her divorce from comedian Sammy Shore in 1974. The Comedy Store became an institution under her stewardship, offering a kind of college of comedy, as TIME wrote in 2008, where comedians could meet and workshop untested material.
“When Mitzi took over, she changed the pace,” comedian Tom Dreesen told The Hollywood Reporter. “She gave comedians tight 20-minute sets, which meant the audience could see a half-dozen acts in one show. The Strip was an exciting place back then. Stand-up comedy became the rock ‘n’ rock of the ’70s.”
The club’s stage was paced by many of the biggest names in American comedy, from future late night hosts Jay Leno and David Letterman to Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne Barr. Jim Carrey was given his first opportunity there as a doorman, a frequent entry point for inexperienced comedians who hungered for a few minutes with the microphone.
Shore’s refusal to pay comedians, who she said benefited from the club’s “artist’s colony” atmosphere, alienated some of her most reliable performers and closest friends. But she was also lauded for promoting female comedians like Sandra Bernhard, Diane Nichols and Whoopi Goldberg, at a time when sexism was pervasive in the industry.
Tributes to Shore poured in on social media, with many performers celebrating the mentor who gave them their first start in show business.
Shore is survived by three sons — Pauly, Scott and Peter — and her daughter Sandy.