As It Happens

'Mother of all comedians' Mitzi Shore remembered for shining a light on young comedians

For standups trying to make it in Los Angeles, the Comedy Store was often the first stop to stardom. Mitzi Shore, the legendary owner of the Sunset Strip comedy venue, died Wednesday at the age of 87.

Owner of the legendary club The Comedy Store died Wednesday at age 87

Mitzi Shore pictured at The Comedy Store on the club's 20th birthday. (NBC via Getty Images)

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For standups trying to make it on Los Angeles' Sunset Strip, The Comedy Store was the first stop to stardom.

Its owner Mitzi Shore ushered countless stars, including Robin Williams, David Letterman and Jim Carrey, through her club's doors since it opened in 1972.

Shore died Wednesday at the age of 87.

"It's not just my loss. I think it's all of comedy's," comedian Tammy Pescatelli told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"It didn't matter where you came from or how long you had been there, she treated you like an equal."

Making Mitzi laugh

When Pescatelli auditioned for Shore at The Comedy Store in 2001, she was already an established comedian from the East Coast. Still, she was starstruck.

"She definitely was the mother of all comedians," she said. "I can only liken it to having an audience with the Pope."

But Pescatelli describes The Comedy Store as a place to shine — and to fail.

Tammy Pescatelli is a comedian and former performer at The Comedy Store. (Supplied by Tammy Pescatelli)

Auditioning for Shore wasn't always easy. You had to make her laugh, and not everyone succeeded.

"She laughed through my entire set," said Pescatelli. But despite what some might see as a sign of approval, the comedian was nervous.

"I've heard of stories where [Shore] laughed at people, but she didn't pass them," Pescatelli said. "She was laughing because maybe she had lifted other people's material, or … at the audacity of it. You just never knew."

Soon after her audition, Pescatelli became a "paid regular" at the club. Shore's reputation for spotting talent was well-known within comedy circles and the designation was a game-changer for Pescatelli.

"When Mitzi was in charge of the paid regulars ... that had cache amongst the other comics," she said.

"Jerry Lewis was impressed that I got passed at such a young age by Mitzi Shore."

Her work at the club launched her career, getting her a spot on The Tonight Show, thanks to Shore's efforts.

Like a family

The Comedy Store was more than just a club for upcoming comedians. Pescatelli said Shore and her fellow comedians became a family.

Pescatelli remembers when she joined her fellow comedians at The Comedy Store after the September 11, 2001 attacks. They didn't show up to perform, but instead to be with each other.

It was in times like these that Pescatelli said Shore offered help.

Even if you were going through a tough time — and not performing well — Shore "wouldn't let you go," she said.

"She was a bright light in a dark place."

When things were rough financially for fledgling comedians, Shore even had friends with solutions.

"I remember saying, 'Hey, I have a root canal that I need done and I don't have the money.' And she said, 'I have a dentist and he'll do it at The Comedy Store rate.'"

The dentist provided the treatment for nothing, thanks to free tickets from Shore.

'Just get on stage'

It's Shore's voice that Pescatelli will miss most.

"Everybody does an impression of Mitzi's voice. I'm not very good at impressions but she had this high-pitched [voice]." Shore's protege Robin Williams is known for his.

But Pescatelli said she'll always remember Shore's advice.

When she had her first child, Pescatelli left Los Angeles on the advice of her mentor.

But her best advice, Pescatelli said, was more straightforward.

"Just get on stage. When something was wrong, or if you were upset, get on stage and talk about it."

Written by Jason Vermes. Interview produced by Chris Harbord.