She Unknowingly Gave Me a Career

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized

I was originally planning to write another rant about why I’m so scared for America and the world if idiocy actually prevails and Donald Trump is elected president, but I think I’m gonna hold off on that one for another week or so. Yes, I’m surely worried, but decided to table that rant when I was informed by a few Facebook posts of the birthday of someone who gave me a career boost I couldn’t have predicted at the time.

Today is the 86th birthday of Mitzi Shore, the founder of LA’s Comedy Store, which I was proud to have been a part of in its good times and bad. I had affiliations with the other two major LA clubs, the Laugh Factory and The Improv, but I seriously doubt that I’d have gotten in with either of them had she not gambled on me nearly 31 years ago. I most certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence (that could only be built from countless nights having to go up after midnight to 10 or fewer drunk hangers-on) to trumpet my wares in another part of the world, but the road we travel continues to be full of twists and turns, or something equally deep.

Mitzi had always liked the duo act Rick & Ruby from the first time she saw us, which was in 1979 when we appeared on the HBO Young Comedians’ special, recorded at her club. We were probably the only act on that bill that didn’t eventually get a major film, TV, or Broadway deal, but Mitzi was right in our face that night about how much she loved what we did, and gave us a blanket invite to play her room anytime we were in LA. We were still in San Francisco, which irked her a bit, as she, like nearly every other big-time player we met at the time, thought we were wasting our time by not being in LA.  About 15 months later, too late for some, but not too late for Mitzi, we made the move.

She was willing to open up her room for some of the experimental pieces we were producing in SF, but the big problem we had was that my partner was very pregnant, and was going to be completely unavailable soon. Mitzi spent thousands of dollars filming some of our routines so that I could emcee some shows that were advertised as Rick & Ruby, but were actually me hosting while Ruby would appear in pre-recorded segments which we would show at various intervals. It was a bit cheesy, and I can’t think of anyone else who would have invested so frivolously. There was extra pressure on me to produce, cast, and emcee these various shows myself. We had many disagreements on many levels, though admittedly a couple of the shows could have used about two weeks more rehearsal, but I hung in there until she finally pulled the plug after a month.  There was a major falling out, which was bad enough that when I came by the club one night shortly after, the doorman told me “Mitzi says Rick & Ruby are welcome here, but not you.”

I took all that in stride, but when Ruby was back in circulation, we got very busy with the Pee Wee Herman Show, so working The Comedy Store didn’t really register high on our priorities. We did call in for spots on occasion, but the shows we did there were hindered by having to follow someone like Andrew Dice Clay, who would be very sweet and kind before going on, then talk onstage about “fucking this chick balls deep,” which was a bit intimidating to have to follow. I didn’t know then (1982 or so) that this would become a typical scenario for me for many years.

During the six weeks in 1981 that I was producing those shows at the Store, I had asked Mitzi in one phone conversation if it might be a good idea for me to work solo during the week there as a way of promoting the “event” shows. She vetoed the idea on the spot, which made me think less of myself. I remembered that conversation when four years later, after Rick & Ruby had decided to break up, and she hired me as a solo act without even seeing whether or not I actually had one. Perhaps her reasoning was “Well, he did solo stuff in the act without Ruby on stage, so maybe he has 15 minutes of material.” Whatever the thinking, I got hired as a paid regular in November 1985 sight unseen, which to this day I don’t know of anyone else she ever did that for. I wound up being the designated guy to follow whatever superstar had just gone on for an hour and decimated the room, but I was getting paid to do what I wanted, and was having probably the most creative surge I’ve ever had. Had she not gambled on me at that time, I’m not sure how the last 30 years would have played out, but I’m not interested to know, either.

Mitzi has not been physically well for quite some time, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease for nearly 20 years and having a brain aneurysm along the way. She had to retire from operating the club in the last decade,  but it was great to know that when I started working the Comedy Store in La Jolla again five years ago, she remembered fondly who I was and from what I was told was very happy to give me the work. Unfortunately, I’ve been told her memory is nearly gone, and she wouldn’t know my name from her own. Still, I give her a special salute, as there may never be anyone like her again in this business.

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