Goodbye to Mitzi Shore, The Godmother of Comedy

The comedy world mourns the loss of Mitzi Shore, mother of Pauly Shore, godmother of comedy  

For those of us comics whose careers started at The Comedy Store, the Sunset Strip was dark on April 11th, when the owner, Mitzi Shore died. She contributed profoundly to many lives, including mine. She was a champion for us funny women, giving us the chance to find our authentic comedy voice, to perform in front of an audience, and to showcase our talent for bookers.

Founded in 1972, The Comedy Store originally looked like an Italian restaurant with checkered, red tablecloths. Mitzi’s son, Pauly Shore was a little kid running around; Steve Landesberg and Michael Keaton were regulars, working out their voices like the rest of us. Yakov Smirnoff washed dishes.

This was before everyone and their gynecologist was a stand-up comic, so I got to perform there pretty much every night and develop my act.

Two years later, when Mitzi divorced her husband, Sammy Shore, she took over full ownership of the club and began her legacy as a comedy icon. She painted the entire showroom room black and put red candles everywhere, apparently she believed comedy worked better if the audience felt they were in hell. The comic was the focus: lit by spotlight, the audience could see nothing else.

Petite, with curly locks covering her face, Mitzi was a dark goddess. She held court in the kitchen's darkest corner known as the “Mitzi Booth” or in the show room. I'm not sure I ever saw her in daylight, or if I had, I probably wouldn't have recognized her.

She could make or break a career so we were all psyched to have her hear our material. New comics eyed her booth, not wanting to go on until they had a shot at her attention. She did the thing that so many comedy pros do: they don’t laugh. The best you could get was a nasal, "That's funny."

Because she scheduled the performers, Mitzi wielded an enormous amount of power, the Queen Mother of stand-up, each of us were trying to kiss the proverbial comedy ring, hoping she'd propel us from wannabee to stardom. The 9 PM spot was prime: by 1:30, you were playing to a room populated exclusively by the hammered, the homeless and the heartless.

We treasured her words, elevating them to comedy scripture. In the nasal tone we all learned to emulate, she once said to me, "You are so kooky, Judy. Use that.”

I went home and pondered, "Is kooky good? Am I too weird? What?" But when Mitzi gave me a big break, in 1976 -- opening for Jackie Mason in the newly built, 450-seat Main Room, gone were the insecurities about how she thought of me.

There was no shortage of drama at the comedy club. Comics accused each other of stealing material. We behaved like siblings, competing, striking for pay, doing drugs and having sex in the parking lot. The saddest moment was the comic who, after not getting a spot, jumped to his death, and left a note that read, "My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store.”

Male comics dominated the stage with sexist, homophobic, and racial stereotyping jokes. In the 70’s the feminist and gay rights movements were just starting to make a cultural impact, as this was long before there was a #metoo campaign or “Will and Grace.” We were all fair game, bodies to pounce on. After all, this was the place that gave birth to Andrew Dice Clay.

But Mitzi created a safe space. She turned the upstairs storage room into The Belly Room-- a place for female comics. There were mixed feelings about it. I remember Marsha Warfield feeling it was a disgrace, saying, “Separate is not equal.” On a good night, there were eight people in the audience. But, many of us appreciated that Mitzi was recognizing the differences between female comedy and the hard-hitting punchline-oriented routines men were doing. (Listen to the story of the The Belly Room on NPR.)

Our room was even darker than the original room, with more red candles, making it womb-like and intimate. Since there was no danger of a Tonight Show booker venturing in, we could take chances. Sandra Bernhard worked on her sardonic rants; Lotus Weinstock brought her daughter Lili Hayden (now a successful rock violinist) onstage; Robin Tyler and Pat Harrison became the first lesbian feminist comedy act. I did a song about my clitoris (though I knew better than to use it at a gig in Utah).

Mitzi was one of the first to have an all-woman bill. A group of us that included Lotus, Sandra, Emily Levine, Diane Nichols and Lois Bromfield were taken by limo to the La Jolla Comedy Store, where we performed for sold-out houses.

Many of Mitzi’s comics went on to become stars, tour the comedy scene of the ‘80s, and branch off into writing and speaking. She touched so many lives, and we now mourn the loss of hers, the woman who helped everyone see that women could be funny and powerful.

Networking Ideas for Selling Yourself: How to get jobs and clients in one minute

How to get jobs and clients in less than one minute.

Stop missing networking opportunities. You can instantly create opportunity – within 30 seconds.
Judy Carter Story/Speaking Workshop

This last week I did a leadership training program on how to use humor and stories to influence others. One of the most powerful parts of the workshop was an approach to a question we get asked routinely by strangers,

“What do you do for a living?”

Most people respond easily with something like, “I’m a teacher…I’m a realtor…I’m a therapist.” By answering this way, you are cutting down on the chance to attract new clients, get paying speaking gigs, and certainly will not inspire conversation or create a connection. Describing your occupation can be boring. Rather than reducing your profession down to your job title, explain the RESULTS YOUR JOB CREATES.

Next time someone asks you what you do for a living, try this:

1.     Dodge the question and ask them about what they do and inquire about their CHALLENGES. Remember what they say as you are going to be repeating it.

2.     Use this script:

“So, what do I do? Well, you know how…" INSERT WHO YOUR OCCUPATION HELPS, i.e. people looking for homes to buy, sick people, people in the workplace…

"They have this problem, they…  "INSERT PROBLEMS YOU FIX IN YOUR OCCUPATION. TRY MIRRORING SOME OF CHALLENGES YOUR PROSPECT HAS. For instance, burnout, employ engagement, finding the right help

"I’m a… INSERT YOUR PROFESSION. “Teacher, Speaker, accountant…” 

"And I…” (teach, show, help) REPEAT OF PEOPLE YOU HELP 

“How they can…”  DESCRIBE THE RESULTS YOU CREATE. For instance, stress reduction, hitting project deadlines... 

When a woman sitting next to me on a plane told me how overworked her department was, I used this formula and that resulted in my getting over $160,000 of speaking engagements. Now, you’re listening!

I asked her what she did (in HR at a naval base) and what challenges she faced. She told me they’d had some downsizing and everyone left was expected to pick up the work load. She also expressed that there was more conflict among co-workers now because of people having added stress.

OK – I got the info I needed to redesign my pitch.

So, I said, “You know how people in the workplace are overwhelmed by what they have to do? They’re not able to spend as much time with their family and their stress causes turnover and possibly taking additional sick leave."

At this point, she said, forgetting that this was what she told me and said, “Yes! That’s exactly what’s happening in our place!”

Knowing we’d connected, I continued by telling her, “I’m stress reduction speaker.” Now, if she were in healthcare, I would say, “I’m a healthcare speaker.” Depending on the need, I adjust how I describe what I do.

"As a former standup comic, I teach comedy skills to help people in the work place laugh their way out of stress and turn the work environment to a place where stress levels decrease and laughter increases, with people saying, “Thank God it’s Monday!”

Her next comment was, “OMG! We could sure use that! Can I have a card?”

Not only did this conversation lead to a speaking engagement at a naval base, but she referred me to speaking for the army, navy, air force, and 10 navy seal events. One plane flight got me two years of bookings.

Now you try it. You’ll need to look at what you do, not just as a job, but as the results you create. That transforms the perceptions of your occupation. “I’m a receptionist” turns into “I’m a maker of first impressions.”

“I’m a project manager,” becomes, “I bring together teams to hit deadlines while adjusting client’s exception (did you mean exceptions or expectations?)and creating unity in the project vision.”

“I’m a relator” is expressed as, “I make dreams come true, create security and a place to build a future.”

I’m an admin turns into, “I’m tamer of chaos.”

I hope you’ll let me know how it works for you. Then you can turn your job into a TED talk and  let me help.

Hugh Hefner Gave me my Comedy Career and a Bunny Gave me Confidence

Hearing Hugh Hefner dying, made me think back to my start in show business.

Before comedy clubs, the place to perform and get paid were Playboy clubs. When I was 21 years old, I was a magician and quitting my job as a teacher, OK, getting fired. So,  I needed to get professional jobs.  I looked up who booked the Playboy Clubs. I figured, it was the perfect place for me, I had talent and cleavage.

The man booking the Playboy clubs was Irvin Arthur. I called his office, “Hi I’m a girl magician and I would be perfect to work Playboy Clubs.”

The woman on the other end laughed and said, “Have your agent call. Mr. Arthur only sees talent who are represented.”

Since I didn’t have an agent, I drove to the 9000 Sunset Building that had the Playboy Marquee on top of it, and went into Mr. Arthur’s office. His receptionist told me in no uncertain words that I didn’t have an appointment and would not be seen.

“I’ll just wait here to see if he has a moment.”

I waited for 5 hours. Mr. Arthur would open his door and see me as various people went in and out. Finally, he motioned me in. Standing in front of his desk, I burned a dollar bill and made it reappear in a banana. He laughed. I put him across his desk and sawed him in half, and his receptionist applauded. That was when he invited me to perform that very night at the Century City Playboy Club.

“We’ve have dinner, you perform, and I’ll give you $50.”
That night went great.  I went on to work at Playboy Clubs all across the country and Mr. Arthur became my manager.

It was at the Chicago Playboy club where I met “Hef” and my career changed forever.

My suitcases with my magic act didn’t show up. So, I tell the club manager the bad news, “Yeah, they didn’t arrive… so I can’t go on.”

“Oh no,” he said sounding like an Italian mafia cliché. “So you think you can’t go on because you’re little tricks didn’t come? Really? That’s what you think? Listen sweetheart, the man himself, Hef” is going to be here and he don’t like changes, so do what you have to do. Curtain’s at eight.”

I sit down despondent in the bunny locker room and hear someone talking to me.
Hi! Are you new?

I turn and I’m looking at a woman in a bunny suit.

“I’m… I’m… “

I just burst into tears. She pulls me to her and I cry into her massive bunny breasts.

Everything is wrong! I do a comedy magic act and my tricks didn’t show up. Hef is coming and I have nothing to wear, no act and you’re in a bunny outfit.
Judy, let me give you some advice, just say this to yourself, ‘I will survive, as long as I know I can love I know I’ll stay alive. You think I’ll tumble you think I’ll lay down and lie!’ Oh no I will survive.

Yes, I know… not original. But, that bunny changed my life.

I know Hef, Judy, and he wouldn’t be coming here to see your tricks. He’s coming to see you. Your tricks aren’t the funny part, you are. I can see that. Just be yourself. And you will survive. No, you will thrive.

I have nothing to wear.

I have an idea Bunny Chastity said.

The bunny outfit didn’t exactly fit. Bunny Chastity stared at my crotch.
What’s the matter?

Honey, you’ve got to shave?

Shave, I said looking under my arms?

You’ve got, you know, twisters.

Looking at my crotch I noticed the cut of the bunny suit exposed massive quantity of pubic hair.
“I can get you cleaned up in no time, “ says Bunny Chastity pulling out a razor from her locker.

The showroom is filling up. Hef is there.

I come out in the Bunny Outfit, scared as can be… I started to stutter as I said, “He- he- hello everyone… “

I feel them staring at my reddish upper thighs where Bunny Chastity just shaved… Someone shouts, “Hey Bunny!”

And then something snapped in me. Perhaps it was Bunny Chastidy’s motivational speech, or perhaps it was that the Equal Rights Amendment had just gone down to defeat in Illinois.

And said with confidence, “I’m a feminist and don’t call me Bunny! I’m a Rabbit damn you.”
And everyone laughs. And I will remember that moment for the rest of my life. I went on with the show.

Ladies and Gentleman, for the rest of my show I’m going to tell you what I was going to do for you if an airline, I won’t mention their name, but sounds like Belta. Big Laugh.

My escape from my grandmother’s girdle is on it’s way to Alaska. Big Laugh. I was going to do a sawing a man in half, with a black and decker saw, but Hef, you’ll be happy that my luggage is lost because I have a lot of feminist rage. Another Big Laugh.

And let me tell you about my Jewish mother and this cleavage. Another laugh.

Afterwards, Hef introduced me to his girlfriend, Barbie Benton and invited me to spend the night in the Chicago Playboy mansion. I stayed in the leather room which was actually vinyl. It’s all an illusion.

For the next three years I worked Playboy Clubs all across the country and did 22 performances on the Mike Douglas show.. The tricks got old and after a few months, I stopped bring them. I started going sans magic… That was when Playboy Clubs turned into Comedy Clubs and I was ready to ride the gravy train day of comedy, opening for Prince, Kenny Loggins, and of course, Barbie Benton.  And I now speak for a living and write books teaching others how to find their voice and their message.

I realized that magic isn’t tricking people that I’m turning a glass of sugar into a goldfish, but rather, real magic is turning problems into punch lines and speaking the truth. And that’s when you truly make magic.

Can we Support Kathy Griffin even if we Hate that Photo?

Did you hate the photo Kathy Griffin created? Can you support her even if you hated it?

When Kathy Griffin posted a gruesome photo of Trump’s bloodied head, a storm of controversy broke out from deep outrage to conversations of freedom of speech. The blowout was also intense as she lost her job on CNN, gigs got canceled and she has been severely criticized by the press. She apologized and seemed sincere, but that didn’t put an end to the barrage of death threats.

As a comic, I’ve done over-the-top material and have died onstage, but never threatened to be killed. Griffin’s posting was misconceived and certainly not funny, but, the backlash seems to be overkill, more disturbing than her post. Where were these people when horrible racist photos were posted about Obama? Where were the denouncements when male standup comics made homophobic and misogynistic jokes?

I started to write about this, but hesitated, worried that supporting her right to do shock art might cost me business, as I’m a humorist for many ultra conservative companies. When I realized how frightened I was to write something that would offend a potential client or go against my “brand,” that woke me up to just how important it is to support her, regardless of how much we might have despised what she did.

Judy Carter, Kathy Griffin, Shante Lewis
used with permission from The Fullfillment Fund

I've known Kathy Griffin for years, starting when she was a newbie at The Groundlings and Uncabaret in LA. She's always been shocking, saying things most people might think, but not say. I remember being taken aback when she told a story about a date that ended with a golden shower, laughing so hard, I had an asthma attack. This was the most shocking thing I'd ever seen done by a female comic. I couldn’t believe that she was talking so honestly about intimate and horribly humiliating things.

Her openness inspired me to be more daring and authentic on stage. I started talking about being gay, even writing a book about it for Simon and Schuster, “The Homo Handbook” that won the LAMBDA Literary award for best humor book yet was banned in Arkansas and other states. 

Now that I'm doing corporate events, and as my prices go up, my authenticity has gone down. I'm more restrained, forced to face the challenge of passing the scrutiny of HR. I was even asked to take the word “drugs” out of my speech, and that was for a pharmaceutical company.

Griffin’s piece was consistent with what she’s always done – shocking us and shaking us up. In these desperate times, it takes a lot to wake up Americans. Being a “nice girl” seems ineffective when we’re coping with an administration telling us, “There is no climate change, no election tampering by Russians, and by the way, we are selling your National Parks.” 

Another consideration is Griffin is a comic. What she does might be offensive and in bad taste, but she’s not putting any of us in danger. Measuring this against what the president has done, we have to concede that his actions and words, the hateful language he’s used to describe certain people and groups absolutely have consequences. Should we hold a comic to higher standards than the leader of our country? 

So, I stand by Kathy Griffin along with other comics who are supporting her: Jerry Seinfeld, Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and others. Performance art is not always funny, comfortable, or pretty. At its best it’s a wake up call. It makes us feel. It makes us think.

When we try to censor performers, when we tell them that they crossed a line, and need to get in line, government approved entertainment will have us be as tepid as Disney on Ice.

Wait – Bill Maher is also being attacked because of a word he said?  

Shouldn’t we hold up our president to the same decency we ask of comics?

I would like to know how you feel about it. Please chime in on my FB page https://facebook.com/judycartercomedy

5 Writing Tips for Breaking through Procrastination

Using anxiety to write jokes, blogs, and even, write a book

Procrastinating about writing? Is your creativity block? Guess what? Professional writers are just as anxious as you are and often use shame to fuel their creativity. Read on…

Yesterday I went to a writing meetup and my friend, who was supposed to go, bailed on me. The reason she gave, “I don’t feel creative. I have no ideas. I just don’t feel like writing.”

This begs the questions: Do we wait for inspiration to write, or does writing inspire ideas?

I’ve had a career writing books and speeches/TED Talks for myself and others, yet most of the time, I haven’t actually felt like writing. I’ve often sit down to do it, not with an abundance of ideas screaming to put themselves onto the page, but fearing that I have nothing to say. Each time, I question why I accepted this assignment and become terrified, and that’s what gets me to the computer. At the basis of my writing is fear of public humiliation.  

One would think that something I’ve done my whole life would build confidence. But, what sticks with me is not the recollection of my last standing ovation from a corporate keynote or the lovely email from one of my readers. No, my writing foreplay is imagining an entire audience looking at their iPhones while I’m on stage, letting me know I’m boring. I fear I’ll write a blog no one finds interesting. You would think that this negativity would stop me from writing but, no, shame is my motivation. I have to prove to myself that I’m not as bad I think.  

Each creative process is a mess to success. The extreme anxiety I start with stirs the adrenaline that fuels a rant, joke, blog, or even, a book. When working on a project, I record snippets of ideas on my iPhone and write morsels on junk mail envelopes, thinking these vague ideas don’t deserve real paper. Looking at them confirms that I was right, filling me with frustration and anxiety, because my calendar says I have to get this mess into some kind of shape. If you want to see what happens when I’m preparing a speech, look at this video. It’s sure to make you feel better about your own process. 

Writing is hard. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to be good. There’s nothing as unfunny and un-fun as writing a speech or a comedy. Remember how on "Seinfeld," Jerry and George would brainstorm ideas for their “show about nothing” -- and everything seemed so easy and made us laugh?

In the real world, writers are often frustrated, anxious, doubtful, and frequently find themselves staying up past midnight staring at a laptop and guzzling pitchers of coffee, desperately hoping something will occur to them other than the awful first, second, and third drafts they’ve been staring at for hours.

But -- what comforts me is to realize that all of our successes start out as messes. And the people who succeed are the ones who stick with the mess, finally uncovering the material that works.

So, if you have dreams of giving a TED Talk, writing a book, doing standup, or getting paid to speak, just start. Don’t give up because you’re weighed down by the feeling that every idea has to be perfectly formed in your head BEFORE you start typing it.

In my online workshop, everyone learns that material doesn’t come out of you fully formed like a newborn colt that can just leap to its feet and gallop. New material comes out raw and unformed, and most of the time just lays there like a baby bird, until with rewrite after rewrite, you finally feed it enough that it can fly.

So don’t paralyze yourself with the need to be perfect.  Whether you’re writing your story, an act or a speech, what you start with doesn’t matter. What does is that you start. Nurture and parent the idea, and it will gradually takes on a life of its own. Your job is to show up, even if you have nothing. Remember “build it and they will come?” Trust me on this.

5 Steps to Completing a Writing Project
  1. Set a time to write and put it in your calendar. Honor it as if you would if you an appointment with a doctor (not the way they do it, however). Take it seriously.
  2. Set your timer to go off after 10 minutes and write until you hear it. Then increase the amount you set aside for writing. It is a mistake to have the WHOLE day to write. Be time specific.
  3. Use Twitter as creative writing prompts. See what trending on Twitter and write about that.
  4. Use a creative writing prompt to get started and see where it goes. Here are 365 creativewriting prompts http://thinkwritten.com/365-creative-writing-prompts/
  5. Have a support team. A friend, a meetup, or join our online community at https://TheMessageOfYou.com and we’ll make sure you don’t procrastinate.

Judy's Blog

Judy Carter blogs on comedy, storytelling and public speaking techniques, using personal stories and her adventures as a stand-up comic turned motivational public speaker. Her weekly blogs are read by fans of her books, “The Comedy Bible” (Simon and Schuster) and “The Message of You” (St. Martin’s Press), which include comics, speakers, and entrepreneurs. She is also known for teaching the value of humor and storytelling to businesses as a leadership and stress reduction tool.