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.
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|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.
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 . Should we hold a comic to higher standards than the leader of our country?
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
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.