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It’s kind of a funny story l Chuck's World

 

Last updated 4/18/2018 at Noon



I noticed that the American Country Music Awards were on last Sunday night, and that Miranda Lambert won some awards again, making her the most decorated artist in ACM history.

As far as I know, I’d never heard of Miranda Lambert before this. This isn’t a surprise; we all have cultural gaps, and while I have affection for some country music, I’m not the biggest fan. Some names sing under my radar, and probably yours.

So I think it’s unlikely that most of you heard about the passing of Mitzi Shore last week. Maybe you recall seeing an obituary. It’s OK. I’ll explain.

Mitzi Shore had nothing to do with country music, as far as I know. She was the co-founder and eventual sole proprietor of The Comedy Store, the Hollywood comedy club that became an incubator for modern stand-up comedy.

Mitzi held court for years at the club, on the one night per week when they opened up the microphone to anyone fortunate enough to be toward the front of a line that eventually would wind down Sunset Boulevard. The place was always packed with people, audiences eager to see the next Jerry Seinfeld make his debut.

And Jerry Seinfeld could have been in the bar, writing jokes with Jay Leno.

David Letterman. Robin Williams. Jim Carrey. Sam Kinison. These were all Mitzi’s boys, in some sense, encouraged and supported, and ultimately given a stage upon which to thrive or die.

As I was, although that doesn’t seem to show up in her obituaries. I can fix that for you.

There’s no scenario in which I end up becoming a famous comic, none. I loved comedians, studied them as a kid, memorized their routines. I read their biographies and watched their movies.

But I didn’t want to be one, and I was right. Comics tend to have edges that scrape up against life, leaving rough textures that produce very funny stuff. I, on the other hand, was all fluff and softness when I was 21, which is when I had a moment of existential whimsy.

I was lost, in other words, unsure of what I wanted to do and where. A friend told me about The Comedy Store, and their open mic night. I moved to Los Angeles, slept on sofas, stood in line, and got my five minutes.

I had a solid act. It was polished and clever. It was the only one I’d ever have, as it turned out, but when I walked off the stage an employee pulled me aside. “Mitzi wants to see you,” he said, which sounded important but was kind of unclear. I had no idea who Mitzi was.

I learned years later that I’d been breathing rarefied air that night. Ms. Shore picked hired new comics on average, it appears, about once a month, and almost never on their first try. But she picked me.

I doubt she regretted it, if only because I doubt she ever thought much about me.

I only spoke with her a handful of times, usually when I called the office to find out my schedule. She was all business, and she took a chance on me, and she was wrong. I wasn’t cut out for comedy, and I lasted only a few months before heading home, lesson learned, adventure over.

I didn’t regret it, either. I guess it felt like a failure back then, and I returned with my tail dragging a bit, but then I don’t really have a tail and I wasn’t all that interested in becoming a comedian. I just thought I should give it a shot, just to find out.

If you’re interested in this era of comedy, I’d suggest William Knoedelseder’s book “I’m Dying Up Here,” or the Showtime series based on it (in which Melissa Leo plays a version of Mitzi Shore). It’s an interesting story, and it shaped quite a bit of our modern entertainment landscape.

I was just a witness, with a moment that popped back into mind when I heard the news. Mitzi Shore was 87 and suffered from Parkinson’s for years; there was less sadness than nostalgia, and memorial. She was responsible for a big chunk of our culture.

And she was responsible for a small chunk of mine, that’s all. I was reminded a few years ago, when I read Knoedelseder’s book, and then once again last week. I had a close encounter with show business history, and even though I died on stage quite a few times, the scars have healed and the memory is just nice.

This is what you’re supposed to do when you’re young, try and fail and try something else.

She was sitting at a small table in the back, notebook and pen resting in front of her. I don’t remember what she said. A little kid was wandering around, whom I eventually figured out had to be her son. He nodded at me, and made a comment about an impression of Jack Nicholson that I’d performed.

Or that’s how I remember it. Forty years have passed; I could be making most of this up, although somewhere around here I’ve got some audio cassettes of my act.

But I remember the kid. I was a kid myself, not all that much older than him. It would be a few years before I figured it out, figured out that this was Mitzi Shore’s son, Pauly.

Pauly Shore. I said I was a witness. I didn’t say to what, exactly.

 

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