Comedy Store feud is no laughing matter

A bitter family legal battle threatens to undermine the future of Hollywood's most famous stand-up venue. Guy Adams reports from Los Angeles

Have you heard the one about the comedy club that launched the careers of David Letterman, Jim Carrey, Johnny Carson, and almost 40 years worth of Hollywood legends? It's a rollicking good yarn, but no one seems to be laughing at the ending. Except, perhaps, a few firms of showbusiness lawyers.

The future of The Comedy Store in Hollywood, one of the world's most famous and influential stand-up venues, has been cast into confusion after the two sons of its owner, Mitzi Shore, became involved in a snowballing legal battle over their ailing 79-year-old mother, who suffers from Parkinson's disease.

In a lawsuit filed at Los Angeles Superior Court, Pauly Shore, an actor and comedian, claims to have been improperly removed from the club's board of directors after his brother Peter began exerting "improper influence" over the still legendary Mitzi.

Parts of the dispute seem almost comically petty (in industry circles, it's being described as "this year's Jewishest court case"). But the family feud now threatens the long-term survival of the venue on Sunset Boulevard, where everyone from Jay Leno and Roseanne Barr to Richard Pryor, John Belushi and Robin Williams cut their professional teeth.

Neither brother has publicly commented on the row. However Pauly's lawsuit claims that after years of running the Comedy Store in collaboration, Peter recently "took unfair advantage of his filial relationship" with Mitzi to fire him from the board. It adds that he has since failed to hand over documents about the state of the company's finances.

"Over the course of the past few years, [Pauly] became concerned as to [Peter's] care and treatment of Mrs Shore, who suffers from Parkinson's disease and other neurological maladies," the complaint says. "Mrs Shore's condition has rendered her susceptible to unscrupulous behaviour and undue influence."

The suit, filed just before Christmas, notes that Mitzi is the sole shareholder in the club, which occupies a valuable piece of real estate on one of LA's busiest tourist areas. Pauly claims to be concerned that his brother has carried out "abuses regarding Mrs Shore's ongoing physical and financial well-being."

Unless the dispute can be amicably resolved – an outcome that seems somewhat unlikely – the future of club's day-to-day operations may lie in an expensive inheritance battle, rather than in the business that contributed to its fame: making people laugh.

Mitzi's ex-husband co-founded the Comedy Store in 1972, just as the alternative comedy scene was taking off. After they divorced, she was responsible for turning it into the west coast of America's pre-eminent stand-up venue, where budding comic performers and writers would hone their skills, and Hollywood agents would scout for talent. For years, she styled the club as a sort of artists' "colony," where comedians would perform for free, in hope of kick-starting a showbusiness career, and she would promote her personal favourites to punters and industry insiders. Many of them, including Letterman and Carrey, would eventually be accorded the honour of being allowed to MC.

Modern times have been tougher, though. Rival clubs have opened up, paying more for headline acts and hence attracting high-profile visiting stars. The Comedy Store, by contrast, has remained true to its artistic roots. Outwardly, the club has also failed to move with the times. While newer venues offer swanky surroundings, the Comedy Store has a somewhat moth-eaten appearance (though aficionados might call it atmospheric) and still neglects to serve food to customers.

Despite the fame that makes it one of LA's principal tourist attractions – and its claim to having staged the world's first-ever "all stand-up show" in the early 1970s – the Shores have also neglected to expand their venue's brand into significant TV and new media operations, leaving it out of step with an industry whose finances are increasingly tied up in Cable TV and web-based ventures such as Will Ferrell's "Funny or Die."

Since 2001, Pauly has taken on many of Mitzi's former duties as the venue's talent scout and impresario, while Peter has been responsible for the management and book-keeping. Tensions are alleged to grown between all three of them over competing ideas of how to drag the institution into the modern era.

Pauly Shore's original summons was filed on 7 December. He is seeking access to company records, together with the right to return to the Comedy Store's board of directors. The suit also seeks legal costs and "further relief, as the court deems just and proper".

Although the legal battle hasn't yet affected the operation of the nightclub, the stand-up comedy community is increasingly concerned at the row. "There's plenty of money for all of them, they do not need to sue each other," Jamie Masada, who owns the rival Laugh Factory, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's a family affair and I think they've got to put pride on the side and work it out in private."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own