Decades before leading his own multi-million media empire Entertainment Studios, Byron Allen was a teenage kid with a dream, standing in the parking lot of The Comedy Store on Sunset Blvd., watching his stand-up mentors go up on stage.
As Jim Carrey tweeted today, “If she loved you, you did well. If she didn’t, you did something else,” and Allen was one of the guys who did quite well by Shore. Not only was The Comedy Store the place where Jimmie Walker first recognized the young stand-up and enlisted him on his comedy writing team, but it’s also where Allen was first spotted by NBC talent scouts for his Tonight Show debut at 18 years-old and his long-running hosting stint alongside Fred Willard, Sarah Purcell, and Skip Stephenson on the network’s Emmy-winning reality comedy series Real People.
Allen met Comedy Store matriarch Mitzi Shore when he was 14 years old during the ’70s. She could see his passion for comedy. However, being underage, he wasn’t allowed in the club because of its liquor license restrictions. When he was 16, she gave him two drink tickets to get in and said, “‘Make sure you get Coca-Cola with this!’ “I said, ‘No problem,’ so I stood in the back and watched.” It was there in the main room where Allen first watched the amazing “hairy guy” everyone spoke about. Who was that? Why, the late Robin Williams. Shore eventually booked Allen for late night sets. “I had four people and the chairs to entertain,” says Allen.
Allen remembers that Shore approached him one day and said “‘I need to clean out the attic.’ There were rats and roaches, and I was like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ She said, ‘All these guy comics are so dirty and filthy, and all they do is a bunch of dick jokes. Not like you, Byron, you’re a nice guy. I’m cleaning out the attic and making a nice lounge and putting all my female comics up. They’re having a hard time following these guys with their dick jokes; they’re coming on stage and having nervous breakdowns.”
And that’s how the Belly Room began, a 50-seat room that gave a platform for rising female voices such as Sandra Bernhard, Elayne Boosler, Whoopi Goldberg and Ellen DeGeneres.
“She built that room and then brought those comediennes down to the main stage and the face of comedy changed forever for women because we cleaned out that attic,” says Allen, who calls Shore and Budd Friedman his “divorced comedy parents” because he would go between the two clubs, The Comedy Store on Sunset and The Improv on Melrose Ave., to hone his craft.
Allen shared another story about when Shore regained control of The Comedy Store. After building up the club for years following her divorce, the lease was taken away from Shore. The new leaseholder kept the venue as a comedy club under a different name, but Shore bought the building back and kicked out the new leaseholder, reclaiming her control of The Comedy Store as a landmark on Sunset. “She was unrelenting,” says Allen.
“Mitzi was the true queen of comedy and no one will ever know what she did to make America laugh. It would take volumes to understand that,” adds Allen.
“From talk shows, to game show hosts, to sitcoms and movie stars, her fingerprints are all over what is comedy today. She was truly an American treasure and she helped give birth to laughter in front of the camera for many generations. She will be missed and America was lucky to have her.”