One night in the summer of 1978 after the show in the Main Room, Mitzi Shore was sitting with comics Argus Hamilton and Biff Manard and complaining about how few of her peers were willing to perform in the Main Room—all her old friends: Shecky Green, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, Jerry Lewis refused to play there for fear it would hurt their draw in Las Vegas. Mitzi had spent fifty grand redecorating the room just for them, and they wouldn’t play there. “Why not use your own comics in here?” asked Argus and Biff, “They’re the ones everyone wants to see. They’re the ones breaking onto talk shows and sitcoms, it’ll be a hit!” After much cajoling, Mitzi finally agreed, but she worried that the Comedy Store was a non-paying workshop, a show case club, and worried aloud that the Main Room was clearly a professional room.
Mitzi’s instincts were right, the difference between her view of the room as a workshop and the Main Room comics view of it as a professional room, led to almost all comedians organizing over a dispute involving only the 25-30 comics deemed pro enough for the Main Room. When Mitzi finally agreed to pay the Main Room comics in early 1979, the rest of the comics who worked the Original Room and Westwood also demanded pay. Mitzi drew the line there, and a strike was called that became a national news story in TV and newspapers every day for the next six weeks.
May of 1979 was easily the longest month of Mitzi’s life, along with the lives of the comics who stood by her and walked through the picket line of comedians outside; loyalists like Argus Hamilton, Lois Bromfield, David Tyree, Ollie Joe Prater, Alan Bursky, Allan Stephan, Frank Carrasquillo. Night after night, Mitzi gazed out the Original Room window, weeping at the comics she’d nurtured, selected and encouraged and lined up showcases for TV shows, picket and vow to bring down the Store. She was shattered the night Dave Letterman arrived from his first night of guest hosting the Tonight Show and joined the picketers in triumph. Back in 1974, she’d convinced Dave to stay in town and not give up and go back to Indianapolis like he wanted to do. She was hurt, it was the closest moment Mitzi ever came to selling the Store.
During all this, secret negotiations were going on next door at the Hyatt Hotel between Mark Lonow representing the 150 strikers and Argus Hamilton representing Mitzi. The eventual deal was hammered out during the third week of the strike, but Mitzi needed time to cool off after the Letterman episode. Finally, she agreed to the deal in early June, allowing the comics to be classified as independent contractors and paying them a flat rate per performance. When some of the striking comics didn’t get time slots the next week, one comic panicked. Steve Lubetkin, whose mental illness was later chronicled in an investigative article by the LA Times, leaped to his death off the roof of the Hyatt Hotel. The struggle ended just in time for a nationwide gasoline shortage that ruined all nightclub business for the rest of the summer. The strike changed Mitzi forever, no longer the innocent Artist’s Colony cheerleader. The strike turned Mitzi into a driven businesswoman, and an era had passed into history, a happy go lucky partying era known as the late 70’s in Los Angeles. It would be business from now on. Bohemia became Bottom Line.