Exclusive: Dave and Leno -- The Early Years
Here’s a project that’s come to my attention (thanks to the Hollywood Cog) that’s made even more interesting in light of the current late-night wars. Playtone Productions — Tom Hanks’ production shingle — is quietly developing a movie based partially on the life of Mitzi Shore. Yes: She is Pauly Shore’s Mom, but she also founded L.A. Comedy Store, which is in fact where a lot of older generation comedians got their start, like David Letterman and Jay Leno. If you’re a popular comedian in your late 40s or 50s, chances are, you worked The Comedy Store at some point, and that list includes Eddie Murphy, Tim Allem, Bob Saget, Chevy Chase, Jim Belushi, Jim Carrey, etc., etc.
The narrative arc of the story, which is based on William Knoedelseder’s nonfiction book, I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy’s Golden Era , focuses on the years around 1978 and Mitzi Shore’s policy of not paying comics for their stand-up performances. Her theory was that The Comedy Store was something of a training ground — a college for comedians, a workshop for new material — and she felt no obligation to pay for their acts besides providing free drinks. Meanwhile, she made a fortune off of their efforts, despite the fact that many of those comics were living in their cars and surviving on fast-food condiments.
At some point, things came to a head: The comedians went on strike, and the comics were pitted against Mitzi Shore, though many of those new union members also turned on themselves. Things took a turn for the tragic when a comic, Steve Lubetkin, was prohibited from performing at the club after going on strike. He, in turn, committed suicide by jumping off of a hotel across the street and leaving a suicide note that read, “My name is Steve Lubetkin. I used to work at the Comedy Store.”
It sounds like a promising premise for a film, and it’s already being pitched as something akin to The Late Shift. It’s out for writers now, and if the script is strong enough, I actually think I’m Dying Up Here would make for a compelling movie, and it’d be interesting to see a younger generation of actors playing the parts of iconic comedians and, probably, quite a few of those comedians making cameo appearances. I’m not sure who would make up the central figures in the film, besides Mitzi Shore, Lubetkin, and likely, Richard Lewis, who was close to Lubetkin. But, with the sudden popularity of the evil boss — Glen Close in “Damages” or Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada — the role of Mitzi Shore could be a plum one, plus it’d be kind of neat to see — even recreated — a time when Leno and Letterman once palled around.
I might also note that it’s interesting that Tom Hanks’ production company would be making this film, since Hanks himself is one of the best late-night guests on any of those shows. I’ve never seen him in Leno, but he has incredible repartee with both Letterman and Conan. Plus, it might give Hanks a chance to atone for the failure of Punchline back in ‘88.