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Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America Hardcover – Bargain Price, January 22, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Theater and TV critic Zoglin steps into the spotlight to deliver mirthful material also worthy of applause. A senior Time writer-editor who covered the magazine's showbiz beat for 20 years, Zoglin once did major pieces on Carson, Cosby, Letterman, Seinfeld and others. Now he offers a comedy chronicle of laugh makers from the mid-1960s to the early '80s with entertaining excerpts and funny one-liners. In an opening chapter capturing the charisma and revolutionary impact of Lenny Bruce, he notes, What the younger comedians who were influenced by him brought was the discipline and craftsmanship that Bruce lacked. They were better actors and more accomplished writers. The curtain then goes up on a merry mob of iconoclastic innovators: Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis (I left my shrink too soon; I had to take an incomplete), George Carlin and the seven dirty words, the raw racial anger of Richard Pryor, Robert Klein (Now you can get every record ever recorded!) and many more. The book's centerpiece is a potent profile of Albert Brooks, detailing the lampoons, conflicts and compromises of his now-forgotten standup career. Although some subjects (Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, David Letterman) were initially reluctant to be interviewed, Zoglin's conversations with numerous top talents enabled him to add fresh quotations to his extensive research through books, magazines and liner notes. Always highlighting how these comics transformed the culture, Zoglin on standup is standout. (Feb. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“An engaging and informative ...Zoglin has conducted extensive interviews with comics, club owners, managers, producers, and hangers-on. And his subjects rarely bore. They are, for the most part, carousing, drug addicted, and emotionally unstable (there's no business like show business!), and Zoglin captures their plentiful highs and lows.  Zoglin does a good job telling the story of the rise of the comedy club, from its humble beginnings in a seedy New York dive called the Improv, to its growing influence in supplying talent for TV and film and the boom that filled American towns and cities with Seinfeld wannabes.”   —Weekly Standard

“A knowledgeable, fascinating account of the whole of modern stand-up...a must-read. a definitive history of the entire comedy revolution. The well-researched book has a cracking pace, readable tone and an intelligent understanding of this fascinating subject.”  —Chortle.com

“Zoglin's understanding of how comics think gives his portrait of the era absolute authority. He nails [it].”—Portland Oregonian

"Zoglin is a clear and informative writer. Comedy at the Edge is genial and good fun."—New York Times

"Evocative…first-rate" —Wall Street Journal

"Zoglin provide(s) an entertaining account of the era's emerging comedy scene, interviewing most of the principals and supporting players to connect the dots from Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld. The result is an intimate glimpse through the keyhole of a rebel subculture birthed on the smoke-filled stages of New York's Improv and Catch a Rising Star that found its way into the heart of mainstream America -- on television and film and in suburban stand-up factories." —Los Angeles Times

"Sharp, perceptive history...Especially fascinating are tales about the inner politics of comedy clubs and the struggles of female comedians." —Christian Science Monitor

"Wise, concise, effortlessly erudite." —Boston Globe

"Mesmerizing. Incisive and often thrilling. Zoglin conducted meticulous and thorough research [and] manages to uncover new insights. A fun read."—New York Post (Larry Getlen)

"Somebody finally gets it. Zoglin, at long last, [has] written a book about a subject that has been hiding in plain sight for almost 40 years. Comedy at the Edge is a detailed examination of how our current political, religious and cultural sensibility emerged from small comedy clubs. There have certainly been other books about it but Zoglin has a handle on it that no one else has had. Even deeply immersed students of comedy in the past 40 years are probably going to be learning decidedly new and often unfunny things on every other page of "Comedy at the Edge." An irresistible read and a key book for understanding our era.—Buffalo News (Jeff Simon)

"Lovingly detailed...Good times, as the NPR anchor played by Molly Shannon in the infamous "SNL" "Schweddy Balls" skit, would say."—New York Daily News (Sherryl Connelly)

"A very desirable addition for the pop-culture shelves"—Booklist

"Mirthful material worthy of applause…Zoglin on standup is standout."—Publishers Weekly

"The stand-ups are the warriors of show business, and Richard Zoglin has brilliantly captured their funny and often desperate world."--Charles Grodin

"Required reading for anybody who has laughed or cried at the zingers tossed out by Richard Pryor or any of the other brilliant performers--from Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld--who populate Richard Zoglin's riveting, politically savvy, and fluently written account of the Golden Age of stand-up comedy."--Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

"It’s no small matter to revise an entire nation’s sense of humor, but that’s the unannounced revolution the stand-up comics of the 1970s accomplished. Richard Zoglin has told their story, from Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld, in this engagingly written, thoroughly reported book. Thoughtful, witty and totally original in concept and execution, Comedy at the Edge is delicious reading—both as social history and as an edgy exploration of what makes us laugh in post-modern America."--Richard Schickel, author of Elia Kazan: A Biography


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (January 22, 2008)
  • ISBN-10: 1582346240
  • ASIN: B001P80LLO
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,760,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Richard Zoglin has taken a period of our lives, when laughing at ourselves and the world we live in, was something we just expected, enjoyed and used in our own everyday conversations---"excuuuuuse me". The comedians we thought we knew so well that we used their material to get our own laughs.

Comedy At The Edge tells us what a serious, sometimes heartbreaking business comedy is. Zoglin interviewed every living comedian, producer, writer and entertainer that was part of this piece of history--and researched those who weren't. He shows us how comedy has evolved to the point of the modern intellectual stand-up routines we have now come to expect. How the performance bar was raised and how each comedian struggled to become who they were. Who made it, who didn't and why.

Their comedic talent came across so effortlessly. I didn't and probably most in our generation, who laughed their way through the 70's, did not understand what a gift it was.

Zoglin has made all the pieces fit. The continuity and connection to real life, each comedian and their effect on each other, how they perfected their craft, their place in history and how it all related to current events of the times is flawless. He has taken an entire decade of our lives, organized it, given us new insight into what was really going on and keeps us laughing all the way through.

Richard Zoglin, himself, is very funny. His writing is superb and you want to keep turning the pages just to find out what happens next. But what makes it even more interesting is that you were there--some of the things Zoglin writes about you go 'oh yeah, I remember' and then he gives you information that puts a whole new spin on what you thought you knew.

I've recommended this book to everyone I know--and I'm recommending it to you.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a wonderful overview of the emergence of modern comedy and the role many of today's leading comics had in its emergence. The author does a wonderful job how pioneers such as Lenny Bruce paid an enormous price to make observational and topical humor of as much relevance as the one liners that were common place before hand. The book provides outstanding backgrounds on such comedy legends as George Carlin and Richard Pryor and what drove them.

The book also provides a background on lesser known comics who while legends in the comedy world did not carry over into the larger mainstream world. By this I am referring to the Richard Belzer's and Albert Brook's of the world whose commercial success was not as powerful as their influence. If there is one flaw in this novel it is the lack of information on these acts who may have been more influential then their commercial talents demonstrated. But all in all a book well worth your time and highly entertaining.
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Format: Hardcover
Just go ahead and buy this book, you won't be disappointed. Zoglin writes well and you keep learning new things about stand-up comics you thought you knew and how the business has been changing. But don't expect a textbook - Zoglin includes many extremely funny bits taken straight from these comedians to illustrate points and keep you laughing. A good read!
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Richard Zoglin, who interviewed over 100 people in the business, has over-delivered with his well written synopsis of the state of stand-up comedy from the 40-year period beginning from the mid-sixties. Zoglin convincingly shows how stand-up comedy has evolved from the (at-the-time) groundbreaking (and for many at the time, "over-the-line" somewhat drug-induced rants of Lenny Bruce to the domestic observations of Jerry Seinfeld ("I admire socks"). Zoglin draws an interesting arch that starts with Bruce and runs through (among many others) George Carlin, Richard Pryor, David Steinberg, Robert Klein, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Richard Lewis, Jay Leno, Andy Kaufman, Robin Williams and, of course, Jerry. Zoglin's brief biographical sketches are only the beginning of his discussion of a particular performer. He offers incisive analysis as to how the various artists' developed, who influenced them and their evolution.
What is particularly remarkable is how Zoglin is able to successfully weave his long comedy arch with the smallest of incisive and funny details and observations. Where else can you find that at a chance encounter at some concert, Robert Klein told a joke to (the very serious) Steve Martin only to have an annoyed Martin ask Klein, "Are you always on?" What about Albert Brooks seeking out some advice in 1974 from one of his comic icons (the beloved) Jack Benny who was confused by his request (Jack died four days later).
This book will make the reader understand how difficult it is to rise to the top in stand-up. Amateur comedians take note: It's not enough to be funny with your friends; you need to make strangers laugh on a consistent basis. "Beyond the Edge" documents the long road.
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Format: Hardcover
Ever noticed that there isn't a single book on George Carlin? Well, now there's a gloriously well written chapter detailing Carlin's rise to popularity and influence. That's reason enough for any Carlin fan to buy this book. However, that's only a tiny appetizer of the feast for any fan of funny.

Comedy At The Edge, by Richard Zoglin, pulls back the circus tent on when comedy reshaped America. Yes, there was an era when stand-up-comedy had a substantively greater impact on culture than today. Some say the bleeding edge of this era is nowhere in sight.

In many ways I agree with those that say that edgy comedy is nowhere in sight. Looking at comedy today I'm often disgusted by what passes as an act, as polished material, as worthy of our time and attention. However, what causes me to pause is a masterwork like Zoglin's Comedy at The Edge. Reading what it took to bring radically new perspectives into the popular ken brings the edge back into sight.

You see, in the '60s and '70s stand-up comedy actually impacted politics and culture. Sure, sure... Famous comedians today often get quoted. But once upon a time it was different. Comedy in the '70s was like Jazz in the '50s, the reverberation of the great performers is still heard today.

Richard Zoglin crafted the most thorough telling of the edgiest side of American pop culture... the story of the brave men and women who transitioned comedy from the saying of funny things into acts that reshaped the minds of those who heard them say things different.

Zoglin explains how comedy of the '70s paved the way for rap music, how censorship laws were challenged by scores of comedians and how challenging the status quo made its way into middle America.
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