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I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era Hardcover – August 25, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 73 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In 1978, Knoedelseder (Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia) was a journalist assigned to cover newcomers transforming the comedy clubs: For the next two years, I had stage-side seats at the best show in show business.... I met and wrote about Jay Leno, David Letterman and Richard Lewis before the world knew who they were. Mitzi Shore, recently labeled the Norma Desmond of Comedy by the Los Angeles Times, took over L.A.'s Comedy Store in 1973 with a no-pay policy because she saw it as a training ground, a workshop, a college. It became a focal point for local comics, including Lewis, his friend Steve Lubetkin, Elayne Boosler, Tom Dreesen, Letterman, Leno and many more. Some were in desperate circumstances, surviving by living in their cars and eating bar condiments. Driving a silver Jaguar to her massive, cash-generating laugh factory, Shore was seen as cunningly manipulative, and her unfair payment policies led to an organized strike in 1979 by the CFC (Comedians for Compensation). This confrontation of comics vs. club owner (Not... one... red... fucking... cent) is the core of the book, with the suicide of Lubetkin taking the tone from comedy to tragedy. Filmmakers will eye this as a potential property similar to Bill Carter's The Late Shift (1996), about Letterman and Leno. Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details, and readers will shelve the book alongside those other key classics on comedy: Steve Allen's The Funny Men and Janet Coleman's The Compass. (Aug. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details, and readers will shelve the book alongside those other key classics on comedy.”

Shelf Awareness
“A revealing and entertaining look at the 1970s Los Angeles comedy scene and the labor dispute that ended its most glorious era.”

“Fact-packed, highly readable history… peppered with plenty of portraits of struggling young comics, some destined for national fame, others headed to obscurity and, in a few cases, early death.”

Buffalo News
“One of the most eye-opening and informative books ever written about standup comedy…One of the books of the year for any student of American television and pop culture…A little-known story has now been told very well in perfect context. And when you finish the book you may feel as if you finally understand every comedian you see on TV for the first time.”

Daily Variety
“A lively new book…Knoedelseder reminds us that comedy is a dicey calling.”

New York Times Book Review

Irish Times
“Knoedelseder, who was around in those days as a reporter on the Los Angeles Times, interweaves the fascinating stories of the tragic, unknown Lubetkin and the performers who were to become household names, set against the basic contradictions of working the Comedy Store.”

Dallas Morning News
“Written with a journalist's strong narrative sense, I'm Dying Up Here chronicles the tight-knit community of artists who cracked open the world of funny entertainment and the event that shattered their camaraderie...Knoedelseder's ability to sniff out the human stories behind the headlines is what makes this rowdy chapter in stand-up such a good read. It's a bittersweet tale told with humor and economy.”

I’m Dying Up Here lays bare the bad and the ugly of Hollywood; from what good there was, like primordial muck, emerged the funniest guys and gals around.”


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1 edition (August 25, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 158648317X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586483173
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #337,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Knoedelseder is a veteran journalist and best-selling author who honed his investigative and narrative skills during 12 years as a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times, where his ground breaking coverage of the entertainment industry produced a long string of exposes. His two-year investigation of payola and other corrupt practices in the record business sparked five federal grand jury investigations across the country, led to the arrest and conviction of a score of organized figures and formed the basis of his first best-selling book, Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business and the Mafia (Harper Collins 1993). Stiffed was named Best Non-Fiction work of 1993 by Entertainment Weekly, which called it "the scariest book of the year...and the funniest." The two of the principal mob figures depicted in Stiffed--New Jersey crime boss Gaetano "Corky" Vastola and Roulette Records founder Morris Levy--subsequently served as the models for HBO's Tony Soprano and his music business mentor Herman "Hesh" Rabkin.
Since 2000, Knoedelseder has written three other books.
In Eddie's Name (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) chronicles the brutal murder of a Philadelphia teenager that made national headlines when Knoedelseder, as executive producer of the Knight Ridder news program Inquirer News Tonight, pressed the city to make public the content of 911 tapes recorded the night of the killing, which ultimately revealed a complete breakdown of Philadelphia's emergency response system;
I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Standup Comedy's Golden Era (Public Affairs/Perseus) recounts Knoedelseder's time as cub reporter covering the L.A. comedy club scene when David Letterman, Jay Leno, Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman were young and undiscovered. It has been optioned for film by actor Jim Carrey.
Knoedelseder's latest, Bitter Brew: the Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America's Kings of Beer, tells the riveting story of one of our nation's most colorful and longest lasting business dynasties. Called "intoxicating reading," by The Wall Street Journal, the book became a New York Times best seller and has been optioned by Lionsgate Television in association with Michael London, the Oscar-nominated producer of Sideways.
Knoedelseder is currently at work on his third book for Harper Collins, Fins, about the life and times of Harley Earl, the visionary car designer who helped engineer the phenomenal rise of General Motors.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
How did this story go untold for so long? Before some of America's best known comics were household names in homes like yours, they were household names in but their own homes. That is, they were nobodies. And most of those homes were hovels. This book tells the largely untold story of how they -- or at least many of them -- made it big while turning standup into a business and art form as culturally vital as rock and roll. Though you'll instantly key in on people like Robin Williams and Richard Lewis, after but a few pages you'll feel like you're best friends with a lot of people that I at least had never heard of, and root for them in their many battles against unfair working conditions, addiction and changing tastes. Author Knoedelseder is a reader's writer --he respects your intelligence and your time. He's got a witty, engaging style that makes you feel like you're chatting over a beer or cup of coffee and the writing is super tight. Not a wasted word. You won't be able to put this one down.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book. It's about a labor dispute in 70's in Hollywood, the twist is that the disputers are a bunch of stand-up comedians, many of whom will become famous. It's a treat to see them young and struggling and to get the inside story on relationships between people who have since become iconic. All of the characters,even the unknowns (at least to me), are colorful and the plot reads like a novel.
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Format: Hardcover
When the Tonight Show moved its base of operations from New York to Los Angeles in 1972, the world of comedy was completely upended. Instead of working out their routines at NY nightclubs, any up-and-coming comedian worth his salt had to relocate to LA as well. Why? Because, in those days the Tonight Show was considered an unavoidable rite-of-passage for any comic who aspired to bigger things like Vegas, record albums or TV and movie stardom. The stars who received Johnny Carson's nod of approval, were often invited back and would eventually become household names in their own right. Jay Leno, David Letterman, Robin Williams and others would all be beneficiaries of the move in years to come.
In order to get `discovered', these comics needed a platform to woodshed their material and to get in the field-of-view of the show's cadre of talent scouts.
Enter the Comedy Store.
As a reporter for the Comedy Beat of the prodigious Los Angeles Times, Bill Knoedelseder had a ringside seat for the development of the LA comedy scene emerging at the Sunset Strip nightery as well as it's Melrose counterpart, Budd Friedman's Improv. Between the two clubs passed nearly all of the renowned comedians of the 70s thru 90s. Richard Pryor, Jimmie Walker, Leno, Williams, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, Richard Lewis, Elayne Boosler and dozens more all worked out at the club in it's heyday.
Trouble was, the club's legendary owner, Mitzi Shore (yes, Pauly's mom) never believed in paying the talent. "It's a showcase room," Shore would insist, not a place for comedians to earn a living. Eventually, Shore's policy would blow up in her face as the comics formed their own `union' and tried to boycott the club in an effort to gain at least a meager stipend from the dictatorial Shore.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book that captures the feel, the significance and the emotions of the era. While it is exciting to read about Dave and Jay's origins, it is the stories of Richard Lewis, Tom Dressen and Steve Lubetkin that give this book so much heart (a heart that The Washington Post's reviewer must not have).

As noted in another review, there are errors and I hope that they are corrected in future editions (e.g. Howie Mandel's name is spelled wrong and Howard Cosell's variety show was on ABC and not NBC).
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Format: Hardcover
Once in a great while, a writer will manage to cast in a new and fascinating light, what we think of as familiar territory. In this fabulous chronicle, Bill Knoedelseder takes a cast of characters well known to -- and loved by -- most of us (Leno, Letterman, Richard Lewis, Robin Williams, et al) all at the beginning of their respective rises to iconic pop culture status, and spins a yarn around an (until now) little ballyhooed, but pivotal moment in their respective lives...the Comedy Strike of 1979.

Set against the backdrop of the birth of the contemporary stand-up comedy scene in Los Angeles, Knoedelseder writes with a strong and sure voice about the lives of some of our favorite comic icons as they intersected in and around a little Sunset Blvd. club called the Comedy Store. With a true insider's knowledge, he tells us of the loves, failures, successes, and rivalries, of a tight-knit family of performers, riven by their opposition -- or allegiance -- to the reigning diva of the LA comedy scene at the time, Mitzi Shore.

Don't miss this! You will never think of stand up comedy the same way again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book does a wonderful job of humanizing people we know only as performers - David Letterman, Tom Dreesen, Richard Lewis and many other well-known comedians. You see them off stage, as real people in real and often difficult situations. It's also one of the best books I've ever read about the cut-throat business side of "show business." If you have any interest at all in the history of stand-up comedy (not how to do it - you won't find that here) and what makes comedians do what they do, I highly recommend this book. If you're looking for laughs, you'll find a few here, but there are equal parts tragedy, so don't pick it up expecting big yuks on every page.
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