25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2009
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.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2009
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.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2009
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.
It is, in fact, the story of the Comedy Store and it's remuneration policy that takes up the bulk of Knoedelseder's book. Nearly every detail of the strike is outlined here including the suicidal death of despondent comedian Steve Lubetkin, who jumped off the roof of the Hyatt Hotel next door to the club in a fit of depression.
All in all, Knoedelseder's account of the LA comedy scene of the era is as complete as one could ever expect from a book on the subject. The fact that there is not much humor in a book about comedy is a bit lacking, but perhaps given the psychological profile often associated with comedians, not such a surprise.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2009
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).
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 20, 2009
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.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2009
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.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on September 26, 2009
I'm quite a devotee of stand-up comedy and comedians of the 1970s in particular, so I was quite keen to read this account of the Comedy Store's impact on the industry, as well as a peek into the career origins of such well-known people as Letterman, Leno, Richard Lewis, etc.
The book is a very easy read, the author does have an engaging style that doesn't get too bogged down in minute details that don't add anything to the story.
That said, I have to point out two things. First, that not once, but twice, the author credits Billy Crystal with being in the cast of 'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.' To the best of my knowledge, and after searching the internet, I can find no reference of this. If this is indeed wrong (as I suspect), then it's pretty sloppy. Secondly, George Miller (frequent talk-show guest and fine comedian) is mentioned a number of times, including near the end when the book mentions his memorial service; yet we are never told how he died, although from the references to Miller throughout, drugs were probably involved.
Great read for fans of stand-up, and especially interesting to see the seeds being sown for meteoric careers like that of Letterman. It's sad that stand-up comedy isn't quite the same today as it was back in the "good old days."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 10, 2009
This book tells the story of the stand-up comics who exploded on the American scene in the 1960s---a group comprised of quirky, funny, even weird people on a shared mission to make us laugh. They are the courageous stand alone-stand-up artists of comedy.
The stories of all of them are chronicled here -- those who made the big time and are rich,famous, and still working today; those whose names you might remember, but have faded away; and many you have never heard of. All launched their careers at the Improv in New York and polished their art in at The Comedy Store in L.A. Their goal was to be invited to do five minutes on television's Tonite Show with Johnny Carson. Those who made Johnny laugh inevitibly went on to fame and fortune. Some eventually succumed to heartbreak, drugs, and even suicide. It is a five star plus read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2010
Want to read about where all your favorite comics got started? ...Back when they were broke losers in LA? People often know the short story of The Comedy Store, the strike, and Steve Lubetkin's suicide, but here's the long story.
Any fans of comedy and stand-up will love this. I read this from start to finish on a 11 hour flight from Frankfurt to Houston, loved every second of it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2013
Did you ever wonder how David Letterman and Jay Leno got to become the two baby boom comedians that hosted the top two talk shows for the past 20 years? While Dave and Jay are only a relatively small part of a multi-faceted look at the "new comics" that started in the seventies, author William Knoedelseder offers a fascinating story of the journey that many of today's top comedians had to take to become successful. The key catalyst: Johnny Carson's decision to move the Tonight Show from 30 Rock in Manhattan to NBC Burbank in 1972. Johnny always appreciated new talent and his scouts adopted a practice of frequenting "new" places like Mitzi Shore's night club, the "Comedy Store" on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, to find new talent thus beginning the comic migration to Los Angeles.
The comics, most in their twenties, would work for free just to have the opportunity to practice their craft at the Club and possibly be discovered for a five or six minute set at the end of The Tonight Show. Eventually, spurred on by poverty and to a certain extent by the all-purpose Jay Leno (who along with Dave, didn't really need the money) the comics went on strike against the Comedy Store and some other similar establishments (Budd Friedman's Improv is an example). Knoedelseder focuses a lot of the book's attention on the plight of one particular comedian, Steve Lubetkin, who was a poster child for the impovered young comic who desparately needed Mitzi and her club but also needed money. The strike and its aftermath leads, unfortunately, to a sad climax which forever changed the once-clubby atmosphere of the young comics.
This book should also serve as a warning to anyone who thinks they have what it takes to make it in comedy. While the rewards are great, be prepared for endless sacrifice.