11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Interesting
Although this book has flaws, I found it very interesting. It covers many famous comedians, whose work I had either enjoyed (Newhart, Woody Allen, Cosby) or had encountered here and there (Kovacs, Freberg, Nichols and May). The book worked as a series of mini-biographies which were compulsively readable, and as a bonus, there were very funny bits in each chapter as he...
Published on May 29, 2003 by Michael Samerdyke
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Recycled Clips, Sloppy Editing
I looked forward to reading this book from the moment last fall that I learned it was due out in April. To say it was a letdown would be to put it mildly. Although Nachman lists the dozens of interviews he himself conducted for the book, the text is overwhelmed with quotes from old bios, fan magazines, newspaper reviews, etc. And Nachman has an annoying habit of skipping...
Published on April 27, 2003
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Interesting,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)Although this book has flaws, I found it very interesting. It covers many famous comedians, whose work I had either enjoyed (Newhart, Woody Allen, Cosby) or had encountered here and there (Kovacs, Freberg, Nichols and May). The book worked as a series of mini-biographies which were compulsively readable, and as a bonus, there were very funny bits in each chapter as he quotes from the routines.
There were flaws, but I could live with them. There were a few errors, and the structure of most of the chapters could have used help. (The chapters tend to start with an overview of the comedian's essence, then shift to biography. In some instances, this came across as repetitious.) Don't expect a history of the era (say for a assessment of how the shift from Paar to Carson affected the direction of comedy.)
The most serious drawback to me was that there was no concluding chapter after we had covered all the biographies, because I had a few questions by then and wanted Nachman to try to draw stuff together. (Chiefly, why did his Fifties comics, apart from Phyllis Diller, tend to fall silent or burn out fast, while the Sixties comics, apart from Bruce and Dick Gregory, seem to go on forever?)
Still, this was a very enjoyable book. My wife is looking forward to reading it, having seen me enjoy it. I say regard it as a useful overview of an era and not a definitive last word on the subject.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate comedy compendium of a golden era,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)Gerald Nachman is the ideal writer to capture the excitement of the ground-breaking satirical comedy of the 1950s and 1960s. A respected critic and a very funny man himself, he knows how to do his homework. Better yet, he writes crisply, with style and humor. Nachman began earning his spurs in the 1960s, reporting on, among other theatrical things, new voices in comedy for major newspapers on both coasts. He's an expert on funny. He even looks funny.
Now he has put that golden era in perspective. "Seriously Funny" (Pantheon) is the definitive word on the comedy revolution that changed the way we laugh, at least for a few fantastic years.
This book will please two audiences -- those who want to relive the euphoria they felt when the revolt happened, and the younger crowd that always wondered where these people came from, whether they were any good, and where they are now.
Mort Sahl, Sid Caesar, Tom Lehrer, Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Godfrey Cambridge, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers are all there, among several others.
Nachman's 30,000-word introduction, a sweeping overview that explains the roots of the revolt, acknowledges its ephemeral nature: "It's hard to find traces now of those brilliant, perceptive, funny comedians. The comics who came later mostly aimed for the gut and the groin, not the brain or the soul." And he laments: "The laughter they left behind in all of those little underground clubs is long gone, but their legacy still smiles brightly, warmly, and merrily."
Nachman seems to have combed through all published sources available, adding personal interviews with the principals and their associates wherever possible. Some cranky characters such as Mort Sahl and Bill Cosby declined to cooperate in this project, but many others added fascinating detail on their career zigzags and what they're up to today. Sahl may be surprised to see that Nachman produces a 48-page profile of him, perhaps the strongest piece in the book, pieced together from Sahl's recorded material, Nachman's occasional encounters with him over the years, and a crystal-clear analysis of the man.
Offstage, Nachman reports, some of these wits were prickly, some were grey and businesslike, some still had the comedy magic. Sadly, many of them are wasting away in retirement. You want to shout: "Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, come back. We need more of you."
A deft touch with the language pulls the reader through this 659-page book. Some of Nachman's gems:
"Seriously Funny" is a brilliant combination of dense research and incisive interviews, presented through the eye of senior critic.
As a bonus, the narrative is sprinkled with some of the performers' best lines and how they came to be. For example, Woody Allen, in his early gag-writing days, was a veritable joke machine, writing easily and prolifically for other comics. Many of his weird one-liners still make me laugh today. Example: He first suspected his parents didn't love him when they put a live teddy bear in his crib. And Jonathan Winters, famous for being "always on", is said to have adlibbed to a lady who complained "You're not handicapped" when he parked his car in a spot reserved for the handicapped, "Madame, can you see inside my mind?"
This history of intelligent comedy is anything but a doorstop. It is a feast. No, it's more than a feast. It is a smorgasbord so big it threatens to collapse the table. It's hard to believe so much history, mirth and critical analysis can be squeezed between two covers.
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mile Wide, Inch Deep,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)This book provides a chapter each on comedians such as Mort Sahl, Tom Lehrer, Jean Shepherd, and many others from the 1950's and 1960's. It appeals of to those of us who are nostalgic for those comedians and that time period.
Author Gerald Nachman has authoritative knowledge backed by extensive research. Most of the comedians covered by his book are in their 70's and 80's, and he has interviewed many of them. For the most part, he avoids over-analyzing comedy or lapsing into pompous amateur sociology.
Overall, however, I find the book to be a mile wide and an inch deep. It's very time-consuming to plow through the whole thing. In the end, I did not come away feeling that I knew much more about Mort Sahl or Jean Shepherd than I did from reading the record jacket of "The Future Lies Ahead" or the book flap of "In God we Trust, All others Pay Cash."
I wish that Nachman had a better editor. At a detail level, the inconsistency of dates is a constant source of annoyance. I felt like someone could be 40 years old one year, and 47 years old ten years later.
On a larger level, I would have shortened the book by trimming some of the name-linking and uninformative quotations. Instead, I would have appreciated some bullet-point style presentations that encapsulated timelines, career highlights, and best available recordings.
This could have been a better book.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Recycled Clips, Sloppy Editing,
By A Customer
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)I looked forward to reading this book from the moment last fall that I learned it was due out in April. To say it was a letdown would be to put it mildly. Although Nachman lists the dozens of interviews he himself conducted for the book, the text is overwhelmed with quotes from old bios, fan magazines, newspaper reviews, etc. And Nachman has an annoying habit of skipping around in such a haphazard, non-chronological manner, that the reader is easily confused. He's also sloppy when attempting to place certain events in historical context -- for instance, he lists "All in the Family," The Jeffersons," "Sanford and Son" and "Different Strokes" as "late-60's" TV series,when in fact they were early-to-mid 70's. There are several more such sloppy mistakes. His earlier work, "Raised on Radio," is far superior -- and it's obvious he enjoyed writing it a whole lot more than he did "Seriously Funny."
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant !,
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This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)After reading this book, and RAISED ON RADIO I'm convinced... Nachman is a brilliant chronicaller of generations, passioniate and on such a mission his enthuisiasm gushes through with each Peabody Award waiting to happen phrase whether or not you share his enthuisiasm. - - Like RAISED ON RADIO, the book is neither definitive nor wishy-washy either. The chapters simply paint portraits of the people. In fact, the book goes a bit DEEPER into the subject manner than RAISED ON RADIO though not too deep. Further, though Nachman did interview subjects and did research, a lot of the information isn't exactly new (atleast if you're a nerdish comedy album collector and already into what the book is about.) - - And although yes, sometimes he goes on and on to make a point, especially in the way he breaks down the personalities of the comics he analyzes, I have to say, Nachman's writing is so delightful its forgivable (whether or not some of the chapters could have been cut in half.) Also what I like about this book is the choice of comedians go well beyond the obvious and really make you think... recognizing not just the Lenny Bruce's and Mort Sahls, but radio and TV comics that paved the way... (Bob and Ray, Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen included !)
All in all, this is a great book presented through the mind of a brilliant columnist... and yes NACHMAN definitely is a columnist... a master storyteller who can schpiel by the column inch and hold your attention all the way. The only danger of reading this book is that after each chapter you want to go out and get the CDs... but with so many comedians covered, that's a lot of bread !
Though I happen to be a fan of the topics covered in this and RAISED ON RADIO, I have to say, whatever Nachman decides to write about next, I'm fair game for it !
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview, Could Have Used More Analysis,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)This is an interesting book, a chapter per comic on "sick" comics of the 1950s and 1960s such as Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman, as well as other groundbreaking comics of that era such as Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, Jonathan Winters, Dick Gregory, Stan Freberg, Jean Shepard etc.
It's a great overview and gives you a good thumbnail sketch of each comic's talents and personal style. However, it could have been much better edited, much of the information is repeated again and again in chapters that relate to certain comics, such as chapters on Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Woody Allen, who all shared certain experiences, but they are all relayed again in each comic's individual chapter.
And, due to the format, little depth is provided in terms of analysis or the particulars of any one comic or style of comedy. In sum, I would recommend if you would like to learn a little about many of these great comics, but you would need to look elsewhere for substantive analysis or a deeper understanding of the era or the comics in question.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and well-structured work,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)I began flipping through this excellent book in a moment of boredom and just kept reading. Though I'm a fan of a few of the comedians covered in the book, many of them are of no particular interest to me -- moreover, I don't even care for most stand-up comedy (preferring sketch comedy), and the majority of the stories told here are stories of great stand-up comics. But the author is so good at describing the talents, contexts, and events that made these individuals important comic entertainers, that the book really grabbed and held my interest. I recommend it for anyone interested in glimpses into some brilliant comic minds from the heyday of sophisticated comedy, and in concise yet adequately detailed accounts of why and how these people evolved from unknowns to household words.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For the curious, it's worth it!,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)I am not the most avid reader, and for the most part the size of this book is usually preclusive, but I came away from knowing more than I did when I started, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Other reviewers of this book seem to have points of reference with which to mark from in talking about Nachman's work. I had none--I was born too late for the peaks of many of these classic comedians, and at least one was already gone and passed by the time I was born, plus this is the first time I had heard of this author. I came upon this book by way of being a third-generation Smothers Brothers fan, so I was excited when this book came out. It is time-consuming to read, true, but being that each chapter represents a single comedian or comedy team, the pressure is off to try and digest it all at once (good for non-avid readers such as myself). And with the Smothers Brothers, a lot of names were dropped that I never knew were what I term "Smothers Others" (those with less than a degree of separation from Tom and/or Dick). And with Tom and Dick, more of their early history was given than I have seen just about anywhere else.
My only beef in regards to the book is pretty incidental and cosmetic: the choice of pictures for each of the comedians. Some of the photos were representative of the comedians in the time frame the book covers, some were not (in the case of the Smothers Brothers, a pic from their 1988-89 run of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was used, not one from either their 1965-66 sitcom or 1967-69 variety show, for which they earned their right to be included in this book).
This book may be less than spectular for the pros,...but for us amatuers, it's just right.
10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Flawed,
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)I was looking forward to this book; I had grown up with the comedy of Sahl, Lehrer, Freburg, Cosby and the others. I was unable to finish the book, primarily because of many egregious errors of fact that Nachman and his editor allowed to pass into print. I list here a few of the problems that I found with the chapters I read:
In the Introduction, re: Allan Sherman, Nachman mistitles "Shake hands with your Uncle Max", calling it "Shake hannds with your Uncle Moe"; he also erroneously attributes the original tune of the parody as "McNamara's Band"; it is actually a parody of a tune called "Dear Old Donegal", also called "Shake hands with your Uncle Mike"
Re: Tom Lehrer, he titles the song "MLF (Multi-lateral Force)Lullaby" as "MFL Lullaby"; and later claims that Lehrer "set his `Elements' to the tune of [Kurt Weill's song from Lady in the Dark] `Tchaikovsky'"; in fact "The Elements" is set to Sir Arthur Sullivan's song "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" from The Pirates of Penzance. In addition, Nachman
incorrectly transcribes and alters the order of the lyrics he quotes to "National Brotherhood Week":
It's national Brotherhood Week
National Everyone-smile-at-one-anotherhood Week
It's only for a week so have no fear
Be nice to people who are inferior to you
Be grateful that it doesn't last all year (Nachman's text)
But during National Brotherhood Week,
National Brotherhood Week
It's National Everyone-smile-at/One-another-hood Week
Be nice to people who/Are inferior to you
It's only for a week, so have no fear
Be grateful that it doesn't last all year.
Re:Stan Freburg, he attributes the source of Freburg's parody of "Rock Island Line" to Johnny Cash; actual source is a version of the song recorded by Lonnie Donnegan and His Skiffle Group, a popular English band
Re: Freburg's parody of "Sh-Boom"; Nachman calls Freburg "an engineer [presumably the recording engineer of the faux-recording session at the heart of the piece] screaming for more mumbling"; in actuality, Freburg's character on the recording is that of the lead singer of the group making the record
Re: Freburg's parody of "Rock Island Line", he states that " `Rock Island Line'. . . ridicules the whole precious folk-song craze ("Are you going to sing this or read it?" asks an irritated Freburg) [Nachman's italics]." In the parody, this question is actually asked by a character played by the actor Peter Leeds, a Freburg "repertory company" member for many years, who in this case is, in all likelihood, supposed to be either the producer or the recording engineer for the "session."
Re: Freburg's Lawrence Welk parody, "Wun'erful, Wun'erful"; after describing the confrontation Freburg claims to have had with Welk over the piece (where Welk denies ever having said "Wun'erful, Wun'erful"), Nachman states: "Decades later, to Freburg's everlasting joy, Welk titled his autobiography Wonderful, Wonderful." Which misses the entire joke, of course, since Welk's autobiography is actually titled Wunnerful, Wunnerful: The Autobigraphy of Lawrence Welk.
How any book, presumably edited and published by professionals, could have this many errors (and who knows how many more in the sections on comedians whose lives and careers I was not as familiar with) is beyond me.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pop-Culture Chronicle of an Era,
By A Customer
This review is from: Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s (Hardcover)In an age when [curse words] are a standard part of American entertainment, it may be hard to understand why this book is so important. It's less about comedy than it is about the era in which comedy in America changed. When we understand this we then are able to see, over the shoulder of each comedian, the beginnings of the social and political movements that, ironically, would lead to the leaden, anti-intellectual climate we have in our country today.
If, as I do, you can remember the 50s and the 60s, you may also remember just how shocking much of the material spoken by these comedians was. Forget about the sour-grapes review posted above by an (obviously failed) comedian. Consider instead these tidbits in the book and see if they do not convince you of the power of the mike before the age of the Internet. Mort Sahl, who used as the basis of his routine the items in the daily newspaper, was punished for jokes he made about the Kennedys; when he refused to censor himself, Joe P. had the club in which he appeared closed for the owner's failure to pay back taxes. Sections about Dick Gregory, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge have each comedian addressing the question of whether their acts were either flagrant "Uncle Tomming" of white listeners or the opposite.
Though the reporting does contain the occasional error--and a maddening typo or two (WHY can't the publisher pay for a copy editor, for crying out loud?)--the book is fresh in some of its points. For example, Nachman is one of the few writers NOT to deify Lenny Bruce. The story of our deification of him is as much a part of the biography as is the description of Bruce's rise and fall; my interpretation is that people made money off Bruce both before and after his death.
Nachman does have his favorites, to be sure, and there's the rather bigoted insinuation that the best comics must be "ethnic" (whatever that means) but all in all, it's a great book.
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Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s by Gerald Nachman (Hardcover - April 15, 2003)
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