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Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America Hardcover – January 22, 2008
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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)
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“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
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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.
Couple of the things I learned: Comics went on strike once against the Comedy Store, what happened to the careers of Robert Klein and Richard Belzer, Robin William's managers once got a court stenographer to transcribe a gig cause he was so freestyle that was the best way to help hone it. Lots of good stuff about the comics, that for me, really were the Beatles and Rolling Stones of the form.
If you like reading about comedy, you should like this book. The author has good taste and writes well. My only quibble is that the book is a little over 200 pages. I'd bet it could have been expanded to 400 pages or so. It was fun to read and I wanted more.