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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 77 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.

Review

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.”

Booklist
“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
“Illuminating”

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.”

DigitalCity.com
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.”

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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 (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,236 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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
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: 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: 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: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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