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I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era Paperback – July 27, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Knoedelseder offers a fascinating account of the Comedy Camelot days of the 1970s when Los Angeles abounded with future comedy superstars. Everyone from Jay Leno and David Letterman to Andy Kaufman and Robin Williams struggled through late-night sets in clubs that refused to pay them for their efforts, until a strike tore the comedy community apart and paved the way for future generations. William Dufris delivers a strong reading that is slightly more straightforward than many listeners might be searching for. However, it gets the job done and entertains along the way. Dufris has a journalistic tone to his voice, imbuing his narration with gravity and sincerity. A PublicAffairs hardcover (Reviews, June 1). (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The book follows the 1970's when The Tonight Show moved to California and with it, a lot of comedians followed in search of stardom. Most of the book follows individual comics as they get their big break on stage at The Comedy Store: Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, Elayne Boosler, Robin Williams, Jimmie Walker, and Freddie Prince to name just a few. If you enjoyed the comedians on The Tonight Show during Johnny's reign, you'll love all the name dropping in this book!
Eventually the book follows the formation of the CFC (Comedians for Compensation) which fought against the owner of The Comedy Store (Mitzi Shore) to get her to start paying comedians for their stage time. Mitzi always thought of the club as a college where comedians honed their act thanks to her generosity while she pocketed all the money the club made from drinks and cover charges. Mitzi was also quick to take credit for all the agents and bookies in the crowd who sought out talent for movies, TV shows, and The Tonight Show. Eventually the CFC won and earned paid stage time along with half the door but not without consequences including arson, picketing, cut spots, and suicide. All true!
While reading the book I enjoyed hitting up YouTube between chapters to check out Jay Leno and Dave Letterman's first time on The Tonight Show, or I looked up comedians who I had never heard of or had not watched in years. I love a book that makes me want to research more about the topic! And like I said, if you enjoy comedy you'll enjoy all the name dropping. The book is a fast read that I couldn't put down and is written in the style of like sitting around the dinner table and hearing your grandpa tell you stories about back in the day. I look forward to seeing how Showtime does with the series.
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.
As a whole, the book is an enjoyable read, but don't be surprised if your interest wavers towards the final chapters.