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Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s Paperback – September 1, 2004
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It's been said that analyzing comedy is a bit like dissecting a frog: you arrive at a greater understanding of the frog but the frog does tend to die in the process. The purpose of Gerald Nachman's Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s is not to provide a laugh riot of his subjects' best punch lines, but rather to explore their lives, careers, and influence. Nachman's scope is impressive. He provides detailed biographies not only of household names Sid Caesar, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen but also comics like Jean Shepherd, Shelley Berman, and Will Jordan whose legacies have far outpaced their name recognition. Nachman has done his research; the book profiles 26 comedians, each in exhaustive detail, and no fan of this era will feel cheated at the end of its 768 pages. There are plenty of entertaining show biz anecdotes (Sid Caesar throwing a lit cigar at young writer Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby punching out Tommy Smothers) along with tales of the darker sides of Mort Sahl, Jonathan Winters, and others whose private lives were far less amusing than their stage acts. But what makes Seriously Funny so compelling, and its dopey title at least partially forgivable, is the author's meticulous attention to each comedian's imprint on the landscape of comedy itself. And while the jokes cited often seem a bit stale and obvious, it bears noting that they were revolutionary when these comedians first made them. --John Moe --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Something happened to comedy beginning in the late 1950s. Geniuses like Mort Sahl, Mel Brooks, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen took a tired medium ("Take my wife-please" was about as good as it got) and transformed it into a sharper, meaner, more personal and more politicized art form than any comedy that had come before. It was, as Nachman notes in this broad survey, a "satirical revolution." Suddenly, police might arrest a comic for obscenity (Bruce). Or the American president might demand an explanation of a punch line (Sahl). Or network censors might freak out over politically charged TV scripts (the Smothers brothers). As a group, Nachman argues, these comedians changed the cultural landscape, pushing the boundaries of humor, art and good taste. But for many, genius had a price. Jonathan Winters spent time in a sanatorium; Bruce succumbed to drug addiction; and Sahl became paranoid and unbalanced, oddly obsessed with JFK's assassination. The list could go on-and does. Nachman (Raised on Radio) covers 26 comedians here. Necessarily, some details are lost. But whatever Nachman lacks in depth, he makes up for with his enthusiasm and firsthand knowledge (he interviewed many of his subjects himself, repeatedly, over decades). Even better, Nachman knows when to shut up and let the comics speak for themselves (Sahl on Barry Goldwater: "The fascist gun in the West"; Allen on the modern condition: "Not only is God dead but try getting a plumber on the weekends"). A must-have for comedy fans, this book is also a notable study of America as it shed its gray flannel suit and began, finally, to laugh.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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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 !