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In The Comedians, comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century of American comedy with real-life characters, forgotten stars, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts. Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research, Nesteroff’s groundbreaking work is a narrative exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture over the past one hundred years. Starting with the vaudeville circuit at the turn of the last century, Nesteroff introduces the first stand-up comedian—an emcee who abandoned physical shtick for straight jokes. After the repeal of Prohibition, Mafia-run supper clubs replaced speakeasies, and mobsters replaced vaudeville impresarios as the comedian’s primary employer. In the 1950s, the late-night talk show brought stand-up to a wide public, while Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and Jonathan Winters attacked conformity and staged a comedy rebellion in coffeehouses. From comedy’s part in the Civil Rights movement and the social upheaval of the late 1960s, to the first comedy clubs of the 1970s and the cocaine-fueled comedy boom of the 1980s, The Comedians culminates with a new era of media-driven celebrity in the twenty-first century.
Jokes change from generation to generation, but the experience of the comedian transcends the ages: the drive, jealousy, heartbreak, and triumph. From the Marx Brothers to Milton Berle to George Carlin to Eddie Murphy to Louis CKcomedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century s worth of rebels and groundbreakers, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts, forgotten stars and workaday plodders in this essential history of American comedy. Beginning with the nationwide vaudeville circuits that dominated at turn of the twentieth century, Nesteroff describes the rise of the first true stand-up comediana variety show emcee who abandoned physical shtick for straight jokes. The end of Prohibition ushered in a surprising golden age of comedy, as funnymen were made into radio stars and the combination of the "Borscht Belt," the "Chitlin Circuit," and Mafia-run supperclubs furnished more jobs and money than ever before. Those were the days of the Copacabana, tuxedos, and smoking cigars onstage, when insulting the boss could result in a hit man at your door and obscenity charges could land you in jail. In the 1950s, late-night television cemented the status of the comedy establishment while young comics rebelled, arriving on the beatnik coffeehouse scene with cerebral jokes and social angst. They soon found their own way to fame through comedy records that vied with top musicians for Billboard spots. Then came the comedy clubs of the coke-fueled 1970s and 80s, "Saturday Night Live" and cable TV, and with the internet, a whole new generation of YouTube stars, podcast personalities, and Twitterati. Through the decades, Nesteroff reveals the contradictions between comedians public and private personas and illuminates the often-seedy underbelly of an industry built on laughs. Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research, "The Comedians" is a sharply written and highly entertaining look at one hundred years of comedy, and a valuable exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture along the way. "
"Jokes change from generation to generation, but the experience of the stand-up comedian transcends the ages: the striving and struggles, the tragedy and triumph. From the Marx Brothers to Milton Berle, George Carlin to Eddie Murphy, Conan O'Brien to Louis C. K.--comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff presents a century of fascinating rebels, forgotten stars, and characters on the precipice of fame in this ... history of American comedy"--Dust jacket flap.
Full of revealing portraits of many of the best-known comedic talents of the 1970s, "I'm Dying Up Here" is also a poignant tale of the price of success and the terrible cost of failure--professional and moral.
Surveys the stand-up comedy of the 1970s, citing the contributions of celebrity comics, from George Carlin and Richard Pryor to Robin Williams and Andy Kaufman, in an account that also evaluates the roles played by such clubs as Catch a Rising Star, the Improv, and the Comedy Store.
Traces the careers and achievements of comediennes and challenges opinions about why women cannot be effective comedic entertainers, with coverage of celebrities, including Joan Rivers, Lily Tomlin, and Tina Fey.
The comedians of the 1950s and 1960s were a totally different breed of relevant, revolutionary performer from any that came before or after, comics whose humor did much more than pry guffaws out of audiences. Gerald Nachman presents the stories of the groundbreaking comedy stars of those years, each one a cultural harbinger: • Mort Sahl, of a new political cynicism • Lenny Bruce, of the sexual, drug, and language revolution • Dick Gregory, of racial unrest • Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge, of racial harmony • Phyllis Diller, of housewifely complaint • Mike Nichols & Elaine May and Woody Allen, of self-analytical angst and a rearrangement of male-female relations • Stan Freberg and Bob Newhart, of encroaching, pervasive pop media manipulation and, in the case of Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding, of the banalities of broadcasting • Mel Brooks, of the Yiddishization of American comedy • Sid Caesar, of a new awareness of the satirical possibilities of television • Joan Rivers, of the obsessive craving for celebrity gossip and of a latent bitchy sensibility • Tom Lehrer, of the inane, hypocritical, mawkishly sentimental nature of hallowed American folkways and, in the case of the Smothers Brothers, of overly revered folk songs and folklore • Steve Allen, of the late-night talk show as a force in American comedy • David Frye and Vaughn Meader, of the merger of showbiz and politics and, along with Will Jordan, of stretching the boundaries of mimicry • Shelley Berman, of a generation of obsessively self-confessional humor • Jonathan Winters and Jean Shepherd, of the daring new free-form improvisational comedy and of a sardonically updated view of Midwestern archetypes • Ernie Kovacs, of surreal visual effects and the unbounded vistas of video Taken together, they made up the faculty of a new school of vigorous, socially aware satire, a vibrant group of voices that reigned from approximately 1953 to 1965. Nachman shines a flashlight into the corners of these comedians’ chaotic and often troubled lives, illuminating their genius as well as their demons, damaged souls, and desperate drive. His exhaustive research and intimate interviews reveal characters that are intriguing and all too human, full of rich stories, confessions, regrets, and traumas. Seriously Funny is at once a dazzling cultural history and a joyous celebration of an extraordinary era in American comedy. From the Hardcover edition.

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