Tuesday 1 May 2018

Book ~ "The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy" (2015) Kliph Nesteroff

From Goodreads ~ 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. 

If you are a fan of comedy, you should check out this book.  It covers the history of comedy over the last 100 years and starts right at the beginning.  The chapters include:
  • Vaudeville comedians
  • Radio
  • Nightclubs
  • Television
  • Late night
  • The emergence of Las Vegas
  • Stand-ups' great change
  • The mid-1960s
  • Hippie madness at the end of the 1960s
  • The first comedy clubs and the 1970s
  • The stand-up comedy boom
  • The 1990s
  • The new millenium

I liked the writing style.  I found there was just enough information about the various comedians over the years without getting bogged down with too much detail.  The author conducted more than 200 interviews in addition to using pre-existing sources.  It was interesting get the scoop on the comedians ... who was liked and disliked, how they got started, how they handled the changes over the years, the rampant drug and alcohol use, technology, dependence upon the mob, racism, swearing, the emergence of comedy clubs, and more.  As a head's up, there is swearing and references to drug use, violence and adult activity.

As I was reading this book, I found myself thinking, "I forgot about him/her" and leaving the book to go online to Google whoever the author was talking about.  So it took me a while to read this book because I kept getting distracted, digging for more information.

There are some pictures (more would have been nice) and notes and index at the end.

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