Monday, December 06, 2010

Comedy circa 1975

I weed the showbiz books, which is lots of fun. While I was going through the comedy department I came across I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era by William Knoedelseder. The book is about the Comedy Store, the Los Angeles night spot where Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Tom Dreesen, Elayne Boosler, Richard Lewis, Andy Kaufman, all but a few of today's big-name comics, got their start, and they worked there for free! It's hard to imagine Jay Leno and David Letterman, two of the richest guys on the planet, working until dawn just for the experience of working, then curling up to sleep on a friend's couch, but they did.

Mitzi Shore owned the Store and liked the price she was paying for entertainers: nothing. For a lot of years the entertainers didn't mind, until they noticed Mitzi was putting money in the bank while they were cadging maraschino cherries from the bar for dinner. Once the comics did the math, it was the beginning of the end.

One reason I liked the book is that I was in the vicinity at the time. We lived near L.A. in the 70s. On a big night we'd drive in and see a show at the Roxy. At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion we laughed until we couldn't breathe because Steve Martin had an arrow through his head.
I took my mom to see Robin Williams. (He talked a lot about cocaine. Sorry Mom.) After Vietnam it seemed to me that rock and roll had stopped saying important things and that comedy was the language of subversion.

Now that I'm done with I'm Dying Up Here I'm reading Milton Berle's autobiography: Lots of knock-out dames in spangles and seltzer water in the face. It's the library. We have it all.

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