Monday, May 10, 2010

Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America

Book Club... And Then Some!

(Just an aside here. This is the 100th book I have reviewed for That shouldn’t come as a complete shock if you have been keeping up with the blog or are reading the blog on Facebook. It is a milestone only in that the century mark is often considered such. For me, it has happened rapidly even though it has evolved over time. Whether you are aware or not, my review of books serves a dual purpose. First, it alerts readers/followers to various books and my reaction to them. Second, it provides a continuing resource for information and ideas that I can use in my regular revisions of my college textbook, COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY, 9th ed. (McGraw-Hill, 2009. I am always on the lookout for new material, and books have supplied such a wealth of evidence and supportive substance that my quest has never subsided—and must not dwindle as long as revisions remain on the horizon. How many more revisions there will be does not depend on me or my decisions as much as it depends, of course, on the interest in my books by my professional colleagues as well as positive and supportive reviews/comments by my college-age readers.)

Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America

by Richard Zoglin

Book Review by
Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

For me, this was a fabulous book. I can’t say that I really have cared that much to know how various comedians (during the 1970s or whenever) lived their lives or began and developed their careers, but, having said that, I have taken a sincere and continuing interest in stand-up comedians since I can remember.

I have never thought much about my interest in stand-up comedians; however, when I began reading Zoglin’s book, I realized quickly I was familiar with most, if not all, those he discussed. For example, just in the first chapter alone I knew of Bob Newhart, Bill Cosby, the Smothers Brothers, Jonathan Winters, Stan Freberg, Bill Dana (as Jos Jim nez), and Lenny Bruce. I watched, too, and enjoyed George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Albert Brooks, Steve Martin, Andy Kaufman, Bob Hope, Robin Williams, Robert Klein, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Rodney Dangerfield, Woody Allen, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Roseanne Barr, Paula Poundstone, Sandra Bernhard, Ellen DeGeneres, and Jerry Seinfeld. These are names most of you reading this review will remember as well—some, of course, for being mega-stars as comedians, talk-show hosts, characters in sit-coms, or actors in movies.

What I truly enjoy was Zoglin’s readable, comfortable, story-telling style. The book is delightfully and fully engaging, and you really want to know what happened to each of the comedians he profiles, not just in the beginning nor just along the way, but what they decided to do at the end (or, in some cases, near end) of their stand-up careers. There is no question, however, and Zoglin details it all specifically, that the comedians he writes about changed stand-up comedy for good.

As an editor and writer at Time magazine, formerly serving as the magazine’s television critic and currently as its theater critic (I am quoting from the author’s blurb on the back flap), Zoglin spent more than twenty years covering entertainment, and in that position, he wrote cover stories on Bill Cosby, David Letterman, Diane Sawyer, and Arsenio Hall, among others.

The book is 247 pages long (and you will wish it were longer), and there are eleven pages of sources—many of those actual interviews with the comedians he profiled in the book.

Whether or not you enjoyed and appreciated the comedians of the 1970s, and whether or not you enjoy comedy in general, this book has merits far beyond these elements. It reads well, for one, it is great history, for two, and the detailed stories, examples, and insights make it an exceptional choice.


Get this book at Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America

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