I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy's Golden Era

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In the mid-1970s, Jay Leno, David Letter-man, Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis, Robin Williams, Elayne Boosler, Tom Dreesen, and several hundred other shameless showoffs and incorrigible cutups from all across the country migrated en masse to Los Angeles, the new home of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. There, in a late-night world of sex, drugs, dreams, and laughter, they created an artistic community unlike any before or since. It was Comedy Camelot-but, of course, it couldn't last.

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I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era

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Overview

In the mid-1970s, Jay Leno, David Letter-man, Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis, Robin Williams, Elayne Boosler, Tom Dreesen, and several hundred other shameless showoffs and incorrigible cutups from all across the country migrated en masse to Los Angeles, the new home of Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. There, in a late-night world of sex, drugs, dreams, and laughter, they created an artistic community unlike any before or since. It was Comedy Camelot-but, of course, it couldn't last.

William Knoedelseder was then a cub reporter covering the burgeoning local comedy scene for the Los Angeles Times. He wrote the first major newspaper profiles of several of the future stars and of influential club owners Mitzi Shore (The Comedy Store) and Budd Friedman (The Improv). And he was there when the comedians-who were not paid for performing despite the money their work brought in-tried to change the system and incidentally tore apart their own close-knit community.

In I'm Dying Up Here Knoedelseder tells the whole story of that golden age, of the strike that ended it, and of how those days still resonate in the lives of those who were there. As comedy clubs and cable TV began to boom, many would achieve stardom...but success had its price.

Focusing on the "funniest people of their generation," Knoedelseder explores Comedy Camelot--the burgeoning Los Angeles comedy scene of the 1970s--and such shining stars as Leno, Letterman, and Andy Kaufman. Unabridged. 1 MP3 CD.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Golden ages are usually only identified in retrospect. The wizards of silent comedy, for example, were much too busy cranking out two-reelers to realize that they were comic geniuses. Similarly, the young stand-up L.A. comics of the mid-'70s who became the Lettermans, Lenos, and Robin Williamses we now all know. William Knoedelseder, the author of this book, wasn't just there during these rowdy, creative days; as a Los Angeles Times cub reporter, he was assigned to cover the city's burgeoning comedy club scene. I'm Dying Up Here benefits not only from those articles and memories but also from extensive interviews with many of the main participants. A soulful mix of laugh-out-loud jokes and bittersweet nostalgia.
Ada Calhoun
…[an] illuminating book about the West Coast comedy boom of the mid-1970s, which [Knoedelseder] covered for The Los Angeles Times
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

In 1978, Knoedelseder (Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia) was a journalist assigned to cover newcomers transforming the comedy clubs: "For the next two years, I had stage-side seats at the best show in show business.... I met and wrote about Jay Leno, David Letterman and Richard Lewis before the world knew who they were." Mitzi Shore, recently labeled "the Norma Desmond of Comedy" by the Los Angeles Times, took over L.A.'s Comedy Store in 1973 with a no-pay policy because she saw it as "a training ground, a workshop, a college." It became a focal point for local comics, including Lewis, his friend Steve Lubetkin, Elayne Boosler, Tom Dreesen, Letterman, Leno and many more. Some were in desperate circumstances, surviving by living in their cars and eating bar condiments. Driving a silver Jaguar to her "massive, cash-generating laugh factory," Shore was seen as "cunningly manipulative," and her unfair payment policies led to an organized strike in 1979 by the CFC (Comedians for Compensation). This confrontation of comics vs. club owner ("Not... one... red... fucking... cent") is the core of the book, with the suicide of Lubetkin taking the tone from comedy to tragedy. Filmmakers will eye this as a potential property similar to Bill Carter's The Late Shift(1996), about Letterman and Leno. Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details, and readers will shelve the book alongside those other key classics on comedy: Steve Allen's The Funny Men and Janet Coleman's The Compass. (Aug. 24)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781586483173
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs
  • Publication date: 8/25/2009
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author


William Knoedelseder, a former journalist with the Los Angeles Times, is the author of Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia and In Eddie's Name: One Family's Triumph Over Tragedy.

William Dufris has been nominated nine times as a finalist for the APA's prestigious Audie Award and has garnered tweny-one Earphones Awards from AudioFile magazine, which also named him one of the Best Voices at the End of the Century.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: A True Comic 1

Blood Brothers 9

The Hippest Room 19

Mitzi's Store 31

Tom, Dave, and George 45

All About Budd 59

Six Minutes, Twenty-two Laughs 65

The Boys' Club 71

Guns, Drugs, and Westwood 81

Comedy University 87

Richard's Baroness, Steve's Movie 93

The Funniest Year Ever 101

Roommates 111

The New Year's Resolution 117

Drugs and Theft 125

Order, Please 135

Diary of a Young Comic 141

The Gauntlet 147

Comedians for Compensation 153

Choosing Up Sides 165

Fire! 175

The Vote 181

All on the Line 189

Dave's Big Night 203

The Union Forever? 211

Jay's Big Flop 223

"My Name Is Steve Lubetkin" 231

A Standing Ovation 245

Epilogue: The Prisoner of Memory 253

Index 269

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 12 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 13 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 28, 2014

    Map of Common Area

    Result 1: Introduction and List of Participating Clans<br>
    Result 2: Map of Common Area<br>
    Result 3: The Seasons, the Time, and the Weather<br>
    Result 4: The Moonpool<br>
    Result 5: Gathering (High-Rock)<br>
    Result 6: Gathering (Sharing Tounges)<p>
    ~$ilverstar of Jayclan

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2014

    Funeral

    Mikes funeral was yesterday and no one came. Cries

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 9, 2013

    Piper

    Yeah

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2013

    Violet

    That gives me more of an area. Dont you think its cool that we both live in the same state?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2013

    Luna

    Her dorm is the book tout sweet. Res fifteen

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2013

    Jo to jpJen

    umm look at the date on hazels post. I dont think shes on anymore.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2013

    Jen

    Hey hazel i guess im your dorm mate that cool?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2009

    Fascinating and fun read

    It's a funny, sad, look at the 70s comedy scene in Hollywood, when so many of the people who have become famous comedians were young and hungry compatriots. It's got a terrific plot, the characters are fascinating, but the facts are real. I especially appreciated the author's balanced telling, very much the way I remember journalism, when objectivity was a goal of the craft.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A fine if stilted tale of a seismic shift in the world of stand-up comedy.

    Leno and Letterman, Lewis and Lubetkin: fixtures in the New York and Los Angeles comedy scenes in the late 1970s. The former have gone on to become household names as fixtures of late night TV; the latter are cautionary tales about the weight of fame and the expectations that come with it. Their tales intertwine in this book by William Knoedelseder, which follows the (forced) migration of comedians from New York to LA as they followed Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show, and their subsequent struggles against the Comedy Store and its owner Mitzi Shore. Despite the danger of the book being potentially slapstick or lowbrow considering its subject matter, Knoedelseder handles class struggle, personal deception, and untimely death with equal grace.

    In fact, Knoedelseder even had personal relationships with some of the principals, which may result in the book's most notable shortcoming: its limited world-view. The action always stays with the select few - Tom Dreesen, Lewis, Shore, Leno, Letterman - and rarely provides the bigger picture; for example, once the Tonight Show moves west and the comedians follow, no real return to New York is made even as Saturday Night Live is getting off the ground. This also makes the reader feel as though part of the story is missing; other exciting stories are teased but never given a full explanation.

    Though perhaps it has too narrow a focus, "I'm Dying Up Here" still tells a story that is by turns entertaining and dramatic, inspiring and bittersweet. With "cameo" appearances by Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman, Richard Pryor, and Johnny Carson and old pictures of the comedians that would be blackmail material for anyone else, "I'm Dying Up Here" is worth the read, especially as a way to warm up to NBC's Jay-Leno-in-primetime experiment.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2009

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    Posted July 17, 2010

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    Posted December 21, 2009

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    Posted October 7, 2010

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