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

3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  557 ratings  ·  97 reviews
In the mid-1970s, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis, Robin Williams, Elayne Boosler, Tom Dreesen, and several hundred other shameless showoffs and incorrigible cutups from 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 ar...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published August 25th 2009 by PublicAffairs
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Gerard Collins

I'd never heard of this book, but it popped up on some list of titles under $3 available for the Kindle, so I tried a sample. I whipped through that pretty quickly, so the few bucks weren't much of a consideration as I wondered what came next.

Written by a reporter who covered the comedy club scene in L.A. for the Los Angeles Times, the book focuses primarily on a period between 1972 and 1979, when a new and distinct generation of comedic talent broke through into the entertainment industry, and...more
John G.
I devoured this book in two days, loved getting the inside dish from someone who was there and experienced it and was affected by it. Yes, this book is certainly about a specific scene in a certain era, but there are timeless elements involved as well such as the tension between commerce and art and the conflict of management/ownership versus labor. I like that the author doesn't try to glamorize the comics, I would say he reveals his biases in favor of the comics (labor) and against the comedy...more
El_kiablo
This book is very likeable - it covers an interesting topic and does so with a pleasingly breezy style - but doesn't go into as much detail as I would have liked. It mostly focuses on the politics of the Comedy store in L.A. from it's founding till the end of the comedians strike in 1979, without a lot of tangents to focus on the lives of the individual comedians who worked there. The problem is that the store itself isn't what's interesting; what's interesting is the people it attracted, some o...more
Beth Mechum
I've become increasingly interested in stand up comedy after I discovered the Marc Maron podcast. I think I even found this book through his Twitter feed. The first half of the book was exactly what I wanted - great stories and inside knowledge of stand up comedians and their relationships. The book really stalled when the conflict between the comedians and the Comedy Store with Mitzi Shore. Most of the rest of the book was about that conflict and the formation of (or the proposed formation of)...more
Matt Evans
I listened to this on audio. Man oh man does this book cover some ground. I learned not only of the comedic origins of David Letterman (the wise elder of the group; seriously), Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Richard Pryor ... and Pauly Shore (the latter "comedian's" origins I inferred from the narrative; that is because Mitzi Shore, Pauly's mom, ran LA's Comedy Store, where the aforementioned giants got their starts, and whence sprang the blight on the 90s that we who watched MTV back...more
Kay
The weird thing about comedy that it is both familiar -- David Letterman, Jay Leno, John Belushi and others are all iconic comedians -- and a small world. These guys really did all know each other in the 1970s in LA. They're friends, enemies, and rivals. Though I hesitate to side with the book's title and call it a "golden era," mostly because I think there's a tendency to think of a certain period of monolithic white guys controlling a given industry as the golden age of that particular industr...more
M. Milner
A quick, light read about the LA comedy scene of the late 1970s, I'm Dying Up Here is a interesting look at a long-gone moment. It opens with The Tonight Show moving to Burbank and climaxes with the Comedy Store strike in 1979, covering a pivotal moment in standup: when Mitzi Shore's The Comedy Store became the place to find hot young talent. This was where Jay Leno, David Letterman and Robin Williams were discovered and quickly exploded outward from.

It was also a harsh, tough life, as Knoedelse...more
Aaron Brame
This book tells how L.A.'s The Comedy Store, run by Mitzi Shore, became the focal point for stand-up comedy in the mid to late 1970s. The list of comics that became famous there include the four guys on the cover of the book (Letterman, Leno, Lewis, and Kaufmann), as well as Tom Dreesen, Elayne Boosler, and, to an extent, Robin Williams.

The Comedy Store had a policy of never paying its comics, and as these stars became more and more famous, a rift grew between ownership and labor. The comics sta...more
Jeremy
The camaraderie and rivalry between comedians is fascinating. It's almost like a bond between people who have experienced some horrible crisis together, only the comedian's crisis is played out on a stage in front of strangers.

The job of a stand-up comic is one I would never want but will always want. I'm a funny enough guy in social situations, but I've never thought I could parlay that into some sort of career. I don't want to purposefully put myself in crisis.

This book details the explosion...more
Michael Clayton
I enjoyed this book, but not as much as I figured I would as the nature of the content is a bit misleading. I thought it would be a history of many of the comics displayed on the cover and summary (Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Richard Lewis are huge figures in the book, for sure, but less for their careers and more for the overall contribution they had to the main story. As for Andy Kaufman, hes mentioned only briefly throughout). The book is really about Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore and the...more
Chris
I love it when a book just jumps out at me. I was at the library and saw this book on display. I like comedy, but it's not something I would generally read about - yet there was something about this book that appealed to me, so I checked it out. And I loved it. I found the story of how David Letterman, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Robin Williams and a host of others got their starts in small clubs--usually for no money--fascinating. The author spent time covering these guys and the comedy scene in L...more
Blog on Books
When the Tonight Show moved its base of operations from New York to Los Angeles in 1972, the world of comedy was completely upended. Instead of working out their routines at NY nightclubs, any up-and-coming comedian worth his salt had to relocate to LA as well. Why? Because, in those days the Tonight Show was considered an unavoidable rite-of-passage for any comic who aspired to bigger things like Vegas, record albums or TV and movie stardom. The stars who received Johnny Carson's nod of approva...more
Liz
I love stand up. It's the kind of profession where (if I were thin and didn't mind being dirt poor and mooching off my parents while talking about my vagina in front of a bunch of people who are predispositioned to not think I'm funny anyway because I'm a woman)I always think "I could do that!" But I don't have the drive or love of it near the same as the people in this book do. It's a great book --chronicles the rise of the late 1960's - 1970's stand up and ends with the battle comedians fought...more
Fred
An interesting book about the rise of the Comedy Store stand-up club in Los Angeles and the strike by stand-up comedians which occurred as a result of the comedians not being paid by the owners. This is the main part of the book and it's quite interesting. Comedians organizing a union makes for an interesting labour history lesson.

The detailed history includes the accounts of many famous comedians coming to LA before they made it big. Letterman, Leno, Richard Lewis and Robin Williams among other...more
Roy
Feb 27, 2010 Roy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who is intereasted in Leno, Letterman, Richard Lewis, or stand up comics
Recommended to Roy by: Bill Simmons
If the Late Shift, a TV movie about the battle over the Tonight Show, had been a blockbuster, this story would have made for a worthy prequel. It would have been almost Star Warsian, in the way that the villain of the original, Jay Leno, becomes one of the good guys of the prequel.

In I’m Dyine Up Here Leno is part of a young group of soon-to-be famous comedians who strike against Mitzi Shore’s Comedy Store for the right to be paid. No, not paid more, just paid, like 5 or 10 dollars a set. It’s...more
Kevin A.
Finally we have a book about the epochal walkout of standup comics in rebellion against Mitzi Shore's Comedy Store no pay policy in early 1979! (Okay, I'd never heard of it, either.) And that's the weakest aspect of the book: its central conflict is a labor action that seemed a bit too "inside baseball" even thirty years ago, and its legacy still hasn't been especially significant except to the comedians directly involved.

The interest comes from the personalities of those comedians--Jay Leno, Da...more
Brandon
Dealing with the standup comedy scene in Los Angeles during the 1970's, I'm Dying Up Here focuses on Mitzi Shore's The Comedy Store and the efforts of the comedians to make it big and attempt to get paid until they did. The book focuses on several different comedians, but the main character is the venue, with Pauly Shore's mom serving as the villain of the piece. Shore's argument was that the comics used the store as a showcase to hone their craft while the comedian's argued that the renovations...more
Owen
I found this book pretty fascinating. At least in it subject, is it concerned many of the folks I have watched growing up and still watch today. I was not blown away by the treatment of the subject which is why I only get 3 stars. I should disclose that I listen to it and then I don't think the narrator has ever been funny for a day in his life and I think that took something away from it. Still it was fast and hear about how comedy migrated in Diboll from New York to Los Angeles and how they tr...more
Bart
This is a well-reported book about a time and place that is of only esoteric importance today.

Do not read this book for deep insights into the comedic impulse or what enables a person to climb before strangers and tell unsolicited jokes. That would be a fascinating subject - maybe better for the psychology section of the bookstore - but it's not really in here.

Again, this book is a report. It chronicles the Comedy Store strike of 1979. It's germane to contemporary times, somewhat, because it fea...more
Josephus FromPlacitas
Very readable, moves quick. I didn't like the conceit where the writer referred to himself only obliquely and in third person: "He told his interviewer that..." You were the interviewer dude! Just say, "He told me in an interview"! What's up with the Mister Invisible Man act?

Mitzi Shore came off horribly, Leno came off like a great man, Dreesen was described as superhuman. It was neat to hear how these guys (and a minority of gals) struggled to put their early careers together, but it was funny...more
Penny Peck
If you are interested in stand-up comedy, this book is fascinating. It focuses on the "strike" by comedians in the 1970's in Los Angeles - they worked for free at clubs like the Comedy Store, and wanted even some minor payment as the club was taking in thousands per night. But club owners like Mitzi Shore felt they should perform for free because agents and bookers from shows like Johnny Carson's Tonight Show would see and hire them. They just wanted enough money to buy breakfast after doing a s...more
Jeanne
This is an entertaining and engrossing look at the stand-up comedy scene in the 1970s. Topics include:

• Why stand-up moved from NYC to CA (hint: Here’s Johnny!),
• An in-depth account of Mitzi Shore and The Comedy Store,
• The great comics’ strike of 1979,
• The life and death of an aspiring comedian, and
• Tidbits about big name comedians, including Leno, Letterman, Robin Williams, and Richard Lewis.

The lives of stand-up comics in the seventies were both fascinating and frightening (those precario...more
Hugh McBride
A well written & what appears to be thoroughly researched book by a journalist who was at the center of the birth of comedy's "new stand-up" era in the 1970s & early 80s. Knoedelseder seems to have spoken with all the surviving major players who were involved in the early days of LA's legendary The Comedy Store, and who were involved on one side or the other during the comedians' strike of 1979.
Laurel
What a wonderful retrospective look at the rise of the popularity of stand-up comedy venues in the late 70's. The author provides us with a look at the hardships that comedians like Jay Leno, Andy Kaufman and Letterman went through and the comradeship of those trying to make a name for themselves doing stand-up. The focus of this "look back" is on the comedian strike and the Comedy Store, and its owner Mitzi Shore. As part of the recollection, Knoedelsedar follows the career, and tragic death of...more
Jason Gregg
I do have a sincere interest in the comedy business and did learn several new things about the lesser known comics of the 1970's. But, I thought it focused way too much on the comedy strike of the late 70's. It became very dry towards the end when describing the paper work and the agreements of the strike. The book started off strongly giving mini bios of the big names in the business (Leno, Letterman, Lewis, etc.) and I loved that. I loved hearing how these comics had to struggle and work their...more
Chris
I liked this books many different ways. As an evocation of stand-up comedy as a vocation in the '70s, it feels like it's right on the money. As a tale of the Comedy Store strike, it was obviously biased toward the comics, but didn't shy away from discussing unintended consequences of the strike on both sides. It's not strictly a good guys-vs-bad guys tale, and Knoedelseder knows enough not to make it one. Rudimentary youtube searches and other internet research have turned up little about Steve...more
Mary Ann
This is a fantastic oral history of stand-up in New York and L.A. in the 70s, particularly focused on the scene at the Improv and the Comedy Store. It is primarily concerned with the events leading up to the stand-up strike at the Comedy Store and the aftermath of the strike.

The author is a journalist who covered the comedy beat for the L.A. Times, so he had a great window into the times. During this time, he also developed a friendship with Richard Lewis, so Lewis's experiences and circle of f...more
Diana
Since I am of an age to remember these stand up comedians, I really enjoyed this read. It had a huge cast of characters but the author handled them all smoothly. The narrative flowed from the first word to the last. I stayed up late to finish reading it. Well researched and well written.
Chris
I'm not trying to get a blurb on the dust jacket or anything, but this was a real page turner. Focusing on the comedians' strike of 1979, author Knoedelseder does a wonderful job of illustrating the personalities of all these stand ups against the backdrop of their unionizing.

Honestly, if I have one complaint about I'm Dying Up Here is that it was almost too slight in its story. While there's a lot of new interviews here from the famous comedians who were born out of the Comedy Store, I would h...more
Richard
I read this as a follow-up to Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America by Richard Zoglin. Knoedelseder's book slightly overlaps Zoglin's; while Zoglin started with Lenny Bruce and his era, Knoedelseder starts in the 70's with comedians like Richard Lewis, David Letterman, and Jay Leno. But if this book is about any one person, it's about Mitzi Shore, the proprietor of The Comedy Store who nurtured and ultimately clashed with scores of young comics. The story of the standup l...more
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