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

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  854 Ratings  ·  113 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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Jun 02, 2012 Gerard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
Dec 29, 2014 Ryan rated it really liked it
One of the reasons I read so few books in the last year and a half is that I spent a lot of my commute time - usually my prime reading time - listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast interviews with comedians, writers, actors, directors, chefs, artists, musicians, and others that are a serious master class in the creative process and incredibly inspiring. Marc mentioned this book on one of the podcasts, and it's a perfect companion piece, looking at the history of the stand-up comedy world in 1970s ...more
John G.
Aug 24, 2013 John G. rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, humorology
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
Jul 01, 2013 El_kiablo rated it liked it
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
Nov 09, 2012 Beth Mechum rated it liked it
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
Dec 23, 2014 Linda rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction

During the seventies, I was hoovering up as much stand-up comedy as I was able. Granted, with access to only four tv channels, a bedtime of 10 pm, and no internet, it wasn’t easy.

I was vaguely aware of a comedian’s strike against the Comedy Store, but knew none of the details until I read this book.

I found the book fascinating and enlightening. Still relevant, as well, inasmuch as it illustrates the prevalent attitude of “job creators” who believe they’re entitled to collect the fruits of other
Matt Evans
Mar 01, 2014 Matt Evans rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 08, 2014 Dana rated it really liked it
I can't remember where I heard of this book, but somehow it ended up in my library queue and I set about to read it. That said - I'm so glad that I did. I really enjoyed the writing, and the progression of the story. I had always heard of this Mitzi Shore person, but didn't know who she was or what an impact she had on the comedy scene in the 70s. That said - the first half of the book was very interesting to learn about the comics of that day (Leno, Letterman, Lewis & Boosler with some Pryo ...more
Christina Boyle
Marc Maron recommended this book. What is there to take away from this other than a bit of popular history? Maybe nothing other than human beings have a profound capacity to exploit others and then rationalize their actions. Mitzi Shore's personal philosophies are offensively exploitative and yet she made herself financially very successful as a result of her talent at manipulating vulnerable and gullible young people and having zero sense of self reflection to feel guilty for doing this.

You mu
Jan 01, 2014 Kay rated it really liked it
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
Mike Maas
Feb 12, 2014 Mike Maas rated it it was amazing
Remember Steve Lubetkin. He used to work at The Comedy Store.
Brandon White
Feb 04, 2015 Brandon White rated it it was amazing
Wow. What a ride. As a fan of comedy since before I can remember this truly gave me a different view of many individuals that were way before my time. As a person who only knows Leno and Letterman as their modern day incantations, it was nice to read about them coming up.

I was completely enthralled with this book for about 88-93 percent of the book. The stories of comedians that I only knew of because of references came alive before me and I have a new found respect for many of these pillars of
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
Aaron Brame
Dec 08, 2013 Aaron Brame rated it liked it
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
Feb 27, 2013 Jeremy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Clayton
Dec 10, 2011 Michael Clayton rated it liked it
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
May 17, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Mar 29, 2010 Blog on Books rated it liked it
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
Aug 31, 2010 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 13, 2010 Phobos rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010-read
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
Feb 27, 2010 Roy rated it really liked it
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
Kevin A.
Aug 03, 2014 Kevin A. rated it liked it
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
Mar 05, 2012 Brandon rated it liked it
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
Nov 10, 2012 Owen rated it liked it
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
Mar 20, 2010 Bart rated it liked it
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
Josephus FromPlacitas
Jan 27, 2014 Josephus FromPlacitas rated it really liked it
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
Robert James
Nov 09, 2014 Robert James rated it really liked it
Loved the first half of this book. Many of the comedians of note in this book remain some of my favorites especially David Letterman. I had never heard or read many of the stories regarding the early careers of Leno, Richard Lewis, Letterman and others. The second half of the book tells the story of the battle between the Comedy Store and the comedians. This is where the book turns more serious but is still very interesting. I was just a teenager when these events were taking place and had no id ...more
Penny Peck
Aug 14, 2013 Penny Peck rated it it was amazing
Shelves: celeb-biogs
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
Aug 09, 2015 Wendy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-rated
Wow. This is a really good book. It's a great expose on the rugged trail to becoming a stand up comic in the late 70's. And what a line of pioneers in that era: Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, and so many more. The book outlines the journey to success (and failure), the collaborations, the camaraderie, and a tragic falling out with The Comedy Store.
Apr 27, 2016 Jeanne rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
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