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

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  1,041 Ratings  ·  131 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 ...more
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Published August 25th 2009 by PublicAffairs
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Community Reviews

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Ryan
Dec 28, 2014 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Gerard
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
...more
Mike Maas
Feb 12, 2014 Mike Maas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Remember Steve Lubetkin. He used to work at The Comedy Store.
Richard
Sep 14, 2016 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hey, believe it or not, Jay Leno was a very respected comedian before everyone got mad at him for that Tonight Show thing with Conan...

Stand up comedy has been a huge interest of mine for a long, long time. While many stand up comics release books today where they're just publishing their bits and trying to be funny, I've grown to be more into memoir style books about comedy that feature road stories or how they came up with some of their jokes. So, when I saw there was a book about the comedy b
...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
John G.
Aug 24, 2013 John G. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Linda
Jun 01, 2009 Linda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Douglas Castagna
Jun 09, 2017 Douglas Castagna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great story, I was hoping there would be a bit more humorous stories, but was satisfied with what was portrayed. I knew a bit about Mitzi Shore from other sources, even the view from the other side when I saw a documentary by her son. Pauly Shore. I was always intrigued by this time in stand up comedy and how so many talented people went on for so long for no money, and was finally glad to get the whole story, or at least a larger picture of what went on in that turbulent era. Interesting and fa ...more
Eleanor
Interesting, as far as it goes

Very well reported. A detailed history of the comedians' strike. But there was not a lot of fleshing out of the comedians as individuals. I also would have loved to see the comedians' strike and the idea of working for free at a showcase compared to current ideas about interning and working for free for exposure.
Steve
Jun 12, 2017 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Informative fun!
Chris Witt
Mar 17, 2017 Chris Witt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting read covering the rise of stand-up comedy in the 70s, giving the start of careers of Steve Martin, David Letterman, Jay Leno, Tom Dreesen, Robin Williams, Richard Lewis and a host of others. Great stuff and I'm glad somebody put this together, chronicling the rise and fall of Mitzi Shore's comedy clubs that helped hundreds of performers hone their craft. A sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking read.
Kay
Dec 29, 2013 Kay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dana
Aug 14, 2014 Dana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jeremy
Feb 19, 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
...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
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
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
Roy
Jan 18, 2010 Roy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 White
Nov 21, 2014 Brandon White rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Phobos
Apr 13, 2010 Phobos rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
...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
Jim
May 14, 2016 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The nucleus of modern comedy can be traced to at 8433 Sunset Boulevard on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. It was at this building where young comedians honed their craft and hoped for that moment where and agent or a talent booker from the Tonight Show gave them the nod and said that "you're ready." Careers could set for life or end depending on timing, wit, and with the right set of circumstances.

These young comedians came from all over the country in the early 1970s in search of a dream. Of th
...more
Bart
Mar 09, 2010 Bart rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Chris
May 11, 2010 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Liz
Aug 31, 2010 Liz rated it it was amazing
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
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
Owen
Nov 10, 2012 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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“For a stand-up comic, a minute on TV without a laugh was death. And Carson was adamant about the formula. He had recently stopped by the Improv to see Jay Leno and Andy Kaufman perform and had pronounced both of them “not ready,” telling Budd Friedman, “They’re funny, but they don’t have six minutes.” By” 1 likes
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