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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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,387 ratings  ·  172 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
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published August 25th 2009 by PublicAffairs
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3.94  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,387 ratings  ·  172 reviews

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Jun 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comedy
A total comfort read, the literary equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup. I'm Dying Up Here allows us to spend 280 pages in the company of the great 1970s comedians, from Dave and Jay to Richard, Robin, Andy, and many more. I would have preferred more time on the comics' antics and less on The Comedy Store strike, but that's a minor quibble for such a soul-satisfying reading experience.
Dec 28, 2014 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
Gerard Collins
Jun 02, 2012 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
Sep 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 01, 2013 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
John G.
Aug 24, 2013 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
Beth Mechum
Nov 09, 2012 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
Jun 01, 2009 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
Douglas Castagna
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Sara Goldenberg
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Most of the book was about The Mitzi Shore Dilemma; when she didn't want to pay the comics that were on their way to becoming stars, and how they had to live on the bar food that they ate before their sets because they were starving, and wearing shoes that had no laces or soles.

I didn't enjoy that.
Mike Maas
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Remember Steve Lubetkin. He used to work at The Comedy Store.
Simon A.
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: humor, non-fiction
Mitzi Shore? More like Shitzi Shore... Am I riiiiiiight?
Jimmy Mustion
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Excellent read. Phenomenal
Karen Chung
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is an interesting study in human ambition, power struggle and the power of money, and its lack. The only choice for many comedians just getting started was to work for free, and they often didn't have enough to pay for the next morning's breakfast.

It's fascinating to be in on part of the backstories of comedians who are now mostly household names. But the book may leave you with a sense of melancholy over how things maybe could have gone better, but didn't. Mitzi Shore does not emerge
Bob Nebel
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
‘I’m Dying Up Here’ chronicles the careers of comedians who built their careers at a place called The Comedy Store, a legendary Southern California comedy club run by the tough-minded businesswoman Mitzi Shore. Stories of comedians including Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Lewis and many others keep the reader engaged. I loved reading about how great talent was born and developed in the 1970s Los Angeles comedy scene showing us their triumphs and challenges trying to make people laugh. The a ...more
Aug 14, 2014 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
Oct 20, 2017 rated it liked it
A history of the mid-1970s stand up comedy scene at Mitzi Shore's Comedy Store in LA (including Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Lewis, Elayne Boosler, Robin Williams, and many more), written by a journalist who covered the comedy beat for decades and knows the comics from that scene well. This is very readable, although sometimes a little scattered as Knoedelseder tries to capture the antics and personalities of a whole stable of comedians. The book gets better as it focuses in on the organiz ...more
Geoffrey Kleinman
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the book that the Shotime series of the same name is based on. That series is a fictionalization of the book, but the book is actually non-fiction and it tells the story of the comedy explosion of the 70's and 80's. The book is well written and flows between narrative and oral history really well.

The first half of the book is the stronger half as it follows many of the threads that lead to the careers of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams and especially Richard Lewi
Sep 14, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, americana
Meh. I don't what I was expecting other than MORE. It wasn't dishy enough for me, although the stories he did tell were good. I guess I was hoping to know how difficult living was for these people, how having their day jobs interfered with their writing, or helped it. I have been watching the TV series and I liked it, but I'm sure that's because the stories are being embellished a little. There wasn't enough substance here.
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.
Marie Fouhey
Sep 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting book when it talks about the comedians, but the details of the walk out at The Comedy Store didn't interest me as much as the early sections.
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Informative fun!
Logan Noble
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is a interesting window into what sounded like a wild time in that explosive age of comedy.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Pro tip: If you read this book, have YouTube open and take a look at the standup of these comics: Many of them have become dim memories at this point, and some are quite funny.

I originally gave this a 4 but after sleeping on it, downgraded it to a 3 because there is almost no way this book is going to satisfy readers based on the title. The book is a history of the scene around Mitzi Shore's Comedy Store on Sunset Strip, and in particular how the scene got through the 1979 "strike."

If you're int
Jun 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Being old enough to remember some of the events of this book and the personalities involved, this book was great fun to read and I couldn't put it down. William Knoedelseder’s writing is smooth, graceful, and practically reads itself directly into the brain. If you're interested in a little slice of Hollywood history from the 1970s, the golden era of stand-up comedy, check out this book.

Unfortunately, the Showtime series with the same name is only based on this book and is not about the real peo
Brian K Thibodeaux
Inspirational, but heartbreaking

Like any child of the seventies, it is hard to imagine another period of our lives that could live up to our memories of that special time. Things were just different for the country as a whole. We were finished with Vietnam and no longer innocent in our belief that we were invincible. But that also led us into an incredible time for creative endeavors of any kind. Look at the music, the art, the comedy and even television of that era. It is hard to argue that a b
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A textbook-like read about how 'The Tonight Show' moved to California and new comics decided they need to make the pilgrimage to California to ply their craft in new comedy clubs so they could be spotted and appear on 'The Tonight Show' which in turn led to sudden fame and movie/television shows offers. Some could not handle the fame and violence followed. Meanwhile, they ply their trade for Free (there has got to be an IRS law against that!). Efforts are made to alter the pay structure. Materia ...more
Jan 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I always liked watching stand up comedy; it's been on TV for decades. The Comedy Store was a groundbreaking venue were people could see it live. How names like Leno, Letterman and Richard Lewis (and many others) got gigs there. I could imagine this new late night venue with unknowns on stage and Mitzi let them "workshop." I wish I could've been there. Some comics moved on to fame - some took other turns. All the names mentioned I wanted to google after reading. Also the story of the strike and f ...more
Zach Freeman
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A pretty gripping recounting of the rise and fall of The Comedy Store (and owner/proprietor Mitzi Shore) through the voices of a number of comics who were there, including those who went on to become legends (Leno, Letterman, Lewis) and those who didn’t. There’s plenty of name-dropping and a few sidebars that could be shortened but it’s mostly in service of the story and providing context for the overall scene. For anyone interested in the history of stand-up comedy this is a must read describin ...more
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018
This was a great biography of the LA Comedy Scene headed at the time by 2 major club owners, Mitzi Shore (Mother of Pauly) and the Comedy Store and Bud Friedman and the Improv of Night at the Improv tv fame. This tells the story of the great comic migration from New York to Los Angeles in the early 7os including Jay Leno David Letterman among other notable comics of the 70s 80s and even into the early 90s. It tells of the struggle to come off the street and take the stage to begin the journey in ...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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