Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm Dying Up Here - Heartbreak And High Times In Standup Comedy's Golden Era
William Knoedelseder
Public Affairs

Coming from the novice reporter who documented the unfolding developments at their early seventies inception, when the stand-up profession rose quite considerably in stature and allure, from niche underdogs to the new rock'n'roll, leading to the still colossal multi-media dominion of several characters here, this fairly brief but compelling account of the rise of long-standing, or sitting in some cases, household names like Letterman, Leno and, erm, Williams has elements of a morality play and farce as well as sombre asides from life's less starry side of the galaxy. No National Enquirer et al type tawdry trek through participants lifestyle litterbins for this keeps a respectful distance while allowing the story to unfold accordingly as our heroes arrive at the West Coast, collectively make venues like The Comedy Store and the Improv into the hottest tickets in Hollywood wherein the dream descends into disarray. The first half or so outlines the varying degrees of success that the largely male throng attained, outlining characters and comic styles, relationships and driving forces, before stomping in allowing no time for an interval comes the second half and the late seventies battle with Comedy Store owner Mitzi Shore over her colossal earnings compared to the comics absolute zero. Shore used the argument of it being a showcase venue, thus weeding out those not good enough to step up to the next level and get paying gigs on the road or in Vegas as well as it bei ng her that started them all out. The coalition that formed to strike to ensure pay, especially for their junior comrades argued that it's the performer that brings the audience to the club. This tale and the debatable rights and wrongs will be familiar to many here, what with venues pulling similar and much worse for the higher money market of music but there's also the human element here of a group of friends or like-minded people in common cause being split, nay, rent, asunder by the encroaching spectre of fame and wealth that they all aspired to, with the possible attendant rampant egotism. In tragic Steve Lubetkin there's also the spectre that overshadows much in the field of striving for that break amidst the knock-backs, bad luck vs bad decisions and the age old hand of fate. A concise, effectively constructed and thought provoking look at a little heralded but ultimately important series of events in entertainment history, and one, thankfully, that doesn't attempt to jump in with a few jokes in keeping with its subject matter.
Stu Gibson

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