Today marks the official release of a new book on 1970s stand-up, Comedy at the Edge by Richard Zoglin. Its a very concise examination of the last time that stand-up comedy was culturally, artistically and financially relevant in America on a large scale. Like Peter Biskind's books on different film eras, it pretty much sums up the triumphs, stories and controversies of the times.
I'm only on page 83 at this point, so I don't have much to say about it, but topics covered include:
- Why Lenny Bruce was relevant to 70s comedy beyond his use of swear words
- The evolution of George Carlin and Richard Pryor from straight TV jokesters to counter-culture heroes
- The improv discoveries of David Steinberg and Robert Klein
- The comedy club politics of NYC's Budd Friedman and L.A.'s Mitzi Shore (yes, that Shore) where no one got paid and an union, the Comedians for Compensation, was attempted (quick excerpt: "Gallagher's yelling, 'Why don't we burn the fucking place down!'")
- Albert Brooks' lampooning of bad showbiz acts, the post-modern comedy of Steve Martin and of course Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton
- The scarcity of female comedians in the 70s
- Jerry Seinfeld taking it mainstream into the 80s
Much has been reported on the joke stealing- David Brenner (Philly's own) accusing Robin Williams of using his material on HBO- and the boozing and egos (TV detective Richard Belzer among them) but there's a lot more to it too.