Synopses & Reviews
What Peter Biskind did for filmmaking, Time
magazine critic Richard Zoglin does for comedy in this meticulously researched and hilariously readable account of stand-up comedy in the 1970s.
In the rock-and-roll 1970s, a new breed of comic, inspired by the fearless Lenny Bruce, made telling jokes an art form. Innovative comedians like George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Robert Klein, and, later, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Robin Williams, and Andy Kaufman, tore through the country and became as big as rock stars in an era when Saturday Night Live was the apotheosis of cool and the Improv, Catch a Rising Star, and the Comedy Store were the hottest clubs around.
In Comedy at the Edge, Richard Zoglin gives a backstage view of the time, when a group of brilliant, iconoclastic comedians ruled the world and quite possibly changed it, too. Based on extensive interviews with club owners, agents, producers and with unprecedented and unlimited access to the players themselves Comedy at the Edge is a no-holds barred, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most influential and tumultuous decades in American popular culture.
"Theater and TV critic Zoglin steps into the spotlight to deliver mirthful material also worthy of applause. A senior Time writer-editor who covered the magazine's showbiz beat for 20 years, Zoglin once did major pieces on Carson, Cosby, Letterman, Seinfeld and others. Now he offers a comedy chronicle of laugh makers from the mid-1960s to the early '80s with entertaining excerpts and funny one-liners. In an opening chapter capturing the charisma and revolutionary impact of Lenny Bruce, he notes, 'What the younger comedians who were influenced by him brought was the discipline and craftsmanship that Bruce lacked. They were better actors and more accomplished writers.' The curtain then goes up on a merry mob of iconoclastic innovators: Andy Kaufman, Richard Lewis ('I left my shrink too soon; I had to take an incomplete'), George Carlin and 'the seven dirty words,' the raw 'racial anger' of Richard Pryor, Robert Klein ('Now you can get every record ever recorded!') and many more. The book's centerpiece is a potent profile of Albert Brooks, detailing the lampoons, conflicts and compromises of his now-forgotten standup career. Although some subjects (Steve Martin, Mel Brooks, David Letterman) were initially reluctant to be interviewed, Zoglin's conversations with numerous top talents enabled him to add fresh quotations to his extensive research through books, magazines and liner notes. Always highlighting how these comics 'transformed the culture,' Zoglin on standup is standout." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Zoglin deals with an extremely rich mix of characters here....[A] very desirable addition for the pop-culture shelves." Booklist
"Zoglin clearly loves stand-up comedy. And he scored interviews with key figures, even press-o-phobes like David Letterman. Zoglin's understanding of how comics think gives his portrait of the era absolute authority." The Portland Oregonian
"Zoglin...breezily tracks the biggest names to emerge from the new comedy movement....[A]n entertaining account of the era's emerging comedy scene..." Los Angeles Times
"[A] sharp, perceptive history....Zoglin provides some gossip about drug use and bad behavior, but not too much. Especially fascinating are tales about the inner politics of comedy clubs and the struggles of female comedians." The Christian Science Monitor
"Zoglin has a good ear for the routines that best exemplify a given comic's routine....Comedy at the Edge is a potent reminder of just how magnificent [stand-up comedy] once was." The Boston Globe
"Mr. Zoglin does an admirable job of showing, not telling, in relating his story. And when some telling must be done, he generally leaves it to the wide array of comics interviewed for the book..." Wall Street Journal
"Zoglin turns in dutiful, careful profiles of the principal characters in the standup movement, but he breaks very little news except, perhaps, to correct the notion that Richard Pryor caught fire while freebasing cocaine." Kirkus Reviews
"The stand-ups are the warriors of show business, and Richard Zoglin has brilliantly captured their funny and often desperate world." Charles Grodin
"It's no small matter to revise an entire nation's sense of humor, but that's the unannounced revolution the stand-up comics of the 1970s accomplished. Richard Zoglin has told their story, from Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld, in this engagingly written, thoroughly reported book. Thoughtful, witty and totally original in concept and execution, Comedy at the Edge is delicious reading both as social history and as an edgy exploration of what makes us laugh in post-modern America." Richard Schickel, author of Elia Kazan: A Biography
"Required reading for anybody who has laughed or cried at the zingers tossed out by Richard Pryor or any of the other brilliant performers from Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld who populate Richard Zoglin's riveting, politically savvy, and fluently written account of the Golden Age of stand-up comedy." Peter Biskind, author of Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
"[A] riveting read for anyone who's interested in comedy and social evolution....Comedy at the Edge
is a stirring reminder of a time when taboos were shattered, not merely prodded over and over, and a handful of brilliant, tormented, unbelievably talented trailblazers made a difference." Chris Bolton, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
“Comedy at the Edge is a detailed examination of how our current political, religious and cultural sensibility emerged from small comedy clubs…An irresistible read and a key book for understanding our era.”—Buffalo News
What Peter Biskind did for filmmaking, Richard Zoglin does for comedy in this meticulously researched and eminently readable account of stand-up comedy in the 1970s, when a small group of brilliant, iconoclastic comedians ruled the world—and quite possibly changed it, too.
About the Author
Richard Zoglin is a senior editor and writer at Time, who has also served as its television and theater critic. In his twenty years covering entertainment for the magazine, he has written cover stories on Bill Cosby, David Letterman, Diane Sawyer, and Arsenio Hall, among others; and done major pieces on Jerry Seinfeld and Johnny Carson. He lives in New York City.