Synopses & 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 artistic community unlike any before or since. It was Comedy Camelotbut it couldn’t last.
William Knoedelseder was then a cub reporter covering the burgeoning local comedy scene for the Los Angeles Times. He wrote the first major newspaper profiles of several of the future stars. And he was there when the comedianswho were not paid by the clubs where they performed tried to change the system and incidentally tore apart their own close-knit community. In I’m Dying Up Here he tells the whole story of that golden age, of the strike that ended it, and of how those days still resonate in the lives of those who were there. As comedy clubs and cable TV began to boom, many would achieve stardom.... but success had its price.
"In 1978, Knoedelseder (Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, the Music Business, and the Mafia) was a journalist assigned to cover newcomers transforming the comedy clubs: 'For the next two years, I had stage-side seats at the best show in show business.... I met and wrote about Jay Leno, David Letterman and Richard Lewis before the world knew who they were.' Mitzi Shore, recently labeled 'the Norma Desmond of Comedy' by the Los Angeles Times, took over L.A.'s Comedy Store in 1973 with a no-pay policy because she saw it as 'a training ground, a workshop, a college.' It became a focal point for local comics, including Lewis, his friend Steve Lubetkin, Elayne Boosler, Tom Dreesen, Letterman, Leno and many more. Some were in desperate circumstances, surviving by living in their cars and eating bar condiments. Driving a silver Jaguar to her 'massive, cash-generating laugh factory,' Shore was seen as 'cunningly manipulative,' and her unfair payment policies led to an organized strike in 1979 by the CFC (Comedians for Compensation). This confrontation of comics vs. club owner ('Not... one... red... fucking... cent') is the core of the book, with the suicide of Lubetkin taking the tone from comedy to tragedy. Filmmakers will eye this as a potential property similar to Bill Carter's The Late Shift (1996), about Letterman and Leno. Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details, and readers will shelve the book alongside those other key classics on comedy: Steve Allen's The Funny Men and Janet Coleman's The Compass." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Publishers Weekly, STARRED review
“Knoedelseder skillfully layers powerful dramatic details, and readers will shelve the book alongside those other key classics on comedy.”
“A revealing and entertaining look at the 1970s Los Angeles comedy scene and the labor dispute that ended its most glorious era.”
“Fact-packed, highly readable history… peppered with plenty of portraits of struggling young comics, some destined for national fame, others headed to obscurity and, in a few cases, early death.”
“One of the most eye-opening and informative books ever written about standup comedy…One of the books of the year for any student of American television and pop culture…A little-known story has now been told very well in perfect context. And when you finish the book you may feel as if you finally understand every comedian you see on TV for the first time.”
“A lively new book…Knoedelseder reminds us that comedy is a dicey calling.”
New York Times Book Review
“Knoedelseder, who was around in those days as a reporter on the Los Angeles Times, interweaves the fascinating stories of the tragic, unknown Lubetkin and the performers who were to become household names, set against the basic contradictions of working the Comedy Store.”
Dallas Morning News
“Written with a journalist's strong narrative sense, I'm Dying Up Here chronicles the tight-knit community of artists who cracked open the world of funny entertainment and the event that shattered their camaraderie...Knoedelseder's ability to sniff out the human stories behind the headlines is what makes this rowdy chapter in stand-up such a good read. It's a bittersweet tale told with humor and economy.”
“I’m Dying Up Here lays bare the bad and the ugly of Hollywood; from what good there was, like primordial muck, emerged the funniest guys and gals around.”
Full of revealing portraits of many of the best-known comedic talents of the 1970s, "I'm Dying Up Here" is also a poignant tale of the price of success and the terrible cost of failure--professional and moral.
Chronicles the collective coming of age of the stand-up comedians who defined American humour during the last 30 years, including David Letterman, Jay Leno and Robin Williams.
A little-known story of the brief, shining moment when comedy’s stars-to-be were starving artists and friends in 1970s L.A.and of the strike that tore them apart
About the Author
William Knoedelseder has been a journalist with The Los Angeles Times, executive producer of Fox Entertainment News and of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s television news program Inquirer News Tonight,” and vice president of news at USA Broadcasting. He is the author of Stiffed: A True Story of MCA, The Music Business, and the Mafia, and In Eddie’s Name. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he lives near Los Angeles.