Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'm Dying Up Here - A Review

I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand Up Comedy's Golden Era - Audio Book
Author: William Knoedelseder
Narrator: William Dufris
Publisher: Tantor Media
Release Date: September 7, 2009

    We all do it, we go to the dollar store for a single item but decide to roam the aisles anyway just to see if there's any other useless crap we may need for around the house. Well my friends, I finally left the dollar store with a purchase I am likely going to cherish for years to come, you see this is where I found "I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy's Golden Era" on audio book format for a whopping two dollars! I had never heard of this book before but bought it for a lark thinking I may get two dollars worth of enjoyment from it and after listening to it I would have gladly paid the suggest retail price of close to forty dollars.

    "I'm Dying Up Here" covers the rise in popularity of stand-up comedy in the 70's using the infamous "comedian strike" as it's major narrative throughout. This was my first experience with the audio book format and I was pleasantly surprised. I found myself listening to all seven cd's while driving myself to and from work to be incredibly relaxing. The narrator, William Dufris, does a good job with his tone, enunciation and pacing. At beginning I found his voice to be a bit on the mundane side of things but after reflecting on the material it may be due to the fact that in the beginning the story is on the mundane side of things. The biggest downfall to William's narration is that there is an awful lot of dialogue in this book and while William is no Rich Little he does vary his voice enough so that each male character and female character get a relatively distinct sound. 

    William Knoedelseder has put together one of these most comprehensive and important comedy history books I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.(*note - I really wanted to type reading but that's not true and typing the phrase "pleasure of listening to" felt wrong as well). William starts us off in New York at Bud Friedman's The Improvisation and describes how Bud is credited with establishing what is now the modern day comedy club. At this time Johnny Carson is filming The Tonight Show in New York and comedians are getting plucked right from Bud's stage to stardom, then The Tonight Show moves to LA and so does the comedy world.

    William has a unique perspective on what would go on to become "Stand -Up Comedy's Golden Era" in that he was there when it happened. He wrote articles on the scene while it was happening and wrote profiles of the future stars before they were a part of the pop culture movement. His passion for the work comes through in every word.

    The work is also very easy to digest, I found myself learning a lot about an important point in comedy history that I thought I already had a solid understanding of. The running time of the audio book is 8.5hrs so for the average motorist it's about a weeks worth of driving. 

    A single word of warning, this book is strictly for comedy nerds, I cannot envision someone outside of the comedy world really getting into this. While I would love to believe that others would care for the short lived CFC(Comedians for Compensation) or to hear the tragic story of Steve Lubetkin I'm not sure the average reader/listener will enjoy it as much as I did or as much as I'm sure you will.

    As an "epilogue" if you will to this lengthy review Bud Friedman was on the WTF Podcast with Marc Maron recently where they also talk about the rivalry between himself and Mitzi Shore and this era of comedy. Also, after reflecting on the main narrative of this book I couldn't help but think this would make a fascinating movie that would appeal to people outside of the comedy world and a quick google search reveals that Pajiba is reporting that Tom Hank's production company is working on a film based off of the "I'm Dying Up Here" story arc. Granted this report is several years old but one can be hopeful.

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