The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy

Category: Book
By (author): Nesteroff, Kliph
Subject:  HISTORY / Social History
  SOCIAL SCIENCE / Popular Culture
  SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic
Published: November 2016
Format: Book-paperback
Pages: 448
Size: 8.25in x 5.50in
Our Price:
$ 26.95
Available to order

Additional Notes

From The Publisher*Jokes change from generation to generation, but the experience of the comedian transcends the ages: the drive, jealousy, heartbreak, and triumph. From the Marx Brothers to Milton Berle to George Carlin to Eddie Murphy to Louis CK-comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century's worth of rebels and groundbreakers, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts, forgotten stars and workaday plodders in this essential history of American comedy. Beginning with the nationwide vaudeville circuits that dominated at turn of the twentieth century, Nesteroff describes the rise of the first true stand-up comedian-a variety show emcee who abandoned physical shtick for straight jokes. The end of Prohibition ushered in a surprising golden age of comedy, as funnymen were made into radio stars and the combination of the Borscht Belt," the "Chitlin Circuit," and Mafia-run supperclubs furnished more jobs and money than ever before. Those were the days of the Copacabana, tuxedos, and smoking cigars onstage, when insulting the boss could result in a hit man at your door and obscenity charges could land you in jail. In the 1950s, late-night television cemented the status of the comedy establishment while young comics rebelled, arriving on the beatnik coffeehouse scene with cerebral jokes and social angst. They soon found their own way to fame through comedy records that vied with top musicians for Billboard spots. Then came the comedy clubs of the coke-fueled 1970s and 80s, Saturday Night Live and cable TV, and with the internet, a whole new generation of YouTube stars, podcast personalities, and Twitterati. Through the decades, Nesteroff reveals the contradictions between comedians' public and private personas and illuminates the often-seedy underbelly of an industry built on laughs. Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research, The Comedians is a sharply written and highly entertaining look at one hundred years of comedy, and a valuable exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture along the way. "
Review Quote*Praise for The Comedians : Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, National Post, and Splitsider 'Entertaining and carefully documented . . . I thought I knew a lot about the history of American comedy. But this book located gaps in my knowledge I never knew were there and filled them with jaw-dropping anecdotes that made my eyes spin in different directions . . . This book is a real treat.' -Merrill Markoe, Wall Street Journal 'In the past decade, there have been several superb history books about comedy . . . but none will entertain comedy nerds as much as Kliph Nesteroff's The Comedians . . . sprawling and savvy . . . comedy's answer to Luc Sante's Low Life.' - New York Times Book Review 'An antic history of U.S. comedy . . . Nesteroff writes with insider perception . . . With his encyclopedic knowledge, a talent for vivid anecdotes and tireless gusto . . . [ The Comedians is] an insightful overview of the most independent and subversive entertainment genre of the last century.' - Washington Post 'Both breezy and exhaustive . . . peppered with tidbits to store away for future cocktail parties . . . [ The Comedians ] is a book fascinated by personalities, warmly disposed to even the most irascible of them, and motivated by all the ways American culture and American comedy create each other.' - L.A. Weekly (Best Books of 2015 By L.A. Authors) 'An informative and engaging account . . . Nesteroff provides a clear through-line from vaudeville to the New Millennium. Yet it's the anecdotes about personality and style that elevate the book beyond mere history.' - USA Today ' The Comedians is everything it should be, including very funny. This historically rich history of comedians in America is fascinating . . . If you're a comedy nerd you'll love this book.' - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 'If you think you know a lot about stand-up comedy, this book will expose you as the fraud you secretly reckoned you were. Remember Frank Fay? Exactly.' -Norm MacDonald 'Kliph Nesteroff and this book are devoted to what I truly love-the art of comedy.' -Mel Brooks 'Kliph Nesteroff is a 'comedy nerd' in the deepest sense of the word . . . He is the preeminent historian of modern comedy.' -Marc Maron 'This is one of the best books I've ever read about show business . . . [Nesteroff] has amassed a dishy, informal, and knowledgeable history of comedy . . . This is straight talk about largely undocumented areas of show business and it is utterly fascinating. I feasted on this book and look forward to a possible sequel.' -Leonard Maltin, Indiewire (Holiday Book Roundup) 'Comedy tends to disappear, either into the boozy corners of a night club, or onto countless lost videotapes of TV variety shows that may never even make it to Netflix. That's what makes The Comedians so essential. No one charts the connections between the Jewy-old-masters of the TV age of comedy to the gay woman telling jokes into your ear right now on a podcast quite like [Kliph Nesteroff].' -John Hodgman, contributor to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart 'Beginning in the always smoky, often dilapidated vaudeville theaters of the early 20th century and spanning over a hundred years, Nesteroff meticulously details the lives and careers of forgotten and famous comics . . . Nesteroff's exhaustive research is evident and historians will appreciate his thoroughness.' - Associated Press 'A definitive volume. A lively, raucous, and immensely entertaining love letter to funny business.' - Kirkus Reviews (starred review) 'Both pop culture enthusiasts and entertainment scholars will relish this important history of American comedy.' - Library Journal (starred review) 'Indispensable.' - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 'So flipping entertaining.' - Cleveland Plain Dealer 'A great book.' - Splitsider ' The Comedians is as good as they come. Nesteroff hits all the highlights and lowlights of this constantly evolving art form.' - Portland Mercury 'Comedy buffs will find a treasure chest of trivia . . . But Nesteroff's aims are far more ambitious. He weaves comedians into the larger American story, from racism . . . and blacklisting to the counterculture and the anti-war movement . . . An interesting, satisfying read.' - Dallas News 'Extraordinary . . . wildly, crazily revealing, and readable.' - Buffalo News 'The definitive history of the comedy business . . . downright majestic.' - Forward 'One of the most comprehensive and accessible accounts of the art form to date.' -Flavorwire 'Immensely entertaining, a fast read that's also a deep dive.' -Ken Tucker, Yahoo TV 'A valuable book . . . a compulsively readable history of American comedy . . . The book provides terrific insights into how the comedy greats of cinema created their personae and their acts . . . The book is also, no surprise, funny . . . My only complaint about the book? It's too short.' -Glenn Kenny, 'Highly recommended.' -Longform 'A rollicking history.' - Macleans (Canada)
Biographical NoteKliph Nesteroff is a former stand-up comic turned writer. A longtime contributor to WFMU, writing about the history of comedy, Nesteroff's latest project is hosting the Classic Showbiz Talk Show, a live series in Los Angeles that has welcomed comedy luminaries like Mel Brooks, Fred Willard and Laugh-In creator George Schlatter.