The comedians of the 1950s and 1960s were a totally different breed of relevant, revolutionary performer from any that came before or after, comics whose humor did much more than pry guffaws out of audiences. Gerald Nachman presents the stories of the groundbreaking comedy stars of those years, each one a cultural harbinger:
• Mort Sahl, of a new political cynicism
• Lenny Bruce, of the sexual, drug, and language revolution
• Dick Gregory, of racial unrest
• Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge, of racial harmony
• Phyllis Diller, of housewifely complaint
• Mike Nichols & Elaine May and Woody Allen, of self-analytical angst and a rearrangement of male-female relations
• Stan Freberg and Bob Newhart, of encroaching, pervasive pop media manipulation and, in the case of Bob Elliott & Ray Goulding, of the banalities of broadcasting
• Mel Brooks, of the Yiddishization of American comedy
• Sid Caesar, of a new awareness of the satirical possibilities of television
• Joan Rivers, of the obsessive craving for celebrity gossip and of a latent bitchy sensibility
• Tom Lehrer, of the inane, hypocritical, mawkishly sentimental nature of hallowed American folkways and, in the case of the Smothers Brothers, of overly revered folk songs and folklore
• Steve Allen, of the late-night talk show as a force in American comedy
• David Frye and Vaughn Meader, of the merger of showbiz and politics and, along with Will Jordan, of stretching the boundaries of mimicry
• Shelley Berman, of a generation of obsessively self-confessional humor
• Jonathan Winters and Jean Shepherd, of the daring new free-form improvisational comedy and of a sardonically updated view of Midwestern archetypes
• Ernie Kovacs, of surreal visual effects and the unbounded vistas of video
Taken together, they made up the faculty of a new school of vigorous, socially aware satire, a vibrant group of voices that reigned from approximately 1953 to 1965.
Nachman shines a flashlight into the corners of these comedians’ chaotic and often troubled lives, illuminating their genius as well as their demons, damaged souls, and desperate drive. His exhaustive research and intimate interviews reveal characters that are intriguing and all too human, full of rich stories, confessions, regrets, and traumas. Seriously Funny is at once a dazzling cultural history and a joyous celebration of an extraordinary era in American comedy.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of Family & Relationships eBook: Seriously Funny|
|Release Date: 08-26-2009|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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A Voice in the Wilderness - Mort Sahl
If you were the only person left on the planet, I would have to attack you. That's my job.
Nobody saw Mort Sahl coming. When he arrived, the revolution had not yet begun. Sahl was the revolution, at first, although he had no such grand idea in mind. He wasn't plotting the violent overthrow of the conservative comedy government. He was never a rebel, deep down. In thought, yes, but rarely in deed. His secret desire-a pipe dream, really-was to work somewhere as a comedian. He had no experience and little idea where to go to be funny, other than parties and all-night campus hangouts, where he held forth in his motormouth manner.
Of all the great groundbreaking comedians of that era-which officially began with Sahl's inauspicious debut on Christmas Night 1953 before a friend-packed audience at a San Francisco folksinger haven called the hungry i-nobody could have been more different from the standard stand-up comic than Mort Sahl. Even the revolutionary comedians who followed him-Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, Dick Gregory, Phyllis Diller, Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters-were cast in a familiar nightclub comic mold; all but Allen, a writer, had worked as actors, or in radio, or as entertainers of some sort. Other comedians labored to find a stage persona, a voice, but Sahl's actual persona was eccentric enough, and his voice was loud and clear. He was a force of nature, a whirlwind whose ideas defined him; behind each joke lurked a sharply etched, cynical worldview.
Everything about him was candid and cool, the antithesis of the slick comic: his casual campus wardrobe (the signa...