Named a Best Book of the Year by Kirkus Reviews, National Post, and Splitsider
Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research, this groundbreaking work is a narrative exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture over the past one hundred years.
Starting with the vaudeville circuit at the turn of the last century, the book introduces the first stand-up comedian—an emcee who abandoned physical shtick for straight jokes. After the repeal of Prohibition, Mafia-run supper clubs replaced speakeasies, and mobsters replaced vaudeville impresarios as the comedian’s primary employer. In the 1950s, the late-night talk show brought stand-up to a wide public, while Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and Jonathan Winters attacked conformity and staged a comedy rebellion in coffeehouses. From comedy’s part in the civil rights movement and the social upheaval of the late 1960s, to the first comedy clubs of the 1970s and the cocaine-fueled comedy boom of the 1980s, The Comedians culminates with a new era of media-driven celebrity in the twenty-first century.
“Entertaining and carefully documented . . . jaw-dropping anecdotes . . . This book is a real treat.” —Merrill Markoe, TheWall Street Journal