05 March 2012
Book 5 of 2012
5) I'm Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and high times in stand up comedy's golden era by William Knoedelseder
Dealing with the standup comedy scene in Los Angeles during the 1970's, I'm Dying Up Here focuses on Mitzi Shore's The Comedy Store and the efforts of the comedians to make it big and attempt to get paid until they did. The book focuses on several different comedians, but the main character is the venue, with Pauly Shore's mom serving as the villain of the piece. Shore's argument was that the comics used the store as a showcase to hone their craft while the comedian's argued that the renovations, cocktails, meals, cover and assortment of different rooms provided Shore with enough money to pay the folks that everyone else paid to watch.
The problem with nonfiction audiobooks with a large cast of characters is that it's impossible to keep everything straight. There are at least four Steves and three Toms named over the course of the book, and keeping their stories straight considering that some play ancillary roles and others are vital to the narrative without the visual aspect of seeing how their last names are spelled creates a disconnect that makes it easy to get lost.
The last quarter of the book consists of the negotiations between Shore and the comedians to get compensated for their time on stage, and the minutiae of what each performer should receive and the accompanying back and forth was a numbers game that made me want to skip to the next chapter every time. The same applies to Steve Lubetkin's list of things he felt he required to continue his comedy career, including boots, money for singing lessons and a host of 18 other things with reasons that served to explain why he experienced the outcome he did. My audiobook experience prior to this consisted of books by comedians and fictional stories focusing on a single character's arc, neither of which asks the listener to keep track of too many things other than the narrative.
While Knoedelseder is exhaustive in his research and clearly put the time in to get the story straight, there's very little insight into why these men and women felt the need to become comedians or how they became inspired to do the jokes they did, something that would be just as important as the history of the comedy club that launched so many careers. In that regard, it falls short. The history is pretty fascinating, but keep in mind that history is pretty much all the reader gets.