I Killed

I Killed: true stories of the road from America’s top comics compiled by Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff. “Make me laugh!” “Entertain me!” That’s been the unrelenting demand from audiences throughout time and across cultures. Although today’s jesters need not fear for their heads if their jokes fall flat in front of royalty, as these stories from over 200 practitioners of stand-up show, they can still worry about their physical safety as well as their psychological balance. I love watching comics on television doing their acts, but I realize it is a much sanitized version of what happens every night at hundreds of clubs around the country. This book presents the raw images and the unfiltered language of life on the road. From before there were comedy clubs, through their heyday and up to current times comics have been scrounging for meals, putting down hecklers, nailing groupies and waitresses, and wrangling with owners and managers over getting paid. Not all these anecdotes are funny, but they do present a broad and realistic view of the business. Many of the stories are similar, but if you do get bored after the first fifty or so entries, I recommend skipping ahead to the last ten pages where the tales of performing for troops overseas, subbing for Johnny Carson, traveling with family and working a funeral are the most poignant of the book.

For a look at a different sector of American comedy business, check out Rob Long’s fictionalized tales of being a sitcom writer in Hollywood. Also, PBS is currently running a six-hour miniseries on American comedy called Make Em Laugh with interviews of hundreds of the best in the business.

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