Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s

Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s

Gerald Nachman

Language: English

Pages: 672

ISBN: 0375410309

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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.

Satan: His Psychotherapy and Cure by the Unfortunate Dr. Kassler, J.S.P.S.

The Fun Factory

Anything for a Laugh

The Pirates! in an Adventure with the Romantics

The Friars Club Encyclopedia of Jokes: Over 2,000 One-Liners, Straight Lines, Stories, Gags, Roasts, Ribs, and Put-Downs

















‘Look, we wanna do this and do that,’ and I say, ‘I’d like to delete this,’ and he says, ‘Listen, just do the goddamn lines and if they don’t work we’ll sweeten it! ‘ And that’s where we are.” Lainie Kazan says that Winters seems not so much resigned as defeated—“It’s like he’s been hammered.” Even today, behind Winters’s gentle comedy and gentlemanly demeanor simmers a lingering resentment. He told an interviewer in 2000, “I tried to adhere to the Christian belief of turn the other cheek—only

your last name always give away the secret by forgetting to change your first name. What kinda goy has a first name Lenny?” EXACTLY SO. Bruce was born Leonard Alfred Schneider in Mineola, Long Island, in 1925, and grew up in North Bellmore, where his British-born father, Myron (called Mickey), was a podiatrist who, during the Depression, worked as a shoe salesman. He had married Lenny’s mother, Sadie Kitchenberg—a stripper/comic known as Sally Marr (a.k.a. Sally Marsalle and Boots Malloy), who

no cover charge. People smoked cigarettes (of various composition) and argued politics and poetry. The shock troops who waded ashore and established beachheads in the small rooms were not comedians at all, but folksingers and jazz musicians. They struck the first antiestablishment chords while the comics strummed their own themes mocking the government, suburban life, the sanctity of marriage, and every other hand-me-down value and vaunted institution. The folksingers sang about it and the

Man River” plays, he says, “I did this thirty years before anyone invented political correctness.” The 1999 box set includes a Monica Lewinsky routine he couldn’t persuade the company to bring out as a single—an annoying reminder of his old radio and TV network battles. “Rhino Records was nervous and didn’t want to release it as a single, because—once again, thirty years later!—I have a record company telling me [his voice rises sharply] that nobody buys single records! I’m back at the

I used to perform “St. George and the Dragonet” all by myself, doing all the voices.’ It’s a very rewarding thing to think that I’d affected people’s lives in different ways.” Freberg went beyond taunting potential radio sponsors. He demanded the power to veto commercials that made him squirm—mainly for deodorants and cigarettes. This didn’t further endear him to the network, which killed the show after fifteen weeks—despite good ratings, the star says—claiming that nobody wanted to sponsor him,

Download sample