I recently read “The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels and the History of American Comedy” by Kliph Nesteroff. Below are the quotes I found most interesting. If you liked the quotes, click here to buy the book.
“A comedian’s success is almost always the result of a long, arduous struggle… No matter who you were or to which generation you belonged – you had to pay your dues. If you were launched into stardom without first putting in your time, you were sure to pay your dues later, when your career faded away.” (xiii)
“Jack Roy bombed more often than not. It wasn’t that he had bad material, but his persona was combative and unlikable. It didn’t matter how funny the material was – the audience despised him.” (91)
“But in the writers room, Mel Brooks had no fear. “I was aggressive. I was a terrier, a pit bull terrier. I was unstoppable. I would keep going until my joke or my sketch was in the show. I didn’t care if anybody else’s was in or out. All of us writers were like a litter of pups, and we all fought for our little tit and struggled and screamed. Sid was God, and if we could get his ear and he would smile on us – that was important.”” (110)
“Hackett opened his mouth. “He got very X-rated,” says Freddie Roman. “I once asked him why. He said, ‘Because there’s no more challenge. I know I’m going to get laughs when I do my regular act, but I want to get the audience to hate me – and then see how long it takes to win them back.’” (144)
“Lenny Bruce walked in and caught Joan Rivers’ act. He sent a note backstage: “You’re right and they’re wrong.” From then on whenever she doubted herself she looked at Bruce’s note. “That kept me going for a year and a half.”” (183)
“Will Jordan says, “Joan Rivers was bad, just terrible, but she got writers and every single day she worked. She is an example of intense hard work.” (184)
“Shelley Berman was stopping his act to complain about the refrigerator. Putting up with him was difficult, and that temperament cost him his career.” (211)
“Phyllis Diller said, “f it happens too fast it goes to your head. He had a bodyguard, but nobody ever bothered him.” His agent said “He was temperamental and went out of his way, unknowingly, to make himself a bad guy. He destroyed himself.”” (213)
“I told neat little inoffensive chickenshit stories. I thought that because it was safe, it would also be commercial. I was wrong. Couldn’t have been wronger. What i was doing was phony. I was turning into plastic.” (230)
“Dick Gregory said, “We keep voting for the lesser of two evils, but the evil keeps getting worse and worse.”” (240)
““Kinison was the first guy I ever saw go onstage and not ask the audience in any way, shape or form to like him,” said comedian Bill HIcks. “I found that highly reassuring.”” (326)
“Comedians copied his successful business model, but no one pulled in the same kind of audience. The business model of comedy was changing, but the most important variable was the same as ever: good luck.”” (352)
“In the new, atomized world of Internet show business, a cult following is a sustainable achievement.” (355)
Liked the quotes? Buy the book here.