I just finished reading “The Last Laugh: The World of Stand-Up Comics” by Phil Berger. If you’re interested in comedy history from the 50’s to the 80’s this is an interesting read. Below are the quotes I found most interesting.
“The incident showed the cocksure feeling a comic had to have. Without it, he was a goner. An audience sensed fear. So comics made themselves larger than life.” (40)
“Lenny had the reputation for relying on his own wit. He was prolific, heeding what old pal Georgie Starr later prescribed as the only way for a comic: You’ve got to fuck and suck it and eat it night and day. Work on the material. Work on it. Work on it.” (79)
“Bruce took the chances. He was not afraid to fall flat on his arse with new material. There were those that saw him go gurgling down the drain one night and make thunder the next.” (86)
“Phil Leeds was a lovable little fellow who all comics loved. Never a major comic. And that’s why they all love him. Because comics love people who aren’t successful. That’s how they judge a good comic.” (98)
“Sometimes Klein would get a sly smile, as if a phrase had just occurred to him. It made whatever followed feel spontaneous.” (247)
“Confidence is experience. You cannot have true confidence on a stage in front of strangers without experience.” (392)
“Steve Martin got so big he couldn’t experiment. And he absolutely hated himself.” (401)
“For Kaufman, the idea was to provoke reaction, and nothing pleased him more than when his concepts triggered anger, confusion or even boredom, particularly when comic intentions appeared to be entangled in sticky reality.” (402)
“Kaufman saw how fantastic it was to have everybody hate him – what theater it was.” (407)
“Branch Rickey used to say, “Luck is the residue of design.”” (417)
““In a cabaret,” says Rollins, “if an audience can sense the personality underlying the comic – if they can make contact with that personality, they’ll enjoy him more. Even if the material is not that strong.” (423)
“The idea that comic success did not equate strictly to laughs was a lesson Brezner had learned from Rollins several years before.” (424)
“Jack said, “Lad, it’s not what you do on the stage that counts, it’s what’s on the stage when you’ve left.” Meaning, there are comics who make you laugh, and twenty-five minutes after, you’re left with nothing. Woody Allen didn’t give you huge laughs, but when he finished his last line, he’d taken on a persona over and above what he had done on stage.” (424)
“Robin Williams didn’t realize the potentially touching nature of the character. We convinced him at the end of his act to have the character say two or three funny things and then play the character for real. Told him not to worry if he gets laughs. Let the character talk about the foolishness of mankind. And then take the quiet moment and walk offstage. We felt that after forty-five minutes of hysteria… do this and he’d elevate himself to an energetic freethinking comic, and one who could act as well… and I tell you, when he took the quiet moment and walked offstage without a laugh, the applause was deafening. You know, sitting in the audience, you’d just seen something special. He’d touched you. He left something on stage for you.” (425)
As always, if you liked the quotes, click here to buy the full book.