Died, killed, slayed…these comedy concepts are many and nebulous. They do not detract, however, from the chronicling in I’m Dying up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era by William Knoedelseder. We get late 70’s snapshots in time of the rise (some meteoric, some not) of fresh-faced twentysomethings from all over the country dead-set on staking their claim in the stand-up comedy gold rush.
We meet a big-chinned pipe-wielding kid out of Boston College named Jay Leno and a young Indiana ex-weatherman Dave Letterman (turns out management didn’t like his wisecracks during weathercasts). Three decades ago they were friends, galvanized through the common cause of working pro-bono for comedy tastemaker Mitzi Shore in her Hollywood clubs. Some of these bell-bottomed quipsters achieved the ultimate goal of sharing a two-shot with Johnny Carson. Some experienced the kind of bohemian poverty that would shock a college student on Ramen noodles. Still others among these clowns exhibited the kind of offstage sadness that got them into rehab clinics and cemeteries.
This work tells the kind of unflattering after-closing stories that keep the pages turning. I wish there were more photos.