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Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s [Englisch] [Gebundene Ausgabe]

Gerald Nachman


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Kurzbeschreibung

15. April 2003
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.

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It's been said that analyzing comedy is a bit like dissecting a frog: you arrive at a greater understanding of the frog but the frog does tend to die in the process. The purpose of Gerald Nachman's Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s is not to provide a laugh riot of his subjects' best punch lines, but rather to explore their lives, careers, and influence. Nachman's scope is impressive. He provides detailed biographies not only of household names Sid Caesar, Lenny Bruce, Bob Newhart, and Woody Allen but also comics like Jean Shepherd, Shelley Berman, and Will Jordan whose legacies have far outpaced their name recognition. Nachman has done his research; the book profiles 26 comedians, each in exhaustive detail, and no fan of this era will feel cheated at the end of its 768 pages. There are plenty of entertaining show biz anecdotes (Sid Caesar throwing a lit cigar at young writer Mel Brooks, Bill Cosby punching out Tommy Smothers) along with tales of the darker sides of Mort Sahl, Jonathan Winters, and others whose private lives were far less amusing than their stage acts. But what makes Seriously Funny so compelling, and its dopey title at least partially forgivable, is the author's meticulous attention to each comedian's imprint on the landscape of comedy itself. And while the jokes cited often seem a bit stale and obvious, it bears noting that they were revolutionary when these comedians first made them. --John Moe

Über den Autor und weitere Mitwirkende

Gerald Nachman has for more than forty years covered theater, movies, cabaret, and television for newspapers and magazines. His previous books include Raised on Radio; two collections of humor pieces, Out on a Whim and The Fragile Bachelor; and a humorous book on marriage, Playing House. He lives in San Francisco.

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Amazon.com: 4.1 von 5 Sternen  21 Rezensionen
11 von 11 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
4.0 von 5 Sternen Seriously Interesting 29. Mai 2003
Von Michael Samerdyke - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Although this book has flaws, I found it very interesting. It covers many famous comedians, whose work I had either enjoyed (Newhart, Woody Allen, Cosby) or had encountered here and there (Kovacs, Freberg, Nichols and May). The book worked as a series of mini-biographies which were compulsively readable, and as a bonus, there were very funny bits in each chapter as he quotes from the routines.
There were flaws, but I could live with them. There were a few errors, and the structure of most of the chapters could have used help. (The chapters tend to start with an overview of the comedian's essence, then shift to biography. In some instances, this came across as repetitious.) Don't expect a history of the era (say for a assessment of how the shift from Paar to Carson affected the direction of comedy.)
The most serious drawback to me was that there was no concluding chapter after we had covered all the biographies, because I had a few questions by then and wanted Nachman to try to draw stuff together. (Chiefly, why did his Fifties comics, apart from Phyllis Diller, tend to fall silent or burn out fast, while the Sixties comics, apart from Bruce and Dick Gregory, seem to go on forever?)
Still, this was a very enjoyable book. My wife is looking forward to reading it, having seen me enjoy it. I say regard it as a useful overview of an era and not a definitive last word on the subject.
10 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen The ultimate comedy compendium of a golden era 6. Mai 2003
Von M. R. Johnson - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
Gerald Nachman is the ideal writer to capture the excitement of the ground-breaking satirical comedy of the 1950s and 1960s. A respected critic and a very funny man himself, he knows how to do his homework. Better yet, he writes crisply, with style and humor. Nachman began earning his spurs in the 1960s, reporting on, among other theatrical things, new voices in comedy for major newspapers on both coasts. He's an expert on funny. He even looks funny.
Now he has put that golden era in perspective. "Seriously Funny" (Pantheon) is the definitive word on the comedy revolution that changed the way we laugh, at least for a few fantastic years.
This book will please two audiences -- those who want to relive the euphoria they felt when the revolt happened, and the younger crowd that always wondered where these people came from, whether they were any good, and where they are now.
Mort Sahl, Sid Caesar, Tom Lehrer, Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Godfrey Cambridge, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Joan Rivers are all there, among several others.
Nachman's 30,000-word introduction, a sweeping overview that explains the roots of the revolt, acknowledges its ephemeral nature: "It's hard to find traces now of those brilliant, perceptive, funny comedians. The comics who came later mostly aimed for the gut and the groin, not the brain or the soul." And he laments: "The laughter they left behind in all of those little underground clubs is long gone, but their legacy still smiles brightly, warmly, and merrily."
Nachman seems to have combed through all published sources available, adding personal interviews with the principals and their associates wherever possible. Some cranky characters such as Mort Sahl and Bill Cosby declined to cooperate in this project, but many others added fascinating detail on their career zigzags and what they're up to today. Sahl may be surprised to see that Nachman produces a 48-page profile of him, perhaps the strongest piece in the book, pieced together from Sahl's recorded material, Nachman's occasional encounters with him over the years, and a crystal-clear analysis of the man.
Offstage, Nachman reports, some of these wits were prickly, some were grey and businesslike, some still had the comedy magic. Sadly, many of them are wasting away in retirement. You want to shout: "Shelley Berman, Jonathan Winters, come back. We need more of you."
A deft touch with the language pulls the reader through this 659-page book. Some of Nachman's gems:
-- Of Vaughn Meader's short-lived career as an impressionist specializing in the voice of John F. Kennedy, he writes: "One twist to the single-bullet theory that didn't make it into the Warren report: the same bullet that killed JFK also murdered Vaughn Meader's career."
-- Of Woody Allen's lesser movie scripts: "If the actors were delivering the same lines in a club, they'd be drenched in flop sweat."
-- Of Lenny Bruce: "Bruce gouged under the skin, creating jucier, Jewishier characters in his gallery of gargoyles and showbiz sharks, and made much more racket."
"Seriously Funny" is a brilliant combination of dense research and incisive interviews, presented through the eye of senior critic.
As a bonus, the narrative is sprinkled with some of the performers' best lines and how they came to be. For example, Woody Allen, in his early gag-writing days, was a veritable joke machine, writing easily and prolifically for other comics. Many of his weird one-liners still make me laugh today. Example: He first suspected his parents didn't love him when they put a live teddy bear in his crib. And Jonathan Winters, famous for being "always on", is said to have adlibbed to a lady who complained "You're not handicapped" when he parked his car in a spot reserved for the handicapped, "Madame, can you see inside my mind?"
This history of intelligent comedy is anything but a doorstop. It is a feast. No, it's more than a feast. It is a smorgasbord so big it threatens to collapse the table. It's hard to believe so much history, mirth and critical analysis can be squeezed between two covers.
END
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4.0 von 5 Sternen Mile Wide, Inch Deep 20. April 2003
Von Arnold Kling - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
This book provides a chapter each on comedians such as Mort Sahl, Tom Lehrer, Jean Shepherd, and many others from the 1950's and 1960's. It appeals of to those of us who are nostalgic for those comedians and that time period.
Author Gerald Nachman has authoritative knowledge backed by extensive research. Most of the comedians covered by his book are in their 70's and 80's, and he has interviewed many of them. For the most part, he avoids over-analyzing comedy or lapsing into pompous amateur sociology.
Overall, however, I find the book to be a mile wide and an inch deep. It's very time-consuming to plow through the whole thing. In the end, I did not come away feeling that I knew much more about Mort Sahl or Jean Shepherd than I did from reading the record jacket of "The Future Lies Ahead" or the book flap of "In God we Trust, All others Pay Cash."
I wish that Nachman had a better editor. At a detail level, the inconsistency of dates is a constant source of annoyance. I felt like someone could be 40 years old one year, and 47 years old ten years later.
On a larger level, I would have shortened the book by trimming some of the name-linking and uninformative quotations. Instead, I would have appreciated some bullet-point style presentations that encapsulated timelines, career highlights, and best available recordings.
This could have been a better book.
8 von 9 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen Recycled Clips, Sloppy Editing 28. April 2003
Von Ein Kunde - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe
I looked forward to reading this book from the moment last fall that I learned it was due out in April. To say it was a letdown would be to put it mildly. Although Nachman lists the dozens of interviews he himself conducted for the book, the text is overwhelmed with quotes from old bios, fan magazines, newspaper reviews, etc. And Nachman has an annoying habit of skipping around in such a haphazard, non-chronological manner, that the reader is easily confused. He's also sloppy when attempting to place certain events in historical context -- for instance, he lists "All in the Family," The Jeffersons," "Sanford and Son" and "Different Strokes" as "late-60's" TV series,when in fact they were early-to-mid 70's. There are several more such sloppy mistakes. His earlier work, "Raised on Radio," is far superior -- and it's obvious he enjoyed writing it a whole lot more than he did "Seriously Funny."
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5.0 von 5 Sternen Brilliant ! 7. Mai 2005
Von Eddie Landsberg - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format:Gebundene Ausgabe|Verifizierter Kauf
After reading this book, and RAISED ON RADIO I'm convinced... Nachman is a brilliant chronicaller of generations, passioniate and on such a mission his enthuisiasm gushes through with each Peabody Award waiting to happen phrase whether or not you share his enthuisiasm. - - Like RAISED ON RADIO, the book is neither definitive nor wishy-washy either. The chapters simply paint portraits of the people. In fact, the book goes a bit DEEPER into the subject manner than RAISED ON RADIO though not too deep. Further, though Nachman did interview subjects and did research, a lot of the information isn't exactly new (atleast if you're a nerdish comedy album collector and already into what the book is about.) - - And although yes, sometimes he goes on and on to make a point, especially in the way he breaks down the personalities of the comics he analyzes, I have to say, Nachman's writing is so delightful its forgivable (whether or not some of the chapters could have been cut in half.) Also what I like about this book is the choice of comedians go well beyond the obvious and really make you think... recognizing not just the Lenny Bruce's and Mort Sahls, but radio and TV comics that paved the way... (Bob and Ray, Ernie Kovacs and Steve Allen included !)

All in all, this is a great book presented through the mind of a brilliant columnist... and yes NACHMAN definitely is a columnist... a master storyteller who can schpiel by the column inch and hold your attention all the way. The only danger of reading this book is that after each chapter you want to go out and get the CDs... but with so many comedians covered, that's a lot of bread !

Though I happen to be a fan of the topics covered in this and RAISED ON RADIO, I have to say, whatever Nachman decides to write about next, I'm fair game for it !
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