The Comedians : Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy
by Kliph Nesteroff

Overview - In The Comedians , comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century of American comedy with real-life characters, forgotten stars, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts. Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research, Nesteroff s groundbreaking work is a narrative exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture over the past one hundred years.  Read more...

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More About The Comedians by Kliph Nesteroff
In The Comedians, comedy historian Kliph Nesteroff brings to life a century of American comedy with real-life characters, forgotten stars, mainstream heroes and counterculture iconoclasts. Based on over two hundred original interviews and extensive archival research, Nesteroff s groundbreaking work is a narrative exploration of the way comedians have reflected, shaped, and changed American culture over the past one hundred years.
Starting with the vaudeville circuit at the turn of the last century, Nesteroff introduces the first stand-up comedianan emcee who abandoned physical shtick for straight jokes. After the repeal of Prohibition, Mafia-run supper clubs replaced speakeasies, and mobsters replaced vaudeville impresarios as the comedian s primary employer. In the 1950s, the late-night talk show brought stand-up to a wide public, while Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and Jonathan Winters attacked conformity and staged a comedy rebellion in coffeehouses. From comedy s part in the Civil Rights movement and the social upheaval of the late 1960s, to the first comedy clubs of the 1970s and the cocaine-fueled comedy boom of the 1980s, The Comedians culminates with a new era of media-driven celebrity in the twenty-first century."

  • ISBN-13: 9780802123985
  • ISBN-10: 0802123988
  • Publisher: Grove Press
  • Publish Date: November 2015
  • Page Count: 432
  • Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Performing Arts > Comedy
Books > History > United States - General

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-11-09
  • Reviewer: Staff

Nesterhoff, a former stand-up comic and the host of the Classic Showbiz Talk Show event series in Los Angeles, artfully charts the evolution of American comedy as an industry, from its beginnings in 1920s vaudeville to the podcasts of today. Nesterhoff deftly interleaves the biographies of renowned comics, such as Abbot and Costello, Buddy Hackett, Joan Rivers, and Chris Rock, with those of lesser-known but equally influential performers such as Frank Fay, the first comedian to perform his routine standing in one place, in a narrative tracing changes in the industry such as the introduction of television. Though he doesn't dwell too long on any performer or subplotthe mention of the influence of the Internet seems particularly briefthis is still an informative and, above all else, entertaining study. (Nov.)

BookPage Reviews

Heading to Hollywood for the holidays

An unstoppable film franchise. A luminous Golden Age star. A beloved oddball actor. This season’s standout entertainment-themed books run the gamut from design to drama, from stand-up to the stage. 

Whatever your take on the Bond films—including the vastly differing opinions on which actor is the best Bond—the franchise’s production value is not up for debate. The large-format Bond by Design salutes the behind-the-scenes artists—including renowned production designers Ken Adam, Syd Cain and Peter Lamont—and features a copious display of artwork, sets, costumes and embellishments, making this hefty tome a must-have for 007 fans and devotees of production design. 

With many sections written by Meg Simmonds, the archivist for the Bond empire’s production company, the book moves film by film, featuring storyboard sequences, costume illustrations, gadgetry ruminations and more. Styles vary from artist to artist. Adam, whose Bond career dates back to the 1962 debut title, Dr. No, liked to work with a Flo-master felt tip pen. Jump ahead many decades, and the artists embrace digital design; what is consistent is the quality and attention to detail. No wonder Bond is the most successful franchise in film history, with the 24th entry, Spectre, now in theaters and thoroughly represented in this elaborate collection. 

Though she won three Academy Awards, Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman is best known for her role opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Published to commemorate the centenary of her birth, the lavish and loving Ingrid Bergman: A Life in Pictures takes readers on a journey through her career, including her downward spiral and triumphant encore. 

With daughter Isabella Rossellini serving as co-editor, this book boasts more than 350 photos—some from Bergman’s private collection—an introduction by her co-star and friend Liv Ullmann, a lengthy Bergman interview and texts by various acquaintances. 

Her highly controversial liaison with Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini is detailed alongside the image that sparked the media frenzy: Bergman and Rossellini, who were both married to other people, walking hand in hand on the Amalfi coast. Published by Life magazine, the photo established Bergman’s reputation as a loose woman. When she became pregnant with Rossellini’s child and delivered the baby prior to their marriage, she became a Hollywood pariah. 

Beauty, talent, choices and sacrifice—they’re all on display here in Bergman’s intriguing story, all of it captured by the camera.

Whether he’s battling gophers, ghosts or zombies, Bill Murray is the quirky king of offbeat humor. As Robert Schnakenberg puts it in The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, his on-screen persona is that of “the sardonic slacker-trickster who charms his way out of precarious situations.”

Topics are arranged alphabetically: Under “cats,” we learn that he’s allergic to them; under “Chase, Cornelius ‘Chevy,’ ” we hear about his rocky relationship with his fellow “Saturday Night Live” alum, including their fistfight prior to a February 1978 taping. His movies are all featured, as are the roles he turned down (like porn producer Jack Horner, subsequently played by Burt Reynolds, in Boogie Nights).  

As the book observes, the beloved Murray is a complicated guy. (See the listing under “Ramis, Harold,” about his two-decade estrangement from his former pal and director.) Comedians usually are. 

Photo of Bill Murray in Caddyshack from The Big Bad Book of Bill Murray, reprinted courtesy of the Everett Collection.

Speaking of comics, more than a century of stand-up gets the spotlight in The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy. Author Kliph Nesteroff, a former stand-up comic, conducted more than 200 interviews for a book that manages to be both encyclopedic and hugely entertaining. 

Did you know that the term “stand-up comic” was invented by the Mob, which owned the early clubs? Or that it was Redd Foxx, of TV’s “Sanford and Son,” who triggered the comedy album boom in the 1960s?  

Nesteroff takes us through the history of stand-up, with vivid stop-offs in burlesque, radio, early television, Vegas and the talk show circuit. Of course, comedy has a dark side. Nesteroff uses Robin Williams to remind us that the funniest guy in the room is sometimes hiding a world of pain. 

Celebratory and jam-packed with facts and great imagery, Musicals: The Definitive Illustrated Story focuses on more than 140 great musicals of stage and screen from the past century. The enduring classics are all accounted for, from Show Boat to The Phantom of the Opera, from Jesus Christ Superstar to Hair. Lush production photos, fascinating essays and facts about the genre’s geniuses, including Agnes de Mille, Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse, make this a choice coffee-table tome. There’s much to sing about here, in what could easily become a favored reference work.


This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews