Seriously Funny

 

by Gerald Nachman (Pantheon Books)

 

(This column first appeared in the October 16, 2003 issue of ArtVoice of Buffalo.)

 

In this quite remarkable compilation subtitled The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 1960s, Gerald Nachman offers extended essays on two dozen comics or comic teams, still familiar to those of us who love this art form. The names are all here: Mort Sahl, Sid Caesar, Tom Lehrer, Steve Allen, Jonathan Winters, Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Ernie Kovacs, Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, The Smothers Brothers, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby and Mel Brooks, just to mention some of my own favorites. Each is given full treatment -- the essays average over twenty pages in length -- and there are plenty of punch lines quoted to remind us of their schticks. As I read, my wife kept complaining about my laughing out loud. How could I do otherwise with lines like Joan's act (which I watched in the Catskills) ending, "If you like me and know any agents, please remember that my name is Joan Rivers and I put out." My only mild criticism is that two of my favorites, Chicago's Jean Shepherd, whose late night rantings saw me through graduate school, and Bob Elliott and Ray Goulding got far too few pages.-- Gerry Rising