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piiskoor

Another fine mess

Reader fan critic teacher reader fan.

Currently reading

McGlue
Ottessa Moshfegh
Knife Fight and Other Struggles
David Nickle
Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity
Andrew Solomon
The Good Lord Bird
James McBride
Ancillary Justice
Ann Leckie
Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More (New Edition)
Derek Bok
Dissident Gardens
Jonathan Lethem
Nightmare Movies: Horror on Screen Since the 1960s
Kim Newman
The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
James Gleick
Complete Novels
Dashiell Hammett, Steven Marcus
Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America - Richard Zoglin Most books I'd rank at one star I don't finish, but I'll cop to two minor pleasures here: (1) despite complaints (below), Zoglin's account includes enough occasional details from/about various routines and comics to enjoy and is (2) brief and zippy enough to finish in a couple hours. I'm willing to give a couple hours to remind myself of certain pleasures.

But following on the heels of the great cultural/aesthetic history in Mark Harris' _Pictures at a Revolution_, Zoglin's attempt to say something culturally vital about this historical period of stand-up comedy is thin gruel indeed. The chapters are arranged in neat theses around certain 'central' comics, and each falls into a predictable pattern of biography, some clips of material, a simultaneously reductive and overweaning thesis. Meh.

Two big complaints. First, Zoglin's claims about cultural context seem thin and unconvincing, even for a 1-page essay in _Time_--and his biographical details, while occasionally complemented by some oral history, tend toward familiar VH1 highlights. If you know anything about these comics, you don't really learn anything. (And if you don't know anything about these comics, what you learn seems... frustratingly two-dimensional. So I'd strongly advise you to turn elsewhere to read about them.)

Second, when he actually defines his claims about comedy, they're equally flaccid. E.g., describing a Seinfeld routine about milk, Zoglin "analyzes" the closing line by asserting that it's Seinfeld's insertion of the phrase "I say" which gives it comic "oomph." Seinfeld, in other words, goes up to 11, where most comics go to 10. He relegates Bill Hicks to a paragraph, makes potentially intriguing but unargued leaps of influence from Steve Martin to Stephen Colbert, ignores the shift in comic sensibilities in American fiction and film (let alone Mad magazine or The Realist)....

This is very decaf. I would kill for a great book on the shifts in American comedy over the last 50 years, and Zoglin names at least some of the key figures and some key ideas... but that ain't good enough.