There’s no better time to catch up with your reading then during a pandemic. The summer helps too. So before you fill up the kiddie pool with water and pour yourself another Arnold Palmer, I have come up with a short list of books all about making it in the world of comedy that I think you would really enjoy reading.
Since Oprah picks one book as her favorite, I will pick three, because I’m sure I have more time on my hands to read than she does.
So, before the summer is over, here are my top 3 summer reads:
- Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People be Funnier
by Alan ZweibelThis is number one on my list. It was recommended to me by my good friend Gary Rudoren, and I was so excited to read it that I could not wait for Gary to send it to me, so instead I got it on my Kindle, giving Jeff Bezos even more money.
In this warm-hearted, funny and at times self-deprecating memoir, Zweibel chronicles his life as a television writer. He first wrote for the original “Saturday Night Live,” where he forged a friendship and working relationship with Gilda Radner and then went on to co-create the ground-breaking “It’s The Garry Shandling Show.” Zweibel is a great writer, and besides writing for TV and the theater, he’s also written many popular books.
What I loved about this book
Zwiebel gives us a backstage pass to two shows that were influential for me in my comedy career, the original “Saturday Night Live” and “It’s The Gary Shandling Show.” He is honest about the personalities he worked with and owns his part in the relationships when thing got sticky. It’s obvious he’s had plenty of time to self-reflect, or had a fair amount of therapy, or maybe even both. His gratitude for his life and career comes across in the writing. I especially found his relationship with Gilda Radner both sweet and touching.
- Life isn’t everything: Mike Nichols, as remembered by 150 of his closest friends
by Ash Carter and Sam Kashner
When I started out in improv in the ’80s, people were constantly referring to Nichols and May comedy albums and the duo’s origins in The Compass Players, a precursor to Second City. I knew Mike Nichols more as a film director of such films as The Graduate, Working Girl and The Birdcage. He was also a successful director of Broadway shows and is really one of comedy’s biggest icons.What I loved about this book
This book is told through oral history from people like Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Paul Simon and Lorne Michaels. It covers Mike Nichols’ days at The Compass Players, as well as the success and breaking up of the comedy team Nichols and May and his incredible directing career. Though he had a lot of success in his career, he also had failures and struggled with depression at times. Since the book is made up of interviews from his friends and people he worked with, we get a sense of his character and personality. Most of it is flattering, but not all of it, and the people who were interviewed were honest and accepting of his faults. I got a sense of who he really was — not only his charm and wit, but all of his insecurities and quirks as well. Like all of us, Mike Nichols was complicated, even with his level of success, but the sign that someone like Nichols lived a good life is that the good far exceededhis not-so-good traits. I hope that’s what people say about me when I am gone.
I also love how open this book was about his struggle with depression and how he found happiness later in his life when he married Diane Sawyer.
- The Comedians: Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy
by Kliph NereroffAnd finally, the last book on my list is also an oral history of comedy told by hundreds of different voices. I have always been fascinated by the history of comedy, and I found this book to be the perfect summer read. Kliph Neseroff weaves over 200 interviews to tell an entertaining and compelling story of the history of comedy. Starting with vaudeville and the evolution of stand-up, Neseroff then talks about television’s impact and spotlights the comedians who changed the art form forever.
What I loved about this book
This book is told through interviews cut and pasted together, so you get the story from many different perspectives. You get the sense that everything in comedy has already been done. Some of the biggest names either stole or were influenced by other comics, and no matter how big each comedian became, it took every person time to find their voice. When I was finished with this book, I had a new appreciation and understanding of the history of comedy and awareness about how little I knew.