The Comedians

The Comedians

Drunks, Thieves, Scoundrels, and the History of American Comedy

Book - 2015 | First edition.
Average Rating:
Rate this:
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 comedian--an 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 andstaged 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.
Publisher: New York, NY : Grove Press, [2015]
Edition: First edition.
Copyright Date: ©2015
ISBN: 9780802123985
Characteristics: xvii, 425 pages : illustrations (some colour)


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 04, 2020

As the title suggests, the history of comedians is the story of a profession fraught with hardship and challenges as they navigated the ever-changing mediums of the times. The writing itself reads as more academic than comedic, and thus a little dry given the subject, but there are one or two true stories that are so shockingly funny that it seems like it could've only happened to a comedian. Here's an example:

"Harvey died at sea [working on a cruise ship], and at the time he and his wife were estranged. The cruise ship called and said, 'Your husband, Harvey, died. We have the body on ice. Should we hold it or should we fly it back to New York?' Harvey's wife wasn't too thrilled and said, 'Oh, well, few people knew this, but Harvey always wanted to be buried at sea.' She got rid of him that way! Here's a Jew from Detroit who never saw a boat in his life. They dumped him in the ocean. And that was the end of Harvey Stone."

Oct 27, 2020

Now I am curious on all the comedy albums like George Carlton's Class Clown, FM & AM, Robert Klein's Child of the 50s, Albert Brooks's Comedy Minus one to Bill Carter's the Last Stuff.

Feb 23, 2019

A walk through stand up comedy that covers all the greats. You gotta read this one!

Oct 15, 2016

I really enjoyed this book. It covered a wide range of comedians and comedy styles that have come and gone over the decades. He at least mentions every comedian I remember growing up and he tells some great details. I found it an easy read and very informative even in a topic I already knew in some detail.

May 02, 2016

I enjoyed the early chapters of this most, the vaudeville performers and postwar club acts because much was new to me.

With a survey of a big subject like this it's hard not to have a few "but what about" gripes so I'll indulge:

Bob & Ray rate one sentence although he does discuss radio comedy in the tv era. This is a serious lapse.

Likewise for SCTV,a one sentence name drop, although 80's tv is covered in depth. I wondered if he disapproved of their parodies of Vegas lounge type comedians.

30's talkies comedy seems to be something he chose to treat lightly but this leaves the silliness of a book about comedy where Vaughan Meader gets more ink than Laurel and Hardy.

He does have a wonderful appreciation of how good Jonathan Winters was.

May 02, 2016

This is better as history than comedy: you'll only find a few good jokes here. But it's wonderfully comprehensive, covering nearly a century and including quotes from a wide variety of sources. My only criticisms are: a) it has too many lists of little-known people, suggesting a need for hyperlinks that a physical book can't provide; and b) it doesn't really have an ending.

May 01, 2016

I expected this to be an amusing book, depicting the history of comedy, but it is written more as a very informative textbook, which was not what I was interested in. Therefore I did not give it a star rating as it would have been unfair to rate it based on my prior assumptions, rather than what the author's intent was. If you are truly looking for a book with historical facts about the comedy movement, this may well be the book for you; however, if you are looking for a book to fill your evening with laughter, you'd be better served by continuing your pursuit.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at OPL

To Top