Not especially funny, given its subject, and Zoglin more often asserts comic genius than demonstrates it with a choice line....

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COMEDY AT THE EDGE

HOW STAND-UP IN THE 1970S CHANGED AMERICA

Middling account of the standup-comedy renaissance of a generation past, which made stars of Robin Williams, David Letterman, Jerry Seinfeld and many others.

Time editor Zoglin turns in dutiful, careful profiles of the principal characters in the standup movement, but he breaks very little news—except, perhaps, to correct the notion that Richard Pryor caught fire while freebasing cocaine; in fact, Zoglin writes, “he poured cognac all over himself and lit a Bic lighter.” The author begins his genealogy with Lenny Bruce, dead but still influential, and George Carlin, who had remade himself from straight, slightly older comic to hip icon with some daring career moves that turned out to be right on the money. Carlin and Pryor ruled the early ’70s, with Robert Klein and David Steinberg not far behind, filling concert halls and Johnny Carson’s couch. Their acolytes, careful students of comedy almost pathologically driven to succeed, jockeyed for position at New York clubs such as Budd Friedman’s Improv and Rick Newman’s Catch a Rising Star. Some had modest careers, some died young, but a few—Seinfeld, the almost scarily needy Jay Leno, Richard Lewis—took off just about the time comedy was changing, as the with-it observations of Richard Belzer gave way to the vapidities of Steve Martin. Zoglin touches on some interesting matters: why comedy moved from New York to Los Angeles (because L.A. was where Carson was), why few women succeeded in standup (because Carson was scared of them). But he does little to link the auteur-jokester revolution to other cultural trends in music, film and art. Shy on any history but the personal, this is more a long People-ish magazine piece than a book.

Not especially funny, given its subject, and Zoglin more often asserts comic genius than demonstrates it with a choice line. “If you get a laugh, you’re golden,” the author rightly observes. This one goes for the bronze.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-58234-624-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2008

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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