Not long ago I ordered a Kindle Oasis with a 7″ screen and page turn buttons. (Small and expensive and worth it) I made the type large enough to read comfortably and among my first reads were five books by comedians. I was tired of cable and wanted to laugh.
For example, Bob Newhart was always one of my favorites on TV, I never knew (until I read I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing this!) that his initial fame did not come from standup, but from an album, The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart. (I remember that album.) Newhart only attracted significant live audiences, TV etc. after the album. In the book, Newhart talks about his background and proudly, also includes a number of his famous routines. My reaction? The routines aren’t nearly as good in writing as performed live by that former accountant in person. I last saw Bob Newhart some six years ago at Smith Center in Las Vegas. I believe he was over 85 at the time–and still funny.
And what about Carl Reiner? My memory from his book, My Anecdotal Life is of a very busy career and overall a happy and long life. Among Reiner’s talents, he was often MC at charity events. He tells of one time he was to introduce very well known guest celebrities. He told the audience he could add very little that they didn’t already know so he decided to use his time productively and give the audience a cream cheese cookie recipe. He would say, “Cream together butter and cheese; add sugar gradually, creaming after each addition, then add the walnuts — Miss Barbra Streisand” or “Use a teaspoon to drop a dollop of mixture onto a cookie tin and flatten with a wet finger–Maestro Leonard Bernstein!” I loved that. Reiner had a successful career on stage, television and Broadway. He had nice things to say about all his colleagues but I remember, in particular, the admiration he had for Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks.
I knew of Don Rickles, of course, but his Rickles’ Book: A Memoir told me of a much more successful career than I had known before. Mind you, his book is not chock full of text, lots of space between paragraphs so it was the fastest read of the bunch. My surprise? That Don Rickles knew so many top celebrities. Of President Ronald Reagan, Rickles once said, “Please Mr President, try not to nap when I’m talking. Why don’t you and Nancy go out to the lobby and practice the waltz. I’ll call you when the show’s over. But I’m still happy to entertain a President who was the best host General Electric ever had.” (I met Reagan when he visited my college…during his General Electric days.) Somehow, Rickles’ reputation as an insult comedian led me to think people would not like him, but the star friendships he had are amazing. Rickles had a long and very satisfying career. Like the other comedians, even late in life he was still entertaining. No retirement for these performers.
Kat Timpf is a modern comedienne who appears on the Gutfeld program on Fox. Her book, You Can’t Joke About That has been hyped from stem to stern so I bit. Timpf is for full freedom of speech for comics saying it over and over as in “So many comedians are scared, especially these days. Norm MacDonald seemed to be the opposite: the more he got that people didn’t want to hear something, the more he felt compelled to say it — and did say it, and remembered to make it funny. There isn’t enough of any of that, and we need it.” Timpf also has a lot of research in her book about the healing power of humor, something she needed along the way when illness and tragedy were part of her young life And yes, I agree, comedians should have free expression with no fears from the woke crowd. And yes, I agree laughter is the best medicine. If an audience is offended, they just shouldn’t buy tickets.
And finally, George Carlin’s book was written (and unpublished) before his death, but a friend Tony Hendra, gathered all of George’s written words and made the book called Last Words by George Carlin. Carlin’s book was clearly the most revealing of the group–in part because of his intellect and in part because his life had its detours such as heavy drug use, a wife with alcoholism, near bankruptcy with tax debts along with arrests because of his humor. In the end, however, Carlin also received lots of awards–though as he says, being part of a group (even a group of winners) was never his thing. He always preferred being a loner. And yet–most surprising to me is that George Carlin had only a ninth grade education. Carlin took notes for future routines and his subjects were often ordinary experiences seen through a very extraordinary brain. And yes bad habits were reversed and Carlin paid his debts. He worked very hard on every word in his routines.
Personally, I would not have been comfortable in George Carlin’s world–much preferring to spend time with the other authors here. And yet, George Carlin got me thinking. He talked about one HBO special that was a favorite, “Jammin’ in New York” so I found the special on HBO Max and watched. Yep, it was a good one. I laughed a lot. Carlin was not young, but his audience was of all ages. Amazing man.
By the way, in reading books by and about comedians, one does smile and laugh….and what is better than laughter, even if by yourself reading a book.