Well, this was another of those books picked up at that "fill a shopping bag for $5" used book sale last year, the sort of "shopping event" that lets one expand one's boundaries a bit to include stuff that's not in one's general pattern of reading, but looks interesting (and fits in the bag). I probably would have let this languish longer, but my younger daughter was insisting that I read the "comic book", so I slotted it in a few weeks back.
Franklyn Ajaye's Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-up Comedy
is obviously a long-time project by the "jazz comedian", whose career has spanned several "comedy generations". Frankly, I was not familiar with Ajaye's work, so I hit the text with a lot fewer preconceived notions that I might have had with somebody I'd seen on TV. One of the most notable things about the book is its three-part structure: first, Ajaye's very condensed guide to what it takes to do stand-up, second, interviews that he'd done with 17 various comics over the previous 20 or so years, and finally, a section of interviews with key "industry" people. Now, as noted, I've not read much about
comedy (especially as a career path), but I can hardly imagine a better
format for introducing the parameters of a "career in stand-up" that what Ajaye's done with this book.
The first section, especially, is a super-condensed primer into stand-up. Taking his 30+ years in the business, he lays out, in a scant 45 pages, a whole course in comedy. These pages could make an excellent mini-guide by themselves, but I hope that at some point the author (who also teaches classes) will take that core and "flesh it out" into a full-length "textbook" on how to develop as a stand-up (heck, I was considering doing some of his exercises in "structuring your funny" when I was reading this!). Some of the material here could only come from a seasoned performer ... tips about timing for TV performances, tips on how to best handle club distractions, etc., etc., etc. ... and it is chock-full of this sort of information.
The "interviews" section is, however, the "meat" of the book, with 17 comics over about 200 pages. While not as direct
as the first section, this certainly gets a wide range of perspectives on the craft from assorted pros. One thing I noted, though, was that the list seemed to be heavy on "TV Show" comics, Jay Leno, Roseanne, Gary Shandling, Bill Maher, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, etc., who arguably found their greatest success outside
of stand-up, and the rest are also hardly strangers
to TV, even if their small-screen ventures didn't make it big (Louie Anderson, Richard Belzer, Elayne Boosler, George Carlin, Rich Jeni, Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser, Chris Rock, Sinbad, George Wallace, and the venerable Jonathan Winters). This "TV bias" is the one possible weakness in the book (although I suppose that the trend has been that the top stand-up talents all eventually end up in TV vehicles of one sort or another), as notably missing (for example) are the acts that, instead of getting a short-lived sit-com or talk show, are doing ten shows a week in Vegas. Given that caveat, these interviews are fascinating
as the author had worked with in movies, or toured with on the road, most of these folks at one time or another, so they open up to him as either a peer or a friend, lending a level of candor that is likely to have been absent in other situations.
The final section was something of a surprise, yet rounded out the book. Ajaye first schools the reader in the craft, exposes us to a group of seasoned pros, and then closes with the context
in which the craft is practiced. Here, the interview format is continued, only now directed at Club Owners (Budd Friedman and Jamie Masada) and "industry" types (talent agent Irvin Arthur and personal manager Buddy Mora). This gives the reader a "peek inside" with perspectives that might normally only be hard-won over years of work. Certainly this would have been a weaker venture without these last 40 pages, and Ajaye should be congratulated to having the awareness to understand their import.
Needless to say, I quite enjoyed reading Comic Insights
and was rarin' to go for developing my own stand-up by the end of the first section (don't worry, this has since faded). I was very pleased to see that this is still very much in print ... so you should be able to find it from your local brick&mortar book vendor, should you be so inclined ... Amazon, however, has it at nearly 1/3rd off cover, which trumps even their new/used options, which only undercut that by a buck or so. If you have any
interest in comedy, I think you will very much like this book.