Released earlier this week from Skyhorse Publishing “MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: 35 Years of The Comic Strip, The Greatest Comedy Club of All Time!” is a must-have if you are a fan of stand up comedy, the behind the scenes lives of comedians or just the history of show business in general. A New York institution, the Comic Strip Live! was born out of the imagination of Richie Tienken, Robert Wachs and John McGowan after seeing a place for more competition in the just-about-to-burst stand up comedy scene of the mid-1970’s. The oft-fabled ‘comedy boom’ hadn’t yet happened, but there were still plenty of comedians to go around, looking for anywhere to get up on stage and with limited stage time to be had, the opening of the seven-night-a-week Comic Strip was a blessing for the burgeoning community.
“Make ‘Em Laugh,” written by Tienken and comedy writer Jeffrey Gurian tells the story of the club through both the perspectives of the club and its longtime ownership, but also the talent that has come through the doors. Many of the stories shared in these 200+ pages are hilarious, insightful tales being shared now for the very first time. Contributors to the book include Billy Crystal, Paul Reiser, Ray Romano, Lewis Black, Larry Miller, Colin Quinn (who got his start as a bartender at the club), Jerry Seinfeld (who was the long-time nightly host at the Yorkville establishment) and Chris Rock, who not only generously contributed the introduction for the book, but also is one of the most interesting stories in the history of the club, as the kid from Brooklyn who would make the trek into the city every night to work as a busboy for the club with the hopes of getting thrown up on stage late in the evening for Late Night. But as history knows, that all changed when a powerful young man named Eddie Murphy stopped by the Strip one night and Chris got his chance to shine. The rest is show biz history.
The book is a powerful, wonderful account that shows where the club came from and where it is today. Divided into sections – The Older Kids, which gets insight from the first few generations of Comic Strip acts including George Wallace, Joe Bolster, Wayne Federman and the aforementioned Quinn, Seinfeld and Reiser to The Younger Kids where we hear from some of todays biggest comedy stars including Jeffrey Ross, Judah Friedlander, Lisa Lampanelli, Jim Breuer and Jim Gaffigan, Friends of the Family where we talk to Rory Rosegarten, former owner of neighbor club Catch A Rising Star Rick Newman, and longtime landlord for the Comic Strip David Eberhart. The final chapters of the book at devoted to the future of the club, both listing off some of the more promising, exciting “Next Generation” talents that the Strip is showcasing as well and drawing attention to steps the club is taking to be stay up-to-date be the most socially and technologically relevant club of the 21st Century.
Beyond simply conducting interviews, what makes “Make ‘Em Laugh” truly shine is its openness and honesty. While most would expect any book written by those associated with a club, about their club to be self-congratulatory, Gurian and Tienken allow for the entire story to be told – even the occasionally less-than-flattering stories. No marriage is perfect and sometimes the relationship being the talent and the management can be a difficult one, but Gurian and Tienken wanted to whole story to be told, and it was. Brilliantly.
At a time when anyone can send a few emails and get a few quick pull-quotes and throw together a quick “feature” for a blog or website, it is encouraging and delightful to see the effort and lengths that have gone into forming “Make ‘Em Laugh” the book that it is. This was clearly no hastily thrown together side-project. Great hours were spent cultivating this book and all of that extra work truly pays off. And as with any book, the reader is the one who ends up benefiting the most.
A four-year-plus labor or love, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a must-have read for every comedian and a very exciting, peek-behind-the-curtain for any comedy fan.