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Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Time Event
A career guide?
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.

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A blast from the past ...
So, there I was, at the Newberry Library Book Fair, on half-off day, seeing what goodies might still be on the tables ... and what did I find tucked away in the "humor" section? A like-new copy of a Rush Limbaugh book ... which was only going to cost me $1 ... so I grabbed it (have I mentioned how much I love getting $20-$30 hardcover books for a buck?).

Now, I used to enjoy watching Rush back when he was on TV and keeping that "America Held Hostage" countdown on the Clinton regime, but I've really not "followed" him much since then. So, I didn't realize when picking up his The Way Things Ought to Be that it was such "ancient history". This book was published in 1992, so it's even pre-Clinton, which seems from today's perspective some blissful golden era!

Amazingly, Rush seemed to feel that he needed to introduce himself in this, which appears to have been his first book. Hard to think of the modern media landscape without Rush lending his voice to the Right side of that vista (of course, if the Obama forces have their druthers, free-speech on the radio is history anyway). It was interesting "catching up" on how he got to the national soapbox that he's now so associated with, however.

Needless to say, a lot of the particulars that Rush addresses in this book are old, stale, under the bridge (heck, he even uses present-tense when discussing Soviet leaders!), etc., but the general statements about those he identifies as being detrimental to America are, sadly, as nearly as true today as they were back then ... I figured that I'd share some of the "tastier" morsels from his various expositions here, without trying to necessarily put them in their original context:

The animal rights movement, like so many others in this country, is being used by leftists as another way to attack the American way of life. They have adopted two constituencies who cannot speak and complain about the political uses to which they are put. One of them is trees and other plant life; the other is the animal kingdom.

- - -

It is neither farfetched nor unfair to draw an analogy between the civil rights leadership and the Soviet Communist leadership, insofar as exploitation of their people is concerned. The leaders of both enjoy the privileges of class at the expense of the masses, who do all the work and whom the leaders purport to serve. ... Their efforts produce no goods or services to be contributed to the economy, but in fact have just the opposite effect. They discourage achievement by merit, which is tantamount to discouraging the production of wealth.

- - -

Increasingly, feminist groups are viewed as a fringe element who, because they are incapable of assimilating into mainstream society, are exacting their revenge on it. They are trying to change society to make it conform to them, rather than accepting the fact that they are not the mainstream.

- - -

The (Liberal) rallying cry has now become, "The inner cities have been ignored by an uncaring government, so we must give them more federal moneys." Ignored? Since the Great Society began in the mid-sixties we have pumped some $3 trillion into these cities and the problems have not been eliminated; they've grown worse. Some of the blame must also be placed on the shoulders of those who mislead, misrepresent, wrongly motivate and otherwise let down. Most of the established minority leadership certainly falls within that category. Liberals have created, and the minority leadership has exploited, a community of dependent people, unaware of the true route to prosperity and happiness: self-reliance and self-investment. Instead, people are told that America is unjust, unfair, and full of disadvantages. They are told that their only hope is for government to fix their problems. What has happened is that generations of people have bought into this nonsense and as a result have remained hopelessly mired in poverty and despair - because the promised solutions don't work. And, they will never work - they never have.

- - -

There is nothing the homeless advocates won't say to make Americans feel guilty ... Mitch Snyder gave a speech at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania in which he stated - and I'm not making this up - that 45 homeless people die every second. When I saw this report, I couldn't believe it. I ran the numbers and found that for that to be true, some 23 million homeless people would die in America every year. This is a classic example of how the media doesn't check the statements o the "good intentions" crowd. Mitch Snyder was trying to "help" people, so why embarrass him with the facts?

- - -

What is our greatest obstacle to solving the homeless problem? It is simple, but it will shock you. Simply put, the liberals don't want the problem solved. They are interested in power, and the way they maintain their power is to build up a giant network of government programs that employ their friends; a welfare state that constantly lobbies for its own expansion. The Poverty Pimps don't want solutions to these problems.
Not much has changed in two decades (oh, except, of course, that Bill Clinton miraculously "solved" the "homeless crisis" when he was elected and the press immediately stopped printing the propaganda from that corner of the Left!).

Of course, Rush being Rush, you'll either hate every word in here (I can already hear the panties tightening up in some corners of the Internet over this review), or you'll find it a bitter-sweet reminiscence of a less ugly era, that faced the same insanity from the Left as we're diving into now. For those of you who want to take this trip down memory lane, the Amazon new/used vendors have scads of 1¢ copies (many "like new") for this hardcover edition.

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