A young Allen writes jokes for supper club comedians, decides he will never succeed as a performer, does, idolizes and is snubbed by Mort Sahl, and develops the comic persona which will make him a star.
Woody Allen found himself writing for the clever comedian Herb Shriner. Shriner had a folksy radio program that featured The Raymond Scott Quintet. It made a smooth transition to television where Shriner hosted a prime time variety stint, for which Woody became a teenage writer. "The first week I had written [an episode of The Herb Shriner Show] ... I went ... and I got in the back of the line of the studio audience to go in. And I was waiting—you know, there were three hundred people ahead of me—and Herb's manager came walking by and said, 'Why are you waiting in line?' And I said, 'Well, you know, I want to see the show. I wrote, you know, the jokes.' And he said, 'You don't have to wait in line,' and he took me through the stage entrance. It was the first time that ever happened to me. And I was backstage watching it and of course, this whole world was amazing to me ... I was seventeen years old and I was earning more money than my parents put together had ever earned in their life." Despite pockets full of jokes, when Woody decided to take to the stage and do a short stand-up set at the Young Israel Social Club in 1953, he did so with material written by his friend Mike Merrick. Allen did not have confidence as a performer and this one-off stand-up gig did not make him fall in love with the idea. He continued to construct jokes behind the scenes. Of his Herb Shriner experience he gloats, "The kids in my neighborhood were earning I don't know what—the minimum wage was like fifty-five cents an hour or something and I was earning like sixteen hundred dollars a week."
The Comedian Comedians Were Afraid Of
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc • New York • May 2012
Remembering the unsparing Patrice O’Neal.
Even comedians—who rarely shut up—had to surrender whenever Patrice O’Neal began to talk. He’s the guy they would call on the long drive home from Magooby’s Joke House who loved to discuss—at length—whether Jay-Z would ever cheat on Beyoncé, or the various options for black reparations, or the best adjectives for different smells of pussy. He was a master at introducing subjects that you never even knew you had an opinion about—like whether you’d be willing to have sex with a girl who had no nose. Even though O’Neal was usually doing 90 percent of the talking, listening had the feel of conversation, in part because he was famously picky about whom he’d talk to, and in part because he always implicated you in his investigations. Whether the topic was crass or ridiculous, he demanded a response. The transformative power of the ugly truth was, for O’Neal, a form of grace.
Angry Middle-Aged Man
James Kaplan • The New Yorker • January 2004
A profile of Larry David, with a focus on his years as a struggling stand-up.
“A night club is a place where drinks and food are served,” Jerry Seinfeld says. “A comedian is not automatically the audience’s focal point. You have to fight for their attention, and it’s not easy to get. Larry had the material, but he never had what you would call the temperament for standup.”
One night at Catch a Rising Star, a comedy club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, David stepped onto the stage, scanned the room from side to side, said, “Never mind,” and walked off.
Despite the bravado, he had no plan. “I was hoping that somehow I could get some kind of cult following, and get by with that,” he said. “And you know what? That would have been fine with me. I just wanted laughs—that’s really what I was after. I wanted to make a living, but I really was not interested in money at all. I was interested in being a great comedian. That was really what I wanted to be.”