We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy

3.66 avg rating
( 861 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9781250037787: We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy

New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
A Very Oral History
With a New Introduction by the Author

"We Killed shines in its details and its anecdotes....Well crafted and entertaining."―The Boston Globe

From live comedy to television and bestseller lists, women rule the comedy industry―and, as this fascinating oral history shows, they have fought long and hard to make their way to the top. In We Killed, Yael Kohen assembles America's most prominent comediennes―along with the writers, producers, and nightclub owners in their orbit―to piece together the rise of women in American comedy. Beginning with the emergence of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers in the fifties, and moving forward to the edgy intelligence of Elaine May and Lily Tomlin on to the tough-ass stand-ups who would take SNL by storm, Kohen chronicles the false starts, backslides, and triumphs of female comedians. With a chorus of more than one hundred creative voices, We Killed takes us backstage to tell the story of the revolution that brought us Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Handler―and a world where women can be smart, attractive, sexually confident, and flat-out funny.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Yael Kohen is a reporter and editor in New York City. A contributing editor at Marie Claire, she covers books, pop culture, and issues important to working women. She has written for New York magazine, Salon, The Daily Beast, the New York Daily News, and The New York Sun.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1
 
Mothers of Invention
 
 
Among the politically charged, foulmouthed, and confessional comics who revolutionized the entertainment establishment in the 1950s and early 1960s were two women who upended the image of the traditional comedienne: Phyllis Diller and Elaine May. In style and substance, neither woman had much to do with the other. Diller was a stand-up who built her act around seemingly trivial husband barbs and self-deprecating housewife jokes; May was an improvisational sketch artist who injected her vignettes with highbrow intellectualism and sharp, incisive observations about middle-class life. And yet, both women laid the groundwork for a new kind of female comic. Until Diller and May hit the New York nightclub scene in 1957, comediennes were expected to sing and dance. But that all changed. Diller—the prototypical female stand-up—proved that women could tell jokes “just like a man,” while May—the mother of sketch comedy—introduced the country to improv. While each woman practiced different comedic art forms, both set future generations of funny ladies on one of these two separate but equally important paths to comedy success. And rather than make their names on the vaudeville circuit like many of the best-known comediennes of the past, Diller and May shot to national prominence from a group of small clubs in New York that were slowly changing the face of entertainment.
SHELLY SCHULTZ, talent coordinator and writer, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson In New York at that time, you had the Copacabana, you had the Plaza Hotel, you had the Empire Room in the Waldorf, you had the Latin Quarter. And the Copacabana was the kind of place that had a line of dancing girls, it had an orchestra, and it had a big-name act and a supporting act and you could eat there. The Latin Quarter was more of a Las Vegas-y kind of thing, also had a line of girls, but they did more production. Barbara Walters’s father owned that: Lou Walters. And then the smaller clubs were the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel, and they had the hipper acts. And the Bon Soir and the Blue Angel were very similar. They were both small, they both sat maybe a hundred people, they both had little tiny tables and a cover charge of five, six, or seven dollars. Food was secondary: couldn’t get a meal there, really. People came to drink and watch the show. But you had some jazz clubs; you had piano bars. I mean, there was just tons of nightlife, just tons of nightlife. And in those days an agent would need to be out four or five nights a week or more.
JAN WALLMAN, manager, Upstairs at the Duplex I was from St. Paul, Minnesota. I was married very young and widowed very young at the end of World War II and I came to New York because I wanted to get away from everything out there and I just wanted to go out every night and hear the music. Somebody called me the walking Cue magazine, which was kind of the Time Out of its day. I could always tell you who was performing here, who was performing there. And there were loads and loads of small clubs and big clubs. People went until four in the morning and everybody was out having a good time.
PAUL DOOLEY, actor and comedian In the late fifties, I was acting and trying to break in as a comedian and I got this dream job, which, to most people, would just be a dumb job: I was helping seat people in a nightclub. But it was the famous Village Vanguard, which is still going in Greenwich Village. It’s a jazz room basically and my friends would say to me, “You mean for free you get to see Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie?” and on and on. And I said, “No, I don’t get to see them for free, I get to see Mike Nichols and Elaine May, Shelley Berman, Lenny Bruce, a guy named Professor Irwin Corey.” There were about half a dozen comics who played in that club with these jazz greats. They would open the show and do about thirty or forty minutes and then Charles Mingus or Thelonious Monk or whoever—they were all famous jazz people—would come on and do their thing for maybe an hour or so. But for me, this was a clinic where I could study all these comedians, and get paid $5 a night to do it.
VARIETY, January 18, 1956 “New York is becoming a city of small cafés and intimeries. The economics of night clubs are such that the postage-stamp sized rooms are a feasible development in the present era. Large rooms, it’s felt, have become victim of their own particular brand of economics. The public apparently cannot support more than three in the style to which the large spots have become accustomed. Many regard the present time as an era of shrinkage in niteries and therefore the small spots have a better chance of catching on.
“In the forefront of the small room development are the Blue Angel, Le Ruban Bleu and the Bon Soir, which are prosperous operations ... The Village Vanguard and the Blue Angel also provided the push that helped many toward name status.
“Many regard the intimeries as a means of resuscitating the nitery biz ...
“Many also feel they do better in a small room entertainment-wise, because of the informality of the proceedings and the absence of a regular show.”
MARSHALL BRICKMAN, writer Every generation that comes up likes to define itself by its own movies or its own music. With us it was with the movies and people like Woody Allen and Mort Sahl and Elaine and Mike. They weren’t cheesy Aqua-Velva-scented Vegas kind of cigar-chomping comedians. They were more sensitive, more aware, more cosmopolitan, more cultured, more intelligent. But oddly enough that didn’t limit their impact.
HOWARD STORM, comedian We didn’t want to be labeled a Borscht Belt comic, so we started working in the Village. We still did the Catskills in that period—those of us who were able to—because it was a way to make money. In the Village, you didn’t make any money. But the Bon Soir was the club to work in in the Village. It was considered fancy and high-class, kind of a step below the Blue Angel. The Blue Angel was the epitome of the chichi clubs.
JAN WALLMAN In 1959, this was a time when comedy was going through a change. And it was tough for the guys in that era, because the stand-up guys that had done pretty well had worked in the [Catskill] mountains, which were very active in those days. They told jokes basically and they had a hard time switching over to that first-person conversational kind of comedy. It wasn’t telling jokes. It was just being funny. It was a lot more cerebral, if you will, and much more intellectual.
PAUL DOOLEY The Blue Angel was one of these rooms in New York where these hard-core joke-telling guys would never play. The acts that played the Blue Angel were very discreet, intelligent, hip, and the audience, instead of being noisy and rude and drunk, would just stop and listen to them.
JAN WALLMAN The Blue Angel had panache; it had a European feel. When I was running the Upstairs at the Duplex I went to the Blue Angel at least every other week on my night off. If I went with another woman who was a friend of mine, they would pick up our check, they’d treat us like princesses. If we came with guys, if we had dates, they’d make them pay for it. I modeled what I was doing at the Duplex after the Blue Angel, which was my idea of the greatest place in the world. The Bon Soir was quite wonderful too. I hung out at those places before I had a thing of my own to do. But Herbert Jacoby of the Blue Angel was really my mentor and he used some of the acts that started with me. Mine was a room where people started and moved on.
LAUREN SACKIN, daughter of Nat Sackin, owner of the Bon Soir in the 1960s The Bon Soir was very dark and very small. When you went from West Eighth Street downstairs there was quite a steep set of stairs. It was how you would imagine a speakeasy to be. When you went down, there was a gentleman at a small podium, and I don’t know what he was there for—maybe he was a bouncer, maybe he was to greet important customers. When you walked in there was a very tiny stage in the front. It was very dark, very gently lit with candles on each table. And there was a little tiny bar in back, a very tiny bar, and that bar was completely gay. Gay men, totally. Straight men did not hang out at that bar, gay women did not hang out at that bar. It was exclusively gay men who hung out at the bar. The nightclub was predominantly straight, but the bar in the back was three or four gay men deep.
PHYLLIS DILLER, comedian We used to call them discovery clubs. There was a group of discovery clubs, small boîtes: Mr. Kelly’s, Bon Soir, Blue Angel, Purple Onion, the hungry i. They all had a gay bar. And it’s just where you could work more chicly. You could do some very, very esoteric stuff. And you’re working for about, oh, $1,500 a week. But you weren’t anybody till you worked the Copa, right? In those days the Copa was for the big boys: Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Jerry Lewis, Martin and Lewis. No female comic had ever played the Copa until this agency booked me for $3,000. You played for $3,000, then you’d get $5,000 for the next time you played, and then $7,000. That’s a three-play deal. I played the $3,000 and told them what they could do with five and seven. I went back to the Blue Angel for $2,000. I did it for my career; I was on the wrong course at the Copa. If I was doing it only for the money I would’ve played the three, five, and seven. But I was not right for that room. ’Cause the audiences were that bad! They were rag people: rag salesmen. They needed titties, and boobs, and dancing girls. They wanted male comics who were sort of Borscht Belt circuit-y; they just needed music and the girls. The gay guys, they were chic. ...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Buy New View Book
List Price: US$ 18.00
US$ 4.99

Convert Currency

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.

Destination, Rates & Speeds

Add to Basket

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Kohen, Yael
Published by Picador 2013-10-01 (2013)
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Paperback Quantity Available: 3
Seller:
BookOutlet
(Thorold, ON, Canada)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador 2013-10-01, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Paperback. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Bookseller Inventory # 9781250037787B

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 4.99
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Kohen Yael
Published by MacMillan Publishers
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
INDOO
(Avenel, NJ, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description MacMillan Publishers. Book Condition: New. Brand New. Bookseller Inventory # 1250037786

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 9.42
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.50
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

Kohen, Yael
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Quantity Available: 5
Seller:
Pbshop
(Wood Dale, IL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description 2013. PAP. Book Condition: New. New Book.Shipped from US within 10 to 14 business days. Established seller since 2000. Bookseller Inventory # IB-9781250037787

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 9.30
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

Kohen, Yael
Published by Picador USA 10/1/2013 (2013)
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Paperback or Softback Quantity Available: 2
Seller:
BargainBookStores
(Grand Rapids, MI, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador USA 10/1/2013, 2013. Paperback or Softback. Book Condition: New. We Killed: The Rise of Women in American Comedy. Book. Bookseller Inventory # BBS-9781250037787

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 14.03
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Yael Kohen
Published by Picador USA, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository US
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador USA, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. New York Times Book Review Editors Choice A Very Oral History With a New Introduction by the Author We Killed shines in its details and its anecdotes.Well crafted and entertaining. --The Boston Globe From live comedy to television and bestseller lists, women rule the comedy industry--and, as this fascinating oral history shows, they have fought long and hard to make their way to the top. In We Killed, Yael Kohen assembles America s most prominent comediennes--along with the writers, producers, and nightclub owners in their orbit--to piece together the rise of women in American comedy. Beginning with the emergence of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers in the fifties, and moving forward to the edgy intelligence of Elaine May and Lily Tomlin on to the tough-ass stand-ups who would take SNL by storm, Kohen chronicles the false starts, backslides, and triumphs of female comedians. With a chorus of more than one hundred creative voices, We Killed takes us backstage to tell the story of the revolution that brought us Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Handler--and a world where women can be smart, attractive, sexually confident, and flat-out funny. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9781250037787

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 14.04
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Kohen, Yael
Published by Picador (2013)
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Paperback Quantity Available: 2
Seller:
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # 1250037786

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 12.35
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 1.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

7.

Yael Kohen
Published by Picador USA, United States (2013)
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New Paperback Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
The Book Depository
(London, United Kingdom)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador USA, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. New York Times Book Review Editors Choice A Very Oral History With a New Introduction by the Author We Killed shines in its details and its anecdotes.Well crafted and entertaining. --The Boston Globe From live comedy to television and bestseller lists, women rule the comedy industry--and, as this fascinating oral history shows, they have fought long and hard to make their way to the top. In We Killed, Yael Kohen assembles America s most prominent comediennes--along with the writers, producers, and nightclub owners in their orbit--to piece together the rise of women in American comedy. Beginning with the emergence of Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers in the fifties, and moving forward to the edgy intelligence of Elaine May and Lily Tomlin on to the tough-ass stand-ups who would take SNL by storm, Kohen chronicles the false starts, backslides, and triumphs of female comedians. With a chorus of more than one hundred creative voices, We Killed takes us backstage to tell the story of the revolution that brought us Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Handler--and a world where women can be smart, attractive, sexually confident, and flat-out funny. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9781250037787

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 14.74
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
From United Kingdom to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

8.

Kohen, Yael
Published by Picador
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: > 20
Seller:
Mediaoutlet12345
(Springfield, VA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 1250037786 *BRAND NEW* Ships Same Day or Next!. Bookseller Inventory # NATARAJB1FI1050168

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 11.28
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

9.

Kohen, Yael
Published by Picador
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Booklot COM LLC
(Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 1250037786. Bookseller Inventory # Z1250037786ZN

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 15.42
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

10.

Kohen, Yael
Published by Picador
ISBN 10: 1250037786 ISBN 13: 9781250037787
New PAPERBACK Quantity Available: 3
Seller:
Lakeside Books
(Benton Harbor, MI, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Picador. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: New. 1250037786 BRAND NEW, GIFT QUALITY! NOT OVERSTOCKS OR MARKED UP REMAINDERS! DIRECT FROM THE PUBLISHER!|0.71. Bookseller Inventory # OTF-S-9781250037787

More Information About This Seller | Ask Bookseller a Question

Buy New
US$ 11.83
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

There are more copies of this book

View all search results for this book