Believe it or not, I don’t spend all my time getting pissy about people’s online behavior. I actually spent much of this weekend laughing aloud, because I read the new memoir, Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, by the great Alan Zweibel. Who? I didn’t realize I was such a comedy nerd until I figured out I was the only person I knew around here who was excited that this book came out. I’d been a fan since I was in my late teens.
Zweibel was one of the original Saturday Night Live writers, and I have followed his career ever since. He is one funny, funny man. And he sure has run into a lot of funny, funny people in his life.
I had a great time reading about his start as a deli meat cutter/joke writer for the last of the Borscht Belt comics, how he made the big time writing for SNL, and of course, his ups and downs in the years since.
Some of the best parts of the book are about his friendships and comedic partnerships. His best friend was Gilda Radner (and he wrote what I hear is a beautiful book about her, called Bunny Bunny, which I just ordered). Much of their story had me laughing aloud. He was very honest about his relationship with Garry Shandling, which had very big highs and lows. And learning more about Billy Crystal, another favorite comic of mine, was another highlight.
At times, Zweibel’s incessant name dropping got on my nerves. It was like I was playing a game of How Much Comedy History Do You Know? I’m glad that he often described what a person was known for in parentheses, and I admit to having little moments of glee when I already knew a comedy name. You do end up with the impression that the world of comics and their agents is a very small one, or at least was for a long time.
His casual mentions of just dropping by a Knicks game, getting let in to Broadway shows, or playing tennis with the cronies came off a little elitist, but I probably do that stuff inadvertently myself, on a smaller scale. He probably views those things as normal parts of life, since everyone he knows has a house in Hawaii with a famous comic/movie director (Rob Reiner, or was it Carl; all that family are in the book).
I think Zweibel redeems himself, though, with the respect and high regard he places on the people who came before him, who taught him and all the comedians his age so much. He also seems to feel honored to be able to share his experiences with younger comics. I honestly think he’s a nice guy who lucked out and got famous, and handled it as well as he could, being a regular human being and all. His love for his wife and kids also are refreshing to read about – his wife, Robin, seems as funny and genuinely nice as he does.
If you like the history of comedy in the US, and understand enough Yiddish and Jewish culture to be able to follow a Henny Youngman joke, you’ll get a real kick out of this book. And you’ll have a few old and new jokes to tell your friends.
By the way, there’s a free Kindle version of a few comedy stories by Zweibel that you might enjoy: From the Bottom Drawer of: Alan Zweibel: The Prize, The Ride Home, Sexting with Alan Dershowitz