Richard Zoglin's new book is Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America.
Jamie Malanowski interviewed him for Playboy.com.
The introduction and opening exchanges:
Richard Zoglin, a former colleague of mine at Time magazine, has written an excellent piece of history of entertainment history called Comedy At The Edge, about stand-up comedy in the 1970s. Not only has Richard been a longtime observer of the stand-up scene, but he is a top-notch reporter, and the book captures the broad history of this phenomenon, while offering rich and insightful details about the comics themselves. Here Richard answers some of our questions:
PLAYBOY: Your book is subtitled How Stand-Up in the 1970s Changed America. Okay—what was so special about what happened in the 1970s, and how did it change America?
ZOGLIN: I think the stand-ups of the late '60s and '70s really articulated and even helped shape the attitudes that we identify with the social and cultural revolution of the time: suspicious of authority, expressing a new freedom of language and sex, calling into question the hypocrisy and outmoded morality of old '50s-era America – all the hits of the counterculture years. How did these comedians change America? They reshaped our sense of humor -- and our sense of humor is what defines us today, provides the framework for how we look at the world and at ourselves.
PLAYBOY: Like a lot of writers who've looked at comedy during this period, you give a lot of credit to Lenny Bruce for laying the groundwork for so many of those who Followed. However, unlike many critics, you don't think he was quite as funny as those who followed in his footsteps. Care to elaborate?
ZOGLIN: I really tried to take a fresh look at Lenny. I’ve never really laughed that much at his stuff, and I still don’t. I don’t think he was a great craftsman of comedy the way Carlin or Klein were - guys who tackled some of the same subjects Bruce was talking about and really shaped them into sharper satiric bits. But the more I listened to Bruce, the more I realized why he was such a monument for the younger guys. First he showed that a comedian could be a social commentator and a rebel; the stuff he did about race and sex and middle-class morality and such was just so advanced for the time. It was really an inspiration. And second, he showed that stand-up comedy could be intensely personal – not just a guy telling jokes, but a guy providing a raw, uncensored look inside his psyche. And I think that was a revelation for the younger comics and something they decided to build on.
Read the full interview.