PERFORMING ARTS

Inside Comedy: The Soul, Wit, and Bite of Comedy and Comedians of the Last Five Decades

Knopf. Jul. 2021. 352p. ISBN 9780525520573. $30. COMEDY / MEMOIR
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Steinberg (The Book of David) offers a history of comedy filtered through 50-plus years of lived experience. It’s hard to deny his comedy credentials—he’s appeared on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, guest-hosted the Carson-era Tonight Show, and directed episodes of Seinfeld. But Steinberg continually centers himself in this narrative, even when writing about fellow comedians. Anecdotes about smoking cigars with Groucho Marx and being flashed by Milton Berle are nestled among paragraphs of name-dropping; they’re balanced by his warm remembrances of Robin Williams, Johnny Carson, among others—plus a wild Redd Foxx story. The last third of the book is drawn from interviews Steinberg conducted on his TV show Inside Comedy, about the early careers of dozens of comedians (including Chris Rock, Richard Lewis, and Sarah Silverman). This section is effective, yet Steinberg still dominates the spotlight.
VERDICT Steinberg hits the history harder than the comedy and presents himself as a pivotal figure. Comedy fans who remember his onscreen work will likely agree with his self-assessment and enjoy his book.
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