Monday, June 19, 2017

I'm Dying Up Here ... turns out there's a lot of drama in comedy!


"You had to be there." Isn't that what we say when we regale our friends with some truly hilarious story and it just sort of falls flat? 

I really hope that doesn't happen to I'm Dying Up Here, a new series on Showtime about a group of comics trying to hit it big in comedy. It's set in L.A., in 1973. Three episodes in, I'm already addicted. As a Los Angeleno who turned 20 in 1973, I hope it's not just because I was there!

Here's how Showtime describes the series loosely based on the nonfiction book of the same name by William Knoedelseder.


I’M DYING UP HERE explores the struggles of “making it big” in the 1970’s L.A. comedy scene. Every night, a group of up-and-coming comedians wait to perform at Goldie’s, the hottest stand-up club in town. But first they’ll have to win over Goldie, who rules the Sunset Strip with an iron fist. Stand-up is a drug for these comedians, and they’re willing to sacrifice everything to get their fix. They brave the pain of sharing their innermost thoughts and darkest secrets, hoping that someone, anyone, will laugh. Executive produced by Jim Carrey.

Okay, so I wasn't exactly there. I was a year too young to get into any of the 21 and over clubs—and too much of a goody two shoes to have a fake ID. I wasn't a comic, didn't date a comic—although a friend and I did once have drinks at a comedy club with Tom Dreesen—but for those of us of a certain age, living in L.A. at the time, the show very much feels like we were there. Goldie's is a thinly disguised The Comedy Store, Goldie inspired by Mitzi Shore, the infamous club owner who saw her comedy club as a star making machine, a school for comics where the comedians should be grateful for getting a platform to hone their art. "School" Goldie tells the comics, "doesn't pay the students." 

We recognize the clothes, the patter, the whole vibe. If not 'this is your life', the show, with its Boogie Nights opening, is at least a very solid reflection of the world we recall. And for us boomers, longing for our high-waisted flared & faded blue jeans, nostalgic for curly perms, that's a far-out place to be. 



Good, bad or indifferent, I'm hooked on I'm Dying Up Here. It's not just the excellent reconstruction of the period, or that everyone in L.A. loves TV shows about L.A., or that Canters is half a mile up Fairfax Blvd from where I live—or that I remember witnessing firsthand the famous gathering of comics at the deli after closing time. There's the comedy—sometimes their off stage jabs are funnier than the bits and pieces of their acts—and the drama but it's mostly due to the ensemble of characters who have already wormed their way into my thoughts. 

Goldie, the sometimes nurturing, mostly ball-breaking mother hen owner is played by Melissa Leo who has her own personal issues, a daughter who ran away from home half a dozen years ago. You can see the pain in Leo's eyes. Or it could just be smoke in her character Goldie's eyes as she constantly has a cigarette in her hand. In the second episode Goldie pulled out her gold cigarette case—tap tap tap—and lit up right in the middle of lunch. So seventies!  


My husband reminded me the actors are not allowed to smoke real cigarettes on set, instead they're taking drags from vegetable & clove cigarettes, which in his opinion, are even worse than the regular smokes he gave up a year and a half ago!



Cassie (Ari Graynor) the only female comic in the regular bunch, she's fighting to find her voice and fighting Goldie to give her some decent stage time. There's no women's card. Goldie isn't going to give Cassie a break just because they're both female.



Bill Hobbs (Andrew Santino) is the big fish; your basic white male comic. He's almost ready for Carson's couch but an event in the pilot episode & his own self-defeating attitude puts the kibosh on that. Oh, and Bill and Cassie are sleeping with each other. UPDATE: I just learned he's the real deal too. I'm watching his comedy special on Showtime as I write this: Andrew Santino: Home Field Advantage



Adam (R.J. Cyler) a gifted & ambitious young black comic whose willingness to do handiwork for Goldie (none of the comics are getting paid for doing the comedy gig!) has tongues wagging.


Edgar Martinez (Al Madrigal) is the Mexican comic. A true blue stand-up comic as well as an actor, you can catch Madrigal's hilarious Shrimpin Ain't Easy comedy special on HULU. He's a bit of an asshole on the show, always trying to psych the other comedians out.



Eddie (Michael Angarano) and Ron (Clarke Duke) are a couple of starving young comics out from Boston, so broke they're living in a closet for $60 a month. They're so broke, heaven was winning a year's worth of Rice A Roni as a consolation prize on The Price is Right. 

Erik Griffin and Jon Daly round out the regulars, the struggling comics. 

No one is getting paid. Everyone complains about the order they go on stage. Everyone's struggling for their art. In the meantime they screw each other—literally and figuratively—fight and makeup. Turns out there's a lot of drama in comedy. 


The Jim Carrey produced show airs Sunday nights at 10pm, you can catch up at Showtime On Demand. Anyone watching it? Is it as awesome as I think it is, or did you have to be there?


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