I Killed is a great book for fans of stand-up comedy – not the performers, but the endeavor itself. Veteran comics Ritch Shydner and Mark Schiff have compiled war stories about life in the trenches over the past four decades as these men and women, these traveling salesman of mirth, ventured town to town, show to show, wherever and whenever an opportunity to make a buck and tell a joke took them. Similar to 2005’s The Aristocrats, outsiders are provided a glimpse into their world without the need of a secret handshake or knowing a member of The Friars Club.
They all started as unknowns and some remained that way. For every household name like Jerry Seinfeld, there’s a lesser known like Barry Marder. For every old-timer like Shelley Berman and Phyllis Diller, there’s an up-and-comer like Ralphie May and Lisa Lampanelli. Yet, the level of fame and talent has no impact on the tales told. Comedians I had never heard of before revealed some of the funniest misadventures.
There are great laughs before the comic even hits the stage. Chrissy Burns had to go on after the coroner removed a man from the audience. Kevin Pollack was introduced after the announcement that there was no more Thousand Island dressing. The Sklar Brothers went back to play their hometown, and a drunken female heckler called them “fags” at the mention that they were from Los Angeles.
The road is a compelling place. No matter where it leads, all the same vices are found. Chris Rock experienced group sex with prostitutes, though he didn’t realize they were working until they showed up back at his room at three in the morning. Jay Leno tied up a girl and forgot about her.
Just as often, the sex is unwanted. Rusty Warren had to deal with a club manager who whipped out a “dead-looking mole,” and Dennis Blair heard that his mother gave George Carlin a blowjob in the dressing room. The best advice on how to deal with sex on the road came from Bob Hope who said, “Don’t fuck the waitresses.”
We witness triumphs and defeats, high highs and low lows, and even a few high lows as drugs eased the boredom. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, Ron Shock took LSD with Bill Hicks before a show in Raleigh, North Carolina. Ophira Eisenberg had gravity-bong hits with a waitress’ boyfriend. In New York, Richard Belzer sucked the gas out of whipped-cream cans before going on stage at Caroline’s.
The right mixture of alcohol and ego guaranteed that violence would rear its head. Dr. Dre almost shot Carlos Mencia. Joe Piscopo had his nose broken by a mobster. Brett Butler had a guy fire a gun at her while she was on stage. Mike McDonald exacted revenge on a heckler for many a comic by punching a guy in the face.
There are a couple of misfires by people who didn’t seem to get the point, such as Jonathan Winters telling a story about returning to his hometown, or the joke is missed, such as Larry David describing a dream he once had, but their names are so big how could you not include them?
I Killed is filled with funny stories from over 200 comedians and includes cameos by Richard Pryor, Rodney Dangerfield, Sam Kinision, Milton Berle, Johnny Carson, and Andy Kaufman. Some of the stories are so outlandish I question the veracity of the tales, but that doesn’t make them any less funny.
Either they had so much material to work with or they had such a positive response in their community, because Volume Two is already in the works. Surely they must be trying to get interviews with Michael Richards and Paulie Shore for Volume Three.