Okay, the title’s really long.  In fact, that’s all I read in my first sitting, then I took a much needed break.

I’m a standup comedian, I’ve worked with or met many of the comedians in this book, and I briefly met one of the authors, Mark Schiff, at The Funny Firm in Chicago back when I was just starting out in comedy back in 1990.  (Whew!  I’m getting old.  I was eighteen then.)  I wanted to get that all out in the open.  All that being said, this is an unbiased review which, with my background, is able to shed a little more light on the subject.

When touring as a comedian, many of us stay in comedy condos, basically apartments where the clubs put up the acts for the week.  There’s not a lot to do during the day, so we often end up sharing stories from the road.  And they tend to be very, very funny, even outrageous.  There’s strange things out there.  Stalker fans, rutheless club owners, serendipitous events… well, you get the idea.  Long-time veteran comedians Mark Schiff and Ritch Shydner astutely decided to gather some of these stories and share them with the world in a book.  I actually had a similiar idea, only to share stories of comedians’ and bands’ worst gigs, entitled Ghastly Gigs.  (A much shorter title, you’ll notice.)  Perhaps I still will.  In fact, I definitley will.  I will start gathering the stories today.

The stories in I Killed: True Stories… are wide and varied.  Some are about sex, some about bad gigs, some about bad weather, and at least one is even heartfelt.  They are all funny and, at times, laugh out loud hilarious.  No doubt some people will squirm at some of the more graphic stories, but they’re really not that graphic.  Ritch and Mark interject terms like “privates” instead of using the proper physiological terminology, when called for in a story.  Given that some of the stories are about Rodney Dangerfield or come from Chris Rock, the graphicness is hardly surprising.  In the business, we call these stories “blue.”  They hardly compare to the graphic nature or conversation of R-rated films such as American Pie.  Still, some readers will find it to be raunchy.

Graphic?  Yes.  Raunchy?  No. 

I am always intrigued by such a position.  Raunchy is reserved for unnecessary graphicness, where the description is unneeded.  For I Killed to be honest and accurate, it most contain some graphic depiction; otherwise, the stories would be somewhat lacking and leave the reader questioning what the story was actually about.  None of the stories involve graphic violence.  I always find it amusing that people will label a non-violent story about sex “raunchy,” yet not label an episode of Law & Order: SVU “raunchy.”  Most of the crime shows on TV are far more graphic and descriptive than Mark and Ritch’s book.  Yet, because they are violent, they are not “raunchy.”  Chew on that.

The layout of the book is quite simple.  The name of the comedian telling the story is in bold.  The story itself follows the name.  Then, it’s on to the next story.  In short, the book is a collage of funny stories of many of the industries most popular acts.  There is one flaw with the book.  The first rule of comedy, or any form of entertainment for that matter, is “know your audience.”  Some of the lingo used in the book would not be familiar to people outside the comedy industry.  The terms aren’t too hard to figure out, but they can be confusing.  For example, what’s a “feature act?”  A “hack?”  If I were a savvy salesman, I would tell you to read my book first; it’s about funny dating disasters only, but I make an excellent point of defining all the comedy lingo as I introduce it.  But I’m a sucky salesman, so I’ll simply provide a key here:

Gig – A show for which a comedian has been hired to perform

Opener – Opens the show and typically emcees it

Feature – The middle act in the show, going on between the opener and the headliner (aka closer)

Hack – A comedian who does other acts’ material or does old bits that have been done to death

One-nighter – A one-night gig, usually in a smaller venue like a small town

Hell gig – A gig that sucks, usually a bad one-nighter

Comedy condo – An apartment where the acts are put up by the club

Bit – A joke or concept in a comedian’s act

Tag – To recall a bit again later in the show, sometimes more than once

Most of the terms are eventually explained by some of the comedians in their stories, but not until long after they have been introduced.  This could be an editing flaw with the book and have nothing to do with the authors.  It is an oversight that occurred somewhere and gives the book its only real flaw.

In summary, I Killed is a simple book that is quite funny.  It’s an easy, flowing read that achieves its goal of conveying life on the road and making us laugh.  I recommend it and give it 4 out 5 stars, citing its only flaw as failing to explain some of the comedy lingo when it is first introduced.  Fun read!  I am looking forward to the sequel I Killed Two, which is already in the works.  I can’t wait to read it!

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