I'm a sucker for comedian bios and have read every one I've been able to get my hands on, whether I like the comedian on the cover or not. I also read everything I can find written by comedians and here's a list of a few favorites from both categories. I'll post some more of these later as well as a list of my favorite comedy recordings of all time.
Cruel Shoes by Steve Martin
This is a great collection of Steve's bizarre and hillarious short stories.
The Last Laugh by Phil Berger
From the last vaudvillians Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, up through Richard Pryor, this book tells the story of comedy in our era. With special attn devoted to woman in Comedy, the emergence of the black voice in underground and then in mainstream comedy and the important shift from the rim shot dandy- one liner style to the monologists (Lenny Bruce, Mort Saul). An exciting and heavily researched book with an affection for the stranger comedians, many of whom would be forgotten by most writers who would likely confuse financial success with comedic talent and influence.
Monkey Business by Simon Lovish
The story of the Marx Brothers, starting with their magician Grandfather in Germany. I know this makes me a sissy boy, but the book brought me to tears, so sorry was I to know that even marvelous creatures like Harpo, Chico and Groucho are required to die. It doesn't seem right. The boys childhood on vaudeville stages is depicted wonderfully, and shows just how diverse their talents were, as many of us are able to witness only their movie, TV and radio performances. The book is so heavily researched that it can be dry in place for any but the most hard cores Marx obsessor, and several Marx myths are debunked, myths that I'd just as soon have hung onto, but still a great read.
Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx
Harpo enlisted a co-writer, but the book leaves you convinced that you've heared the honest and sweet voice of the silent Marx. He's an anti-prohibitionist, who admits to having slept with prostitutes, dropping out of second grade, gambling away much of his childhood and yet he still gets across the innocence of it all. He would seem to be the only Marx who managed to be happy, in fact one of the only comedians who achieved this distinction.
Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx
Groucho leaves out the ghost writer, and doesn't bother with any mushy stuff no matter how badly inquiring minds may want to know. He tells the clever storys and rapid fires his infamous word play so fast that you have to read many sentences twice. You won't know any more about the man when you finish than you did when you started but he'll have cracked you up like Humpty Dumpty.
Lost in The Fun House by Bill Zehme
Bill Zehme interviews members of Andy's family, childhood friends, teachers, and comes up with an in depth look at a complex man. Andy's father has said publicly that Bill Zehme's version of the Andy Kaufman story is the difinitive one, and that Andy's one time best pal and collaborator Bob Zmuda's glory hogging tale is way off. I've read both and I had an easier time believing Zehme. Andy was obsessed with shock and disgust while also working to maintain his innocence. He felt the secret to comedy was in maintaining innocence and he made a strong argument for this through his routines. He had a superhuman memory, an ability to get so lost in the characters he portrayed that he could change his sexual habits accordingly, an obsession with failure that led him to constantly gamble with his success, an appetite for sex almost as strong as his desire for enlightenment. Andy toward the end of his life started researching how to fake his own death. He was very intent on this, and even contacted prankster that had pulled this off. It leaves one to wonder.....
Zehme himself is convinced that Andy is gone forever. I'm not so sure....