Monday, January 7, 2013

The Golden Age of Standup by John Knoerle

John Knoerle: Hollywood Daze has asked me to reminisce a bit about my time as a struggling comic in LA in the late 70s, the Golden Age of Standup.  I had tasted some success as part of a four-man comedy troupe in Santa Barbara, The DeLuxe Radio Theatre. I wagered that our peculiar brand of off-beat, satirical humor would go over in the big town as well.

Not so much. But my timing was excellent because I got to witness firsthand the meteoric rise of the Big Three – Jay Leno, Dave Letterman and Robin Williams.

Jay Leno was the first one I got to share a stage with. It was 1978, at the dear departed Westwood Comedy Store, a branch office of the main Comedy Store in Hollywood. The room that weekday night was half-empty and dead. Everyone bombed, myself included. 

Then the emcee introduced a guy with a big chin who looked about sixteen years old. And the room snapped to attention.

Jay Leno in 1978 was precisely the Jay Leno you know today – brash, quick and bursting with confidence and East Coast attitude. He killed.
I only remember one line. Jay riffed off the men’s room, which had the newfangled hand dryers. “Anybody use those things? I seen guys in six-hundred dollar suits wiping their hands on their lapels.”
Not the funniest joke of all time, but the way Jay told it, it worked like crazy. I watched him with a mix of envy and amazement. The guy was younger than I was. How in the hell had he progressed so far, so fast? 

I got a glimpse of his fascination with vintage cars a little later. I was out in the parking lot commiserating with my fellow comics when we saw Jay drive off in an old car. Not a fancy buffed-out Fleetwood or Packard like he drives now. It was the car that Ralph Nader wrote about in “Unsafe at Any Speed.” A 1962 Chevrolet Corvair.

I have no idea if this is true but the scuttlebutt at the time was that Jay was living in it.
Dave Letterman was the coolest of the Big Three. Leno would work the room like an alderman on election eve, slapping backs and pressing flesh. Robin Williams would run up and down the room and occasionally bounce off the ceiling. But Letterman would hang back, wrinkle his brow sardonically and make the audience come to him. It helped that he was wicked funny.

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About the Author:

Author John Knoerle 
John Knoerle began his creative endeavors in the early 70s as a member of the DeLuxe Radio Theatre, a comedy troupe in Santa Barbara. He then moved to LA and did stand-up comedy, opening for the likes of Jay Leno and Robin Williams.

Knoerle wrote the screenplay Quiet Fire, which starred Karen Black, and the stage play The He-Man Woman Hater’s Club, an LA Time’s Critic’s Choice. He also worked as a staff writer for Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Knoerle moved to Chicago in 1996 with his wife Judie. His first novel, “Crystal Meth Cowboys,” was optioned by Fox TV. His second novel, “The Violin Player,” won the Mayhaven Award for Fiction.

John Knoerle’s novel, A Pure Double Cross, was the first volume of a late 40s spy trilogy featuring former OSS agent Hal Schroeder. The second volume, A Despicable Profession, was published in 2010. Knoerle’s latest book, The Proxy Assassin, Book Three of the American Spy Trilogy, has just been released.
Visit his website at

About the Book:
October, 1948. Former OSS agent Hal Schroeder gets invited to Washington D.C. by Frank Wisner, who heads the CIA’s new covert ops division. Hal is whisked off to Wisner’s Maryland shore retreat and introduced to a brace of Romanian royals, including the scarily beautiful Princess Stela Varadja, a direct descendant of Vlad Tepes Draculea.

Then Frank Wisner pops the question. Would Hal consider parachuting into a remote mountain camp to meet with the leader of a group of Romanian anti-Communist guerillas?
“I had already survived two previous suicide missions and a third did not appeal. But I told Frank Wisner I would need a few days to think it over. I had some sightseeing to do.”
As it turns out Hal Schroeder gets to do a lot more sightseeing than he bargained for.  A journey that brings the American Spy Trilogy to a surprising, and emotional, conclusion.

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