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How Bill Cosby Helped Launch Joan Rivers' Comedy Career

By the time she died, Joan Rivers had such an engraved image as an outrageous, foul-mouthed comedian that it’s hard to believe that she started out intending to be a dramatic stage actress. In the late fifties, after graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Barnard College with a degree in English lit and anthropology, she even played the then-daring part of lesbian in a play called “Driftwood” that had a six-week run in a 40-seat attic theater on West 49th Street. (Her lover was another still undiscovered young actress by the name of Barbra Streisand.) By the early sixties, however, Rivers wasn’t getting much theater work, so she accepted an offer [...]

Stephen Colbert Reads Letters from His WWII Soldier Uncle

Here's Stephen Colbert on CNN's The Lead Friday. Colbert was there to talk about the life of and read letters from Andrew Tuck III, his uncle who fought in WWII and landed in Normandy on D-Day, and the CNN journalist was there to compare his uncle's situation to Band of Brothers a bunch.

The Best of 'Army Man,' the Humor Magazine That Was the Foundation of the Original 'Simpsons' Writers Room

If there is such a thing as a cult comedy magazine, it's Army Man, America's Only Magazine. With a writing staff that included George Meyer, Jack Handey, Jon Vitti, John Swartzwelder, David Sacks, Ian Maxtone-Graham, Andy Borowitz, Roz Chast, Ian Frazier, Bob Odenkirk, and many many more, it's criminal that Army Man isn't more well known.

But the humor magazine ran for only three short issues and was never widely distributed. It was a homemade production, each 'zine photocopied and stapled by comedy genius George Meyer. The quality of the humor is only surpassed by the the caliber of the writing staff and their subsequent projects. Most famously, creator [...]

Found: James Urbaniak Telling a Joke On 'Late Night with David Letterman' in 1983

Last October, as part of Vulture and UCB Comedy's Pop Culture Memory Lane series, all-star viner and Venture Brothers star James Urbaniak shared a story about how he once helped David Letterman tell one of his monologue jokes as a teenager back in Late Night's early years. This is how Urbaniak told it:

In part because today is the 20th anniversary of the 1,819th and final episode of the incredibly influential Late Night with David Letterman, and partly because we just found it in the catacombs of the internet over the weekend, here is video of 19-year-old "Jim" Urbaniak hijacking Letterman's monologue on the night of February 23, [...]

The Rope-Throwin' Political Comedy of Will Rogers

There has never been a comedian with as much political influence and esteem as Will Rogers. If Jon Stewart was one of the most popular movie stars in the country you’d be getting close, but only kinda — and you’d still need to add a bunch of rope tricks. Remember Stephen Colbert’s campaign? Will got there first, and he was drafted into his campaign. Plus he actually received a few votes at the convention. Twice.

Rogers was as full of contradictions as America itself. He was a Cowboy and an Indian. He had a country voice loaded with urban slang. He rose to stardom telling jokes with a chorus [...]

What's So Special About 'The Richard Pryor Special'?

There's a famous story about The Richard Pryor Show — as Richard Pryor's star was rising in Hollywood in the 1970s, NBC commissioned the man to make a 10-episode sketch program to be broadcast in prime time. Family-friendly viewing not being Pryor's first priority, he clashed with the censors again and again until finally they let him off with only four episodes. These four episodes are still credited with an enormous influence over the genre of TV sketch comedy — directly cited by future blockbusters such as In Living Color and Chapelle's Show — and launching the careers of several performers, including the late Robin Williams in one of his [...]

Watch Louis C.K., Stephen Colbert, and Conan Give the Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address 150 years ago this month, and documentarian Ken Burns has been asking people to film themselves reciting the famous speech and put it online at LearnTheAddress.org. Here's Stephen Colbert doing it in character as Lincoln with a beard and hat above and Conan O'Brien and Louis C.K., who does his with Jerry Seinfeld in the room, below (via Vulture):

Unearthing John Swartzwelder's 1996 Unsold Western Pilot

Antenna Free TV has a piece today on a near-mythical pilot from 1996 called Pistol Pete, written by the also near-mythical Simpsons scribe John Swartzwelder. A kooky, comic western, and an unmade show on par with cult lost gems like Lookwell and Heat Vision and Jack, it starred Brian Doyle-Murray and Steve Kearney, whom Harris tinterviews. Swartzwelder even makes a brief statement about the show, and shows up in a photo, both of which are remarkable, because if you know anything about the incredibly reclusive comic genius, it's that he's an incredibly reclusive comic genius.

Watch Conan O'Brien's 'Late Night' Audition from 1993

Here's a short snippet from Conan O'Brien's audition to be the host of NBC's Late Night, which O'Brien's website Team Coco released this week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of said audition. Then a writer for The Simpsons, O'Brien was asked to do an off-air trial show with a live studio audience. His guests were Mimi Rodgers and Jason Alexander, and he ended the show with a classy, humble goodbye: "That's the end of my mock show. If that's all I ever get, it was a lot of fun. I had a good time. Thank you very much."

Seba Smith and the Birth of American Political Satire

Ever since George Washington laughed at himself while attending a farce by the “father” of American theatre William Dunlap, comedians have been knocking down presidents just as fast as the electorate can set them up. Political satire may be the best example of what freedom of speech is good for: it's dangerous, persuasive, and brings the mighty low, just the sort of thing a democracy needs to keep things fresh. Best of all, comedy can reach across party lines and far beyond the self-absorbed circle jerk of political insiders. One good SNL sketch will change more minds than a thousand policy briefs and think tank reports.

Perhaps the first breakout [...]

The Good, the Bad, and the Deeply Strange: Comedy Central's One-Season Wonders

Comedy Central cancels a lot of shows. Enough that Daniel Tosh was able to shout one out in every episode of the first five seasons of Tosh.0 (“We’ll be right back with more Michael and Michael Have Issues”). Tosh’s show has thrived, but what about the supposedly failed shows he mocked? Were any of them good? Why did so many of them only last one season? What if they were supposed to only last one season? Over the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a look at all the Comedy Central shows that lasted just one season.

First up: the reality and mockumentary genre. 

Nick Offerman Will Walk You Through Mustache History

Here's Nick Offerman going over the history of the mustache for the YouTube channel Made Man. Like any good history lecture, it includes mention of Charles Bronson and Mario & Luigi.

Big and Glossy and Wonderful: The Birth of the 'National Lampoon' Magazine

The first issue of the National Lampoon appeared in April 1970 and sold fewer than half of the five hundred thousand copies printed. Some readers may have thought they were buying yet another Harvard Lampoon magazine parody, understandably confused by a cover that was a variation on their recent Time parody; a dimly lit model in revealing costume posed against a muddy brown background with the caption “Sexy Cover Issue.” Less predictably, next to the model was a grinning cartoon duck — a Doug Kenney idea. “Henry would say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to do an interview with [legendary New Yorker humorist] S. J. Perelman,’ and Doug would say, ‘We [...]

Inside the Greatest Writers Room You've Never Heard Of

Twenty-five years ago, millions of Americans gathered around their sets to watch the launch of a show that would transform late-night TV. This show would fuse comedy and news, offering desk pieces, taped dispatches from correspondents, and interviews with political figures. It would instruct as well as entertain. Yes, a quarter-century ago, America got its first glimpse of a program that had many similarities to The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. It was called The Wilton North Report. The Wilton North Re-what? Exactly.

Still, pop culture history was made that night. I was a writer on the show and forgive me for bragging, but as a late-night programming fiasco, I believe The Wilton North [...]