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In the rock-n-roll 1970s, a new kind of outlaw hero emerged on the American cultural scene. Joining the guitar slingers and underground writers of the previous decade was an edgy mixture of social commentator and rock star: the stand-up comic.

Inspired by the fearless Lenny Bruce, these innovators took the country by storm, turning the old borscht belt conventions on their head and reinventing a very American art form. Breakthrough comics like George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Robert Klein, and, later, Steve Martin, Albert Brooks, Robin Williams, and Andy Kaufman, packed nightclubs and concert halls, recorded bestselling albums, and became icons of cool.

When the dust of that decade had settled, comedy clubs were sweeping the country, but most of the innovators of the genre had moved on. Steve Martin, Robin Williams, and Albert Brooks were doing movies; Richard Pryor was flaming out on drugs; Andy Kaufman left for the Great Beyond. But in that time, they had invented a new voice for American entertainment: smart, wild, wised-up, and disdainful of boundaries.

In Comedy at the Edge, Richard Zoglin gives a backstage view of that outrageous time - the comics' lives and inspirations, the clubs and after-hours joints, the scene, the great gags and bad behavior. Based on extensive interviews with club owners, agents, and producers - and with unprecendented access to the comedians themselves - this is a no-holds-barred, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most influential and tumultuous decades in American popular culture.