Comedians: Country Boy

Ever since Will Rogers first ambled onstage with his lariat, comedians have played the hick-in-the-big-city for big laughs and good money. From Herb Shriner to George Gobel to Andy Griffith, dozens have twirled the same line — and still left enough rope for their lineal descendant, Dick Cavett. In a Greenwich Village nightclub last week, Cavett, 29, recited the doleful tale of his country boyhood in Nebraska. The story, as he tells it, is comical enough, and perhaps just true enough to serve as his public autobiography.

He grew up, he explains,...