Comedians: The Polite Generation

In the late '50s, a rising nightclub comedian was wise to be sick if he wanted to be solvent. Monied mirth was found in plane crashes, terminal diseases, physical handicaps, capital punishment. Then Bob Newhart cleared the atmosphere. His monologues, softly twanged and delivered at leisure, drew laughter that wasn't full of marsh gas.

Newhart has more or less fathered a new generation of more or less polite comedians—not all the new faces in the field, but many of them. Charlie Manna, for one, is a typical new comedian on the nightclub...

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