his pain, the audience’s pleasure

Woody Allen’s 1960s stand-up character tapped into a personal neurosis.

{The Wall Street Journal, written by Raymond Siller, Jan. 26, 2015; featured image via Time.com}

American comedian, actor, and director Woody Allen during a performance on an unspecified television show, January 27, 1967. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images) PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
American comedian, actor, and director Woody Allen during a performance on an unspecified television show, January 27, 1967. (Photo by CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images) PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

After four decades of making movies for the large screen, Woody Allen has struck a deal with Amazon, announced recently, to write and direct a half-hour comedy series for its Prime Instant Video service. He wrote for early television back in the ’50s and ’60s, but this marks the 79-year-old’s first venture into the relatively new world of subscriber-based streaming TV.

Mr. Allen has had a remarkable career. Filmgoers who know him as a pre-eminent auteur may be unaware that he spent 10 years as a successful comedian. “The Stand-up Years” (Razor & Tie) is a just-released two-disc set that includes material from vinyl recordings of his mid-’60s club routines. They are the seeds of his early, zanier movies.

Performing stand-up is terrifying. It’s pugilistic, a battle between comic and crowd. Hence, the comic-to-comic boast after a successful performance is “Last night I killed.”

When Mr. Allen began doing stand-up, older comedians like Buddy Hackett, Jack E. Leonard and Phil Foster worked hotels in Las Vegas and resorts in the Catskill Mountains Borscht Belt, while a new breed of comic was on the rise that included Nichols and May, the Smothers Brothers, Joan Rivers, and Bill Cosby. They did more personal social commentary, not mother-in-law jokes sold them by gag writers. They flexed their comedic muscles …

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