Rating : 4 stars

Book Review: Wild and Crazy Guys by Nick de Semlyen

A candid look at the rivalry and comradeship between some of Hollywood’s A-list comedians.
Book Review: Wild and Crazy Guys by Nick de Semlyen

If you grew up in the ‘80s, then films such as Ghostbusters, Beverly Hills Cop and National Lampoon’s Vacation were likely part of your viewing history. Nick de Semlyen’s Wild and Crazy Guys: How the Comedy Mavericks of the ‘80s changed Hollywood forever follows comic trailblazers including Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Steve Martin, and John Belushi, whose artistry left an indelible mark on comedy.


The book begins with an epic brawl which erupted on the set of Saturday Night Live in 1978 between Chevy Chase and Bill Murray – one which was ‘fueled by alcohol, drugs and fame’, according to comedian Dave Thomas, and which sets the scene for what’s to come in this candid look at the rivalry and comradeship between some of Hollywood’s A-list comedians and their illustrious careers.

De Semlyen, a film journalist and Empire Magazine’s reviews editor, offers an in-depth account of one of the most fertile periods for screen comedy, drawing on interviews with the comedians themselves in addition to directors such as John Landis, Walter Hill and Carl Reiner, who worked with Martin, Murphy, Aykroyd and Belushi, offering a behind-the-scenes look at productions such as The Jerk, 48 Hours and The Blues Brothers

Concise, funny and articulate, De Semlyen oscillates from the comedians’ beginnings on the iconic Saturday Night Live through to their transition into film, and the debauchery, triumph and disaster that ensues once their careers take off and both money and fame give them the sense that anything is possible. It's also extremely obvious how much of a gender imbalance there was in comedy from that era as almost everyone mentioned, from the actors through to those working in film production, appear to be male. Unfortunately commentary about this is kept to a minimum.

Chapters deliver a deep insight into the character quirks and personality traits of the men; Eddie Murphy, in his early days, is presented as a conscientious, driven and self-assured comedian who wasn’t swayed by the drug use and partying that sadly ended John Belushi’s life in the early 80s, while Chevy Chase is presented as an egotistical prankster who becomes more humble after a series of events, including a near death experience on a film set, put life into perspective for him.

There a plenty of anecdotes that make Wild and Crazy Guys a fun, easy read, with absurdity and humour at every turn, whether it’s on or off the set. One of the highlights is Belushi and Akyroyd driving around America in a Chevy Caprice on a road trip funded by Rolling Stone. Armed with a ludicrously expensive sound system, the duo run rampant, with Aykyroyd calling the Rolling Stone editor and claiming to be a Louisiana sheriff yelling that two comedians have killed someone with a car.

Also chronicled are the comedians’ relationships with other famous actors and writers such as Hunter S. Thompson. One particular incident saw Bill Murray nearly drowned after he was tied to a lawn chair and thrown into a pool by the gonzo journalist after the two had a conversation about Harry Houdini.

Wild and Crazy Guys certainly lives up to its title and is a tumultuous look at one of the most interesting decades in comedy history following the career highs and lows of some of comedy’s greats and their insatiable appetite for success.

4 stars out of 5 ★★★★

Wild and Crazy Guys by Nick de Semlyen
Imprint: Picador
Format: Trade Paperback
Categories: Non-fiction | Biography: Arts & Entertainment | Performing Arts: Comedy
Pages: 336
Release Date: 11 June 2019