The Gag Man

Matthew Dessem

September 15, 2015

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Though today he is barely remembered, Clyde Bruckman was a key figure in early film comedy, collaborating with icons like Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, W.C. Fields, Laurel & Hardy, and the Three Stooges. Working while screenwriting was still in its infancy, Bruckman helped shape many influential shorts and films, developed the gags that made them legendary, and eventually became a director himself. But Bruckman’s own life was filled with tragedy and disappointment, from alcoholism to accusations of plagiarism, and over time his story has been relegated to little more than a footnote.

Matthew Dessem’s The Gag Man, an expansion of his study of Bruckman for The Dissolve, will be the first book-length biography of this fascinating but elusive figure. Drawing on archives, court documents, and of course the films themselves, Dessem brings Bruckman’s story to life and shines a light on an important corner of Hollywood history.

“This definitive biography of Clyde Bruckman is everything you always wanted to know (and more) about the little-known filmmaker.” – Kirkus

“This is much more than the long overdue discovery of Clyde Bruckman and the origins of film comedy. This is a deep insight into the vortex of laughter and death.” – Werner Herzog (director of Grizzly Man and Aguirre, The Wrath of God)

“Matthew Dessem takes a detour off Sunset Boulevard to recover from the shadows one of Hollywood’s forgotten men. In Dessem’s masterful telling the quest for Clyde Bruckman proceeds from two-reel farce to too-real tragedy with the fateful logic of a detective story. A marvelous job of research and reporting — I couldn’t put it down.” – Lem Dobbs (screenwriter of Haywire and The Limey)

“Wonderfully engaging.” – The New Republic


Matthew Dessem’s writing has appeared in The Dissolve, Slate, GOOD Magazine and elsewhere. He can be found on Twitter @matthewdessem. He lives and works in Los Angeles.


September 14, BookSoup (West Hollywood, CA), 7:00 PM: Matthew Dessem will read from The Gag Man and discuss the life and times of Clyde Bruckman. A book signing will follow.

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