'I'm Dying Up Here' shines spotlight on '70s stand-up scene

Alfred Molina, Melissa Leo in 'I'm Dying Up Here'

(CNN)Showtime's "I'm Dying Up Here" is the series that "Vinyl" wanted to be, a savvy insider's look at the showbiz scene in the 1970s -- in the HBO show devoted to music, here to the budding and evolving realm of stand-up comedy.

Adapted from a nonfiction book, and counting Jim Carrey among its producers, the series features fictionalized characters juxtaposed against a backdrop populated by real-life personalities. For the comics, there's no greater validation of having "made it" than a shot on "The Tonight Show" and getting called over to the couch by Johnny Carson (played, briefly, by Dylan Baker).
To get there, though, requires surviving a Darwinian climb up the ladder at Goldie's, an L.A. club pretty clearly patterned after the Comedy Store and its proprietor, Mitzi Shore. Melissa Leo plays Goldie, who reigns over the club and its denizens, convinced she'll know when one of her hungry charges is ready for the big time, and heaven help them if they cross her.
It's 1973, which is framed by more than bad hairdos and what's on the TV. In one set, a comic weaves in a Roe v. Wade joke, back when the Supreme Court decision was brand new.