Make ‘Em Laugh – The Funny Business of America (2008)
Six 53-minute episodes exploring what makes America laugh,
hosted by Billy Crystal, narrated by Amy Sedaris, directed by Michael Kantor
Episode 1: Would You Hit a Guy with Glasses?; Episode 2: Honey, I’m Home!; Episode 3: Slip on a Banana Peel; Episode 4: When I’m Bad, I’m Better; Episode 5: Never Give a Sucker an Even Break; Episode 6: Sock it to Me
Studio: WNET-TV/Rhino [3 DVDs]
Video: 16:9 color and B&W
Audio: PCM Stereo
Extras: Interview Outtakes, Favorite Jokes, and other bonus content on each episode
Length: 420 minutes
This wonderfully-edited documentary series recently ran on PBS (and will probably run again and again over the years). Each of the six episodes brings together comedy personalities of a similar type. For example the one subtitled The Knockabouts features slapstick pioneers such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Another episode subtitled The Wise Guys brings together less lovable characters like W. C. Fields, Gleason’s Ralph Kramden and Don Rickles. The final episode was my favorite, concentrating on satire and parody and illuminating the genius of such people as Sid Caesar, Nichols and May and Mort Sahl. Each section opens with a Billy Crystal sketch of some sort tying in with that episode’s subject. I wonder if his intro to the Satire and Parody episode was retained in the telecast, because it is a cynical on-the-button parody of endless PBS fundraisers.
Most of the expected comedy giants are covered in the series but some viewers may be surprised to learn about figures they had somehow missed – such as song parodist Tom Lehrer (who I once had as a guest on a humor program I produced at WGBH in Boston) and TV personality Paul Lynde, who was profiled due to his humor oriented around his not-yet-quite-out-of-the-closet gayness. Viewers who were not inveterate watchers of old time TV – either then or now – would find some of the characters coming out of that world unfamiliar. Over a hundred different comics, writers, historians and other experts are interviewed during the series and the clips of many of the profiled stars are well chosen. Occasionally, as in the Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor portions, still photos accompanied by audio clips are used instead of the existing DVD excerpts – probably due to licensing fees.
– John Sunier