A review by Shlomoh Sherman
February 24, 2018
Read about The Last Laugh On the Internet Movie Data Base
The Last Laugh (2016) |
Plot Summary: The Last Laugh pairs clips from films, performances, and interviews with top comedians and prominent Jewish leaders (including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Joan Rivers, Louis C.K., Chris Rock, Abraham Foxman, and Shalom Auslander) to ask the ultimate taboo question: Can the Holocaust be funny?
Director: Ferne Pearlstein
Genres: Documentary - Comedy
Parents Guide: see below
Release Date: November 2016 (USA)
Runtime: 90 min
A comic remarks: "What is humor? Tragedy plus distance in time equals comedy!" The question this movie asks is : When does comedy cross the line to become bad taste and indecent? During this time of political correctness, I was amazed that this movie was actually made.
Yet it seems to come on the heels of Larry David's unfunny skit about "Survivors" on CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM and what is described as open season on Anne Frank.
David decides to have a "Survivors dinner", inviting one of the winners of the TV series SURVIVOR" and an actual survivor of the a Nazi camp. I found the concept as well as the actual lines in the skit unfunny and insulting to Jews.
But hey, that's me. I also found the SPRINGTIME FOR HITLER sequence in THE PRODUCERS objectionable when I saw it in 1967. But my reaction to that film apparently turned out to be unusual. Most of the people I asked, who had seen THE PRODUCERS, including Jews, said that they found the scene funny. It is only in recent years that I have come to understand Mel Brooks' lifelong campaign to ridicule Hitler.
One has to ask: What is the recent spate of Anne Frank jokes about? Is it okay to make jokes about a young girl whose life was ended in a death camp? And what about the fact that many of these jokes are being told by nonJews? We have been told that "only a black can call another black a nigger", and we like to think that only Jews can engage in Jewish self-deprecating jokes as I often do. But then, I think that when I am engaging in ethnic and racist humor, what's good for other groups is also good for mine, a sentiment that has often gotten me criticiszed by my fellow Jews.
Lenny Bruce got indicted for what in the 1950s was considered indecent humor. He made himself an enemy of the Irish Catholic police by engaging in mockery of religion although no one ever claimed that was his offense. No, because there are no blasphemy laws in America, he was charged with obscenity. But people now realize that being persecuted by law enforcement could not have been for use of dirty words since other comics were also using those very same words at the time and were not bothered by the police. So Bruce got in truble for humor that in a later time became the staple of George Carlin.
Bruce himself said that forbidding the use of certain words and concepts only gives those words and concepts more power. He pointed out that if everyone was allowed to say the N word over and over again, the word would lose its power to inflict pain. The same might be said for other so-called ethnic slur-words. There is also a science fiction story [It might be Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END] in which guests at a party speak about how in their [future] century, all ethnic slur-words are being used by society as acceptable, good-natured slang. [I will be happy if anyone reading this review can verify that it is Clarke or some other sci-fi author.]
My mother used to tell me when I was a child that we laugh from adversity [MEN LAKHT FIN TSURES]. Jews have always made jokes about their bad treatment by others,and in many instances the humor points up the stupidity of the antisemites. During the 1920s and early 1930s, Jews, as well as others, in Europe made fun of Hitler and the Nazi Party. Two classic movies, TO BE OR NOT TO BE [1938 and a later 1983 version by Mel B rooks] and THE GREAT DICTATOR, Charlie Chaplin's iconic film, lampoon the Nazis and Hitler. These films were made before the full knowledge of the Holocaust was revealed. This shows that making fun of dangerous people and dangerous movements can sometimes be fatal for the society involved.
THE LAST LAUGH makes mention of two films which have been viewed with mixed emotions as to their acceptability, Roberto Benigni's LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL and Jerry Lewis' THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED.
Although LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL won Benigni the Academy Award for Best Actor, and although Benigni claims the movie was a story about a father attempting to shield his child against the horror of what was happening by telling him that their time in the camp is merely a game, there were many that thought the movie trivialised the Holocaust, seeing it as a slapstick comedy about the torture and death of people.
In 1972, Jerry Lewis wrote and starred in THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED, the story of a circus clown who leads the children of Auschwitz into the gas chambers ny performing clown shtik. The moive was never released. Very few copies of it still exist and only a few people have actually seen it. When Jerry Lewis made this slapstick comedy about the Holocaust, its showing was blocked as a movie unfit for the public. But Benigni's movie about the Holocaust won three Oscars. We can imagine Jerry Lewis' anger at this turn of events. One of the comics interviewed in THE LAST LAUGH remarked that the Lewis movie came out too soon and that if he had waited several decades to make it, it would not have stirred a controversy. That's what the Holocaust has become for many comics. It is no longer "too soon!"
Many of us may feel that the Holocaust is so taboo that as a subject for humor, it is off limits. But some of the survivors interviewed in THE LAST LAUGH said that even while in the camps, with death all around them, Jewish prisoners engaged in concentration camp humor in order to relieve themselves of the daily stress of their captors' torture.
Basically I think that my mother was right. We Jews DO laugh from TSURES. Not only us Jews but others as well. Laughing at adversity has a long history Archeologists have unearthed writings of ancient civilizations going back to Sumer, 6000 years, and have found in them "sick jokes", what we have come to call "gallows humor."
Go on Google and you will find jokes about September 11, Columbine, Katrina, the Boston Marathon, Charlie Hebdo, the tsumani in Japan. Speaking of the last, Gilbert Godfrey lost his Aflack gig because he told this joke "too soon": Japan is advanced. There the people don't go to the beach. The beach comes to them." I'm sure that the victims of these tragedies felt pain in a manner similar to the victims of the Holocaust.
Go on Facebook and you will find jokes about fat people, jokes about 'yo mama', jokes about Polacks, and on and on.
The comic speaking in the youtube video, TOO SOON, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV9ATq0jkQU says that none of us has the power to undo what has been done. All we can do is cope with the afteraffects.
So the film asks again: is humor about the Holocaust crossing some line of unacceptablity no matter how far back in the past it recedes? In the end, it offers no absolute answer. My response to tragedy may be to laugh. Your response may be to comdemn my laughter. Both responses may be legitimate, or not.
As a former standup comic, it would never have entered my mind to joke about the death of millions of people at the hands of Hitler and his Nazis. But that's me. I have made jokes about other tragedies at various times but whenever I do, I always have a feeling of uneasyness in my gut
Mel Brooks sums it up best: “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
I leave you with this thought. If the Holocaust is so very painful to you that you cannot tolerate a discussion about it involving jokes, don't see THE LAST LAUGH. Its humor is bitter.
Read about The Last Laugh On the Internet Movie Data Base
See my review of THE GREAT DICTATOR - On this website
Social Psychologists: It Takes 36 Days After a Tragedy Before Jokes About It Become Funny
Psychology Today: When do Tragedies Become Funny?
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