Nuthouse Magazine's Reviews > Make 'Em Laugh: The Companion to the PBS(R) Series

Make 'Em Laugh by Michael Kantor
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Jan 07, 10

Read in January, 2010

Subtitled "The Funny Business of America," this encyclopedic overview of professional comedy focuses mainly on performers from the silent movie and vaudeville eras onward into this century.

Most chapters are about a specific personality or duo and what he-she-they contributed to American humor that was unique. Some of the chosen subjects are obvious: Charlie Chaplin, Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby, the Smothers Brothers...

Other chapters highlight specific shows, such as "The Simpsons." One champions Norman Lear, a break-through TV producer but not a performer.

Sub-chapters touch on specific eras or mediums: cartoons, the Borscht Belt nightclubs, Vaudeville and Broadway, Burlesque, radio, record albums, cable TV.

To avoid making this coffee table book heftier than an unabridged dictionary, the authors had no choice but to leave out a lot of details about many of the subjects' lives and careers. Even so, this is an impressive study - practically the text for a college course.

Yet it is curious that so much talent can little or no mention: TV pioneer Milton Berle, insult king Don Rickles, "Tonight Show" founder Steve Allen, mime great Red Skelton, radio host Garrison Keillor, Steve Carell, Nichols & May, Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, Flip Wilson, Ernie Kovacs...

To be fair, some of the performers the book skims over get at least some attention in the PBS mini-series of the same title for which many of the same people were interviewed.

The book and the video largely do not repeat each other. We highly recommend that you get both, especially since the DVDs include additional interview excerpts not used in the series or book and features in which comedians share some of their favorite jokes.

"Make 'em Laugh" will make you laugh indeed.





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