Thursday, August 29, 2013
When Comedy Went to School
It's hardly controversial to call the U.S.' contemporary comedy scene the most advanced in the world.
The humor on offer even in many highly developed Western European and Latin American countries is embarrassing by comparison, puerile, even scatological. And there can be little doubt that Jewish comedians are primarily responsible for America's ascendancy. A new documentary called "When Comedy Went to School" traces this trend to the Jewish resorts in the Catskills Mountains, where a Who's Who of modern masters got their start: Woody Allen, Sid Caesar, Totie Fields, Dick Gregory, Alan King, Robert Klein, Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Mort Sahl, Jerry Seinfeld, and on and on. Directors Melvut Akkaya and Ron Frank paint a portrait of summer life at Grossinger's and Kutsher's (the last man standing), where a generation of Jewish comedians honed and tested their styles and their material. The film itself is a bit underfed at 75 minutes, with frequent cuts to a rather lame narration by Klein. But, as you'd hope from a movie of interviews with comics, there are a lot of big laughs.