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Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business Of America

3.7 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Product Description

Hosted By Billy Crystal & Narrated By Amy Sedaris, 3-DVD Set Presents A 6-Episode Series Chronicling A Century Of America's Funniest Entertainment And Its Most Legendary Comedians!


Who said of war, "When you get into trouble 5,000 miles from your home, you've got to have been looking for it"? Was it Bill Maher? Jon Stewart? Stephen Colbert? Nope; it was Will Rogers, whose good-humored pokes at politicians defined the 1920s and 30s and set the stage for today’s more confrontational Real Time with Bill Maher, The Daily Show, andThe Colbert Report. This through line is what makes Make 'Em Laugh such an enlightening and exhilarating survey of American comedy. This vastly entertaining six-part PBS series explores how comedy has defined the nation's character, and spotlights comedians through the generations who broke the mold, broke the rules, and, in some cases, broke their necks to make us bust a gut. The ambitious Make 'Em Laugh is divided into six episodes, each devoted to a particular genre or style of comedy: "Would Ya Hit a Man with Glasses?: Nerds, Jerks & Oddballs"; "Honey, I'm Home: Breadwinners and Homemakers"; "Slip on a Banana Peel: The Knockabouts"; "When I'm Bad, I'm Better: The Groundbreakers"; and "Sock It To Me: Satire and Parody." Host Billy Crystal contributes some amusing bits to introduce each episode (the best is a pitch-perfect parody of Ken Burns’ stately documentaries). The charmingly off-center Amy Sedaris narrates. Comedy buffs may squawk over some grievous omissions, most heinously Ernie Kovacs, David Letterman, Second City, and SCTV (and don't blame Canada; Jim Carrey, a fellow Great White Norther, rates a segment). But the roster of participants (over 90 comedians, writers, producers, agents, and historians) is staggering, and the clips are not just the same old same old. There is rare footage of Elaine May and Mike Nichols and Tom Lehrer. The series is contemporary enough to include Judd Apatow, Larry David, The Simpsons, and Family Guy. The old masters (Chaplin, Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and The Three Stooges) get their due, as do the so-called sick and cerebral comedians of the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s (Lenny Bruce, Shelley Berman, Richard Pryor, George Carlin), for whom "getting a laugh and getting at the truth were the same thing." To its credit, Make ‘Em Laugh gives respect to some faded or forgotten clowns, characters, and kidders, including Harold Lloyd, Mae West, Moms Mabley, Phil Silvers, and Alan Sherman. If someone doesn't tickle your fancy, another entertainer will be along shortly. Cultural historians are on hand to explain what it all means, but it's more fun to hear the performers talk about their comedy heroes and inspirations, and how they found their own voices. At one point, satirist Mort Sahl reveals that Milton Berle once gave him a pointed political joke rather than use it himself, and explained to Sahl, "They don’t think I'm smart enough." It may not be a profound statement, but no truer words are spoken in this series than, "There will always be funny people, thank goodness." For future generations of comedians, these people will be a hard act to follow. --Donald Liebenson

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Billy Crystal, Amy Sedaris, Judd Apatow, Roseanne Barr, Carol Burnett
  • Directors: Michael Kantor
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Box set, Color, Dolby, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 3
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Rhino
  • DVD Release Date: January 13, 2009
  • Run Time: 360 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B001L4O4RE
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,531 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business Of America" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

I'll admit right up front, I am a sucker for this stuff. I'll try to write an objective review here, but I have been absolutely loving watching these DVDs over the past few days, so it may be tough.

Focused on comedians known for their television and movies appearances, this is a 2009 PBS documentary on American comedy. Introduced by Billy Crystal, the six 53-minute episodes cover a century of men and women who, as Crystal once said, "make funny with the ha-ha." Each show progresses through a series of well-edited film clips of particular stars, which are mixed with appreciative, often enlightening, interviews -- more than 100 in all -- from comedians, producers, writers and historians, everyone from Mort Sahl and Sid Caesar to Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell.

Watching it is sorta like watching the typical PBS program, where you feel so seriously educated you should be stroking your beard. But most is, for me at least, like watching your own mind flashback through all the best moments from the television shows and old movies you watched growing up. What a treat!

From an intellectual standpoint, what I liked best about this series is how well it explores comedy in the first half of the 20th century. For example, the show on satire spends quite a few minutes on Will Rogers, and watching it I really came to appreciate how entertaining he really was, in a way I never had before. Same for Sid Caesar and Tom Lehrer (a performer I had barely heard of), Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy and many others.

As a PBS show, this one is, in its own way, every bit as engrossing as a Ken Burns production. Not as long, not as serious, probably not as good, but often just as interesting.

There's certainly as much depth.
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This 3 disc set contains an hour more that the PBS series which is currently being shown this week 12 January 2009. If you haven't seen it yet catch it ibn re-runs. With six hours of everything on black and white TV from Danny Kaye to Ernie Kovacs you'll want to treasure this for keeps.
Broken into hour-long segments and introduced by Billy Crystal, the clips flow straight-on. Interviews with contemporary writer's and actors dissolve into the routines of past comedians like Larry David and W.C. Fields, .
Extras include: Carlin on word power; Dick Gregory's advice to Richard Pryor; Jonathan Winters dumbstruck by Robin Williams.
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Verified Purchase
I'll admit I was kind of angry that this wasn't on Blu-Ray after watching it on TV in HD. BUT after ordering it, it still looks really great on regular DVD. I was very surprised by the quality of clips they managed to get. Are they missing comedians? Of course...that's quite inevitable, but they do an excellent job of categorizing the comedians and not making it linear, which could have resulted in the end product being kind of boring.

I'm pursuing my Masters in Film Studies and it's great to have a resource like this at hand for the low price of 25$ (It's since gone up, I notice. But still well worth the money.)

It comes in a solid box set that folds out to house three discs. Really high quality product for the price.

It also has a companion book called Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America which has actually lowered in price, and looks like it would be a great coffee table book.
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I first watched this documentary on Australian free-to-air TV over the summer of 2010. I loved it so much I wanted to have a copy for my own collection. After searching my usual suppliers of TV documentaries, I found a copy for sale at Amazon.com! Thank you!

My copy of this documentary is excellent as it contains not only the actual documentary, but lots of extra, and extended, interviews with the many comedy geniuses featured in the main program. There are three discs in this boxed set, and each one contains two episodes, plus extra interviews.

I really enjoyed this entire program as it documents a history of the progress of comedy performances in the video domain, from the early days of silent films, through to the early days of television, and on up to the present digital video world. There are explanations about how comedy ideas evolved, what worked, and what didn't work, what made the comedy stars unique in their particular presentations and styles, how certain characters were developed and how the popularity of those characters, both in film and on the tele endeared them to millions of viewers all around the world, and how the work of the earliest performers influenced those who followed and continues to this day.

It also gave me an opportunity to glimpse many performances that I was never able to see, as Australian TV only started in 1956, and didn't really get going properly until 1960. I was only born in 1960, so I missed lots of the stuff highlighted in this program. In fact even as a child of the 60's and seeing some of this material back then, I didn't even understand, or actually get the jokes until reruns! Now I get it and it is even funnier today.

So thank you to Rhino for making this documentary, and thanks to Amazon.com for making it available.
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Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business Of America
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