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Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair With Comedy Teams From Burns And Allen To Belushi And Aykroyd Kindle Edition

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Length: 320 pages

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Organizing this work chronologically, Epstein (The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America) provides a lively history of entertainment from early vaudeville through radio, film and television. He's especially good at viewing humor through a sociological prism, showing, for example, how the cynicism of the early Marx Brothers needed to be reworked to accommodate a Depression-era mentality. With FDR's New Deal, Epstein explains, Groucho's character was made more likable. In fact, comedy teams were most popular during America's tough times, such as WWII, when Abbott and Costello delivered much-needed relief. In contrast, the '50s antics of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin unleashed inner hysteria (repressed during the war). Epstein deftly notes comedy's evolution, explaining how Jack Benny's radio show, which created multiple comedy teams, gave rise to sitcoms from I Love Lucy to Seinfeld. For readers who until now haven't understood the prolonged allure of the Three Stooges, Epstein's chapter on the trio is particularly enlightening: "The teams that created worlds capable of relieving the existential anxieties embedded in the human condition lasted beyond the moment." At its best, this history demonstrates how comedy reveals a nation's true mindset: if you want to know how society ticks, check out its comedians. B&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"...a wonderful companion for trivia lovers, history buffs, and anyone who just wants a good laugh again and again." -- Cleveland Jewish News, October 26, 2004

"A meticulously research compendium of comedy-team history." --, December 6, 2004

"Enjoy [this] book for the pleasant memories it evokes and the recitation of treasured comedy routines." -- Roanoke Times, September 26, 2004

"Epstein's book is a fun read simply because it revisits so many laughs from the past..." -- Jewish News Weekly of Northern California (J), September 10, 2004

"Joyful, celebratory, and highly entertaining..." -- Tri-County News (CA) December 2004

"Mixed Nuts... profiles the great comedy teams with panache and historical perspective." -- Columbus Dispatch, December 3, 2004

"Thoughtful approach... more than just a book about comedians." -- Free Press (Monterey, CA) December 10, 2004

"[Epstein's] analyses are as insightful as his facts are diverting." -- Roger K. Miller, Knight Ridder News Service

"[Epstein] often delivers a sharp insight that cuts through the surrounding academic underbrush..." -- Los Angeles Times, October 17, 2004

"[Epstein] sketches a reflective chronology of American comedy teams..." -- Boston Herald, October 10, 2004

Product Details

  • File Size: 2668 KB
  • Print Length: 320 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (February 23, 2009)
  • Publication Date: February 23, 2009
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001GIP3OS
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #573,162 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

I am the author of "The Basic Beliefs of Judaism: A Twenty-first-Century Guide to a Timeless Tradition" as well as various other books about Jewish life and American popular culture.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Smother Brothers were one of the most important influences on me in my formative years. By the time I was in the sixth grade I had all of their albums and the last television show I watched before we flew to Japan to live there for several years was "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." I went to school proudly wearing my "Mom always like you best" button and still have my autographed photographs of Tom and Dick. Not only did I learn all of their routines and to sing both parts of their arrangements, but from the Brothers Smothers I got my love of satire, parody, political humor, folk song, and two-part harmony. I even got to tell this to Tommy Smothers once upon a time when I ran into him in a Minneapolis hotel and was able to inform him of his personal responsibility in making me the person I am today.

Of all of the comedy teams discussed in "Mixed Nuts: America's Love Affair and Comedy Teams from Bruns and Allen to Belushi and Aykroyd," the Smothers Brothers are the only ones still performing. I saw them perform just this summer and their opening number is entitled "We're Still Here." In this book Lawrence J. Epstein looks at the great American comedy teams of the 20th century. Epstein started off his research for this book in order to explore why the classic comedy teams disappeared and ended up advancing the idea that the importance of these comedians was in how they helped American survive the trying times in which they lived. The author of "The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America," Epstein obviously takes comedy seriously.

The focus here is primarily on the great comedians of the movies, with chapters being devoted to Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby, the Three Stooges, and Martin and Lewis.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In my review of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, I share Epstein's concluding observations that "the comics who emerged from this Jewish background were not aware of psychological or sociological theories. As George Burns noted, they were not hungry for recognition; they were hungry for food. They did not question their humor but rather just recognized and used it. Nevertheless, the roles comedians played and most particularly the contributions of Eastern European Jewish culture shaped the personalities of these comedians and lay, either hidden or not, in their minds." I then explain that, for me, a Gentile, it is impossible to determine to what extent Jewish comedy became assimilated within American society, and, to what extent Jewish comedy helped American society became assimilated with Jewish values. My suggestion then and now is that we call it a tie and consider ourselves that much the better for it.

In this volume, Epstein focuses his attention on "America's love affair with comedy teams from Burns and Allen to Belushi and Aykroyd" as he explains how and why the greatest comedy teams became so popular in films, on radio, and then on television. Sharing much in common with marriages, not all comedy teams survived (e.g. Martin and Lewis) whereas many of those which did succeeded despite significant differences between the partners. Epstein suggests that these differences help to explain the appeal of Laurel and Hardy, the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, and Hope and Crosby. I especially appreciate Epstein's insights concerning George Burns and Gracie Allen. Early on, Burns realized that -- contrary to his prior background and training -- audiences required him to be her straight man, feeding her carefully crafted cues.
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Format: Hardcover
Mixed Nuts is a vastly entertaining book about comedy. Most of us could use a few good laughs, and those guffaws and chortles will be readily available to you when you read Mixed Nuts.

The book's format is an especially useful one for the subject of comedy. Each team is described in terms of their background, how the team developed, the style of humor they used, the origins of their style, how audiences reacted to them, and how they ended up as a team and as individuals. I especially enjoyed the extensive examples of dialogue that are included for each team. So even when I didn't know a team's work, I could get a good sense of what they were about.

The main stars will probably be familiar to you. These include Burns and Allen, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Hope and Crosby, the Three Stooges, Martin and Lewis, Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson, Jackie Gleason and Art Carney, the Smothers Brothers, Laugh-In and Friends. But you will also be pleasantly surprised to read about teams that you probably don't know as well such as Jim and Marion Jordan who did Fibber McGee and Molly, Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll who created the radio version of Amos 'n Andy, the seminal humor of Weber and Fields, and the pioneering work of Miller and Lyles.

Comedy is difficult to write about without stepping all over the material. Mr. Epstein has done a remarkable job of developing several major themes in the book in ways that will help you appreciate the success of each team. His discussions of the role of the "straight man" are especially insightful. He is also excellent in analyzing the role of physical humor and the different ways it can be successfully employed.
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