The Haunted Smile: The Story Of Jewish Comedians In America and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
Buy New
$13.86
Qty:1
  • List Price: $18.95
  • Save: $5.09 (27%)
FREE Shipping on orders over $35.
In Stock.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.com.
Gift-wrap available.
Add to Cart
Want it Monday, April 21? Order within and choose Two-Day Shipping at checkout. Details
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more

The Haunted Smile: The Story Of Jewish Comedians In America Paperback


See all 6 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from Collectible from
Kindle
"Please retry"
Paperback
"Please retry"
$13.86
$6.21 $1.99 $15.99

Frequently Bought Together

The Haunted Smile: The Story Of Jewish Comedians In America + Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century + The Insanity Defense: The Complete Prose
Price for all three: $40.82

Buy the selected items together

NO_CONTENT_IN_FEATURE

Big Spring Books
Editors' Picks in Spring Releases
Ready for some fresh reads? Browse our picks for Big Spring Books to please all kinds of readers.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (December 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586481622
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586481629
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #659,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Epstein (A Treasury of Jewish Anecdotes) has done yeoman work to make this enormous subject accessible. His saga includes nearly all the top-level Jewish-American comedians, from the Marx Brothers and Allen Sherman to Joan Rivers and Jerry Seinfeld. Their stories are contextualized by era: the vaudeville years of immigrant America; the rise of radio and the Borscht Belt before 1950; the "years of acceptance," when Jews entered the mainstream on TV and on stand-up stages; and "the years of triumph" for Jewish comics and filmmakers since the mid-'60s. Epstein offers keen psychoanalysis: many early successful comics had weak fathers who failed in the New World, but ambitious mothers; Mort Sahl's breakthrough suggested that "political and social needs transcended the private needs of audience members." But the book can be enjoyed simply for the funny bits resurrected in the author's mini-profiles. He includes a chapter on Jewish woman comics and an appendix on the Yiddish roots of Jewish humor. Thorough as it is, though, it ignores some contemporary standouts and understandably only touches on the Jewish contribution to situation comedy. Aalthough Epstein speculates that Jewish comics might be able to "enhance the distinctly Jewish culture surviving in America," his definition of what makes comedy Jewish suggests that this question will linger. Seinfeld's language betrays "a distinctly urban and distinctly Jewish approach to dealing with anxiety," and the show's title made no attempt to hide his Jewish name, Epstein states, hinting that the "longstanding tension between Jewish and American identities" is partly overcome because the characters are too adolescent to choose one over the other. (Oct.)Forecast: While this title will not have readers schlepping to the bookstore in great numbers, its historical angle makes it unique, and it should do well on the Jewish circuit.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Early in this entertaining book, Epstein argues that Jewish comedians have "fulfilled a special mission in American life . . . [mediating] between Jews and American culture." It is an intriguing assertion, but one Epstein never fully develops. Instead, he focuses on saying something about every major Jewish comedian to hit the big time in America, from the early days of vaudeville to last year's TV season. This makes for fascinating, if gossipy, reading. Epstein excels at digging up obscure, funny stories about famous comics. His account of the rise of the comedians who made it big on radio--George Burns, Jack Benny, and the others--is especially fascinating. His analysis of Burns and Allen's on-stage chemistry as a Jewish man and an Irish-Catholic woman who together were hilarious, and of how their on-stage personas influenced their work and success, constitutes one of the book's highlights. Those looking for a deeper meditation on the nature of comedy and Jewish identity, however, will have to go elsewhere. Jack Helbig
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
5 star
11
4 star
2
3 star
3
2 star
0
1 star
1
See all 17 customer reviews
The humor also was useful in dealing with anti-Semites.
Shalom Freedman
This book shows what a diverse writer Dr. Epstein is- from books on converting to Judaism to a book on Jewish Comedians.
Barbara Shair
All the stories were at least interesting, many exciting and a few really disgusting.
Artist Barbara Garro

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 13, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is one of only a few books which, after having read it, I wish I had written it. Of course, I am wholly unqualified to undertake such a task. However, I would have thoroughly enjoyed completing the research required and taken full advantage of every opportunity to interview, personally, as many of the Jewish comedians as possible. Also, as many as possible of the (non-performing) Jewish writers of comedy such as Larry David, Larry Gelbart, and Neil Simon. In a brilliant Introduction, Epstein observes: "The story of Jewish comedians in America is one of triumph and success. But their stage smile is tinged with sadness. It is haunted by the Jewish past, by the deep stains in American Jewish life -- the desire to be accepted and the concern for a culture disappearing -- by the centuries of Jewish life too frequently interrupted by hate, and by the knowledge that too often for Jewish audiences, a laugh masked a shudder. The comedians' story in America includes bitter encounters with anti-Semitism and the lures of an attractive culture along the way. The jokes these comedians told, their gags, and their nervous patter need to be set alongside the obstacles they overcame."

In this volume, Epstein combines the skills of a disciplined historian and cultural anthropologist with a writing style which has Snap! Crackle! and Pop! Obviously, he also delights in the comic art of so many who "exemplified two great themes of American Jewish life: assimilation and the search for an American Jewish identity....Also, they made Jews proud" while entertaining them as well as ever-increasing numbers of others who also went to the movies, turned on radios and then television sets, sat in nightclubs of various sizes, and bought albums.
Read more ›
1 Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand the complete history of Jewish comedians in America. It is both funny and perceptive. What struck me most was Epstein's assertion that America's Jewish comedians have from the very beginning used their wonderful comic skills to help themselves -- and all Americans -- through difficult times. It's a lesson that holds true even now. Especially now. Epstein's scholarship is impressive, and the great comic routines and one-liners kept me laughing and wanting more, more, more. I highly recommend it.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Miss Nancy on June 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is full of history, anecdotes, personal stories, samples from comedians' stand-up material and movie dialog, and immigrant sociology and circumstances. He even gives details tying Yiddish language to Jewish American humor. He tells of vaudeville artists adapting to radio, then tv. So many details provided! At first I was not going to buy it (I am a frugal African American who buys paperbacks), but I am glad I did. Also, at first, I thought it was going to be too scholarly and dry, but once I got INTO IT -- I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN!! BUY IT, BUY IT, BUY IT! And share it with your friends.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By "rnlawcoco" on November 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is masterfully written and sheer joy to read : a truly remarkable blend of laughter and insight. Just in time for the Holiday season, Dr. Epstein has given us all an evergreen gift: I've read this treasure trove three times over and keep finding golden nuggets of delight. And believe me, it will be as welcome under the Christmas tree as alongside the Chanukah menorah as this Season's perfect present!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Adam on January 4, 2007
Format: Paperback
I just finished reading "The Haunted Smile" and I loved it! I thought it was a perfect combination of history, story telling and wonderfully applicable joke excerpts. Not only did I laugh but I learned a great deal about the history of Jewish comedians in America and about the Jews who immigrated here as well. As a 30-year-old Jew living in America, I've never experienced the same issues which my great grandmother experienced upon immigrating to the United States. I remember her speaking Yiddish but I never could fully appreciate her sacrifices. This made me understand her background a little better and made me proud to be part of a people who took adversity and turned it into laughs. What a beautiful weapon!
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kate on November 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I loved the jokes and stories in the book. I thought I knew a lot about comedians, but there was an incredible amount of new information and interesting explanations in this book. It's a great pleasure to read, too. What struck me most, though, was how the emotional struggles the comedians went through and how they used humor to cope with their fear and anger seems similar to the emotional struggles we're going through as Americans right now.
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Artist Barbara Garro on August 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
Learn who's Jewish and who's not, who pretended not to be Jewish and who led with Jewishness. Learn who had it really, really tough and who had it relatively easy. Discover who could work together and who couldn't. Get the skinny on some really poor, skinny comedians. Rodney Dangerfield's true story seemed stranger than fiction. Find out who whacked Sinatra with a pie and got away with it. Find out how Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis really got together. Be privy to literally dozens of stories about famous people and get the history of radio, movies and television as a bonus.

I ended up liking some people I didn't know well enough to like. Some overt dishonesty shocked me. All the stories were at least interesting, many exciting and a few really disgusting.

What more could you possibly ask of one book?
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

Product Images from Customers

Most Recent Customer Reviews

Search
ARRAY(0xa0573840)

What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?