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.
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.
Lawrence J. Epstein's THE HAUNTED SMILE, subtitled "The Story of Jewish Comedians in America," is an academic, often amusing study of the state of Jewish comedians from 1890 to the... Read morePublished 23 months ago by Stacy Helton
This is a positive review, but I'm going to start with a word of caution: The cover of the book says it all. Read morePublished on February 21, 2013 by Michel Brotman
I bought the book because it was recommended by the book club at my synagogue. While the book is interesting, Mr. Epstein make huge leaps in conclusions. Read morePublished on January 20, 2013 by Linda Rubenstein
I thought this book would be more entertaining. It's a bit too pedantic for my taste. I was hoping it would be funnier. More laughs, less history, please.Published on June 1, 2012 by K. Gordon
A most informative book. From Baudville to modern day stand-up,to sitcoms, from the Catskills to Miami Jewish comedy has shaped our lives. Read morePublished on July 15, 2011 by Yolanda Littten
The Haunted Smile, The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, Lawrence Epstein; PublicAffairs ([Perseus Books Group] 2001)
An unprepared student at exam time, in panic,... Read more
I saw the glowing reviews - "funny! piercing commentary!" - and dug in. This book isn't what I was expecting.
HUMOR. Read more
For those of us born in the 50s, it appears that The Haunted Smile has one blatant omission: Gabe Kaplan.
Why was Gabe Kaplan not included in this book? Read more