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Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business Of America
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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.Read more ›
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.
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.
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was a great disappointment. I thought Billy Crystal would carry the series. He did not. In fact, Billy Crystal didn't play a major part in it at all. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Jerry7242
enjoyed watching. Loved little tidbits of info about actors and the shows they were in...Published 19 months ago by P Sutter
The content of these historical comedy scenes and rare footage are a fantastic collection.Published 19 months ago by Glenn
This is more of a sampling than a thorough-going history of U.S. comedy, but as such it gets the job done. Read morePublished on February 21, 2014 by charles fredricks
First off, this series of 6 episodes breezes through comedians and comics from Harold Lloyd to Seinfeld, Simpsons, Family Guy, etc. Read morePublished on June 21, 2013 by Not My Real Name
The good? This is a GREAT documentary (albeit incomplete) about people in the history of "funny business".
The bad? This is NOT funny. Read more
This was a wonderful diversion for someone who just wants to be entertained and likes old and new comedy. No deep thinking here, just reminiscing and feeling good. Read morePublished on October 19, 2009 by Elise