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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America
Format: Hardcover|Change
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on October 12, 2014
A wonderful gift. This is a "coffee table" type volume, but in this case, the photos are worth the bulk. For many, it will bring back fond memories of comedic genius unique to America, with a dash of history thrown in. Also could be valuable to students involved in media and communications.
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on December 4, 2012
As a long time lover of comedians and the art of comedy, I found this volume to be an incredibly fascinating look, not only at the players, but their place in the system, from vaudaville ... to radio ... to TV and movies. Everyone you ever laughed at is in this book, and once you read their stories, you will appreciate their genius even more ... dead or alive. A masterpiece of historical research and celebration.
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on December 10, 2013
The book divides America's comedic genuises into categories, such as "nerds, jerks, oddballs, and slackers." "breadwinners and homemakers," etc. The photographs are fantastic as are the analysis of humor. There is also a terrific 3-DVD set of the same name.
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on November 5, 2011
I must say that I fell in love with this book when I purchased it. My English assignment essay was about comedy and I could not get a better book than this. Inside it covers the comedians then and now, what was funny and still is funny. As a wannabe comedian and for would-be comedians, this is the icing on the cake! 5 out of 5!
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VINE VOICEon January 15, 2009
This big, beautiful book is the companion to the PBS series about what makes Americans laugh. It's not meant to be comprehensive, and it's not. But what is here is fascinating. Filled with photographs, it's easy to open to any page and begin reading. I couldn't put it down.

The book is separated into six chapters that explore different styles of comedy. There is lots of overlap, of course -- Harpo Marx would be at home in the "Oddball" segment, and Jon Stewart is certainly a "Smart-Aleck" -- but this convention makes it easy to put similar comedians together, and focus on why what they do makes us laugh.

There is lots of comedy here. The book is peppered with transcripts of comedy routines and television shows. Quotes from people in the industry, including writers, producers and other comedians, provide insight to what makes performers tick. Rare archival material includes a full page detailing The Sketch That Couldn't Be Done, written by Elaine May for The Smothers Brothers (it was considered in bad taste). If you want to know George Carlin's seven dirty words, they're all here.

In a sweeping book like this, lots will be left out. But I have a few personal peeves. The only mention of one of my favorites, Red Skelton, is to diss him in the segment about Buster Keaton: "(Keaton) spent the next two decades doing what work he could get as an off-camera gagman for stars like Red Skelton, who couldn't hold a candle to Keaton." Animated classic film comedies from Pixar such as Toy Story and Finding Nemo are ignored. And Garry Shandling merits only a mention in the Gilda Radner section, instead of being in a spotlight for The Larry Sanders Show. Worst of all, women are passed over routinely for guys: there are segments on 53 male comedians versus 9 for women. And that's not funny.

Here's the chapter list:


1. Slip on a Banana Peel: The Knockabouts
Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy, Harpo Marx, The Three Stooges, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, Jim Carrey

Sock it to Me?: Satire and Parody
Will Rogers, Sid Caesar and Your Show of Shows, Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman, Johnny Carson, Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, Saturday Night Live, Billy Crystal, The Wayans Brothers, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: Smart-Alecks and Wiseguys
W.C. Fields, Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Tim (The Kingfish) Moore, Phil Silvers, Paul Lynde, Redd Foxx, Joan Rivers, Eddie Murphy, Larry David

Would Ya Hit a Guy With Glasses?: Nerds, Jerks, Oddballs and Suckers
Harold Lloyd, Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope, Jonathan Winters, Phyllis Diller, Woody Allen, Cheech and Chong, Steve Martin, Gilda Radner, Robin Williams, Andy Kaufman

Honey, I'm Home!: Breadwinners and Homemakers
The Goldbergs, George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Norman Lear and All in the Family, The Odd Couple, Bill Cosby, Roseanne, Seinfeld, The Simpsons

When I'm Bad, I'm Better: The Groundbreakers
Mae West, Burlesque, Abbott and Costello, Moms Mabley, Fred Allen, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, The Smothers Brothers, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Bill Maher
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on May 10, 2012
This is nearly a perfect compendium of American comedy: A rich collection of gags, snippets, pictures and bios of America's great and (not so great) comedians since the turn of the century. In six short chapters, representing each of six broad categories, these authors cover the history of comedy in reasonable depth, as they remind us of the tight connection between the type of comedy we experience and the changing challenges of American life and culture. That there is a parallel between them should not be surprising, but the tightness with which the parallel exist was a surprise.

From the turn of the century to well into the 20th Century, we had the "slip on the banana peel" gag artists such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, the Marx brother, the three Stooges, Lucille Ball, Jerry Lewis, and more recently, Jim Carey.

Then came the "Sock it to me satire and parody artists" - beginning with Will Rogers and ending with Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. Within this category also were included: Sid Caesar, Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks and the Waynans Brothers.

W.C. Fields heads up the "Smart Alecks and Wise guys category," with Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Redd Foxx, Joan Rivers and Eddie Murphy rounding out the field. Then we get the "Nerd and Jerks," with Bob Hope and two of my favorites -- Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams -- among the standouts.

The "Breadwinners and Homemakers category" seems a bit contrived and was a "catchbag" assortment that included: "The Goldbergs," George Burns and Gracie Allen, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, All in the Family, Roseanne, Bill Cosby, Seinfeld and my least favorite comedy show, The Simpsons.The final category included all of the "gound-breakers among which were: Mae West, Moms Mabley, Mort Saul, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and Bill Maher.

Although some of the discussion was lackluster and one can easily quibble with the selections -- many of the old guys in my view, just were not that good or funny, even though they could well be considered trailblazers. In which case, it would have been sufficient to mention them in passing, if not just in a footnote. Yet such giants of comedy as Chris Rock only got a cameo mention. And our most recent legend of comedy, the late and great Bernie Mac was not even mentioned at all. Shame! Three Stars
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on March 7, 2011
Loved this book for its panoramic view of comedy as part of America's unique culture dating from the early 20th century. Authors cover not only the icons of laughter but the varying styles and ever-evolving forms through which they communicated - from vaudeville to radio to TV to Broadway and on to cable outlets. This substantial work discusses the major roles comedians have played in parody and social commentary, as only our First Amendment would allow. Authors reveal how comedy and comedians have contributed and reflected back in surprising ways to life, culture and politics in the US.

As co-creator of a satirical microphone named MIKE who lampoons life while reporting on sports, I found this anthology an excellent historical and media-wise study on the power of humor in America's marketplace of ideas. While Make 'Em Laugh does not bring readers into today's era of digital and social media, innovators and entrepreneurs can still glean from this insightful resource while advancing into new entertainment territory.

Great reading for leisure as well as education. Would also make a great coffee table book.
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you already know the Book is a classic when you have the Genius of Charlie Chaplin and the Genius of Richard Pryor splitting the face picture on the cover. the book does a fine job of delving into the many great comedians who left a lasting mark and struck that nerve and a funny bone or two. very detailed and very well put together. Humor is the hardest thing and yet laughter is always the best medicine. enjoy.
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on January 28, 2009
I'll start by admitting that the book is fun. I finished it in two snowy days when schools were closed and, as a public school librarian, I had time on my hands. It covers a lot of ground. But there are real, fundamental, problems. First, the material is a bit centered on the "cult of personality." If the genre of comedy can't be pinned to specific individuals, it doesn't get much attention. The biggest hole in the book is a one-sentence description of screwball comedy. That's it. Where's The Awful Truth, Arsenic and Old Lace, Some Like It Hot, The Philadelphia Story or Twentieth Century? Nowhere! This whole immensely influential and popular genre of comedy never gets its due; indeed, hardly gets a mention. With comedy, it's all a matter of taste. Who's great? Who's merely good? But, a book that gives Lucy three pages and Paul Lynde five has got to be taken with a grain of salt and a certain amount of healthy skepticism has to be applied to the text. And, that brings me to my final point. The authors are a little too free with hyperbolic praise. "Eddie Murphy remains the most successful comedian in American movies" is a statement that ought to be examined very carefully. There are other claims made in the book that should be taken with several large grains of salt. Enjoy the book for what is does present, remind yourself of the work of performers you've enjoyed over the years; but (and this is an ironic thing to say about a book on comedy) don't take the book too seriously.
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on August 27, 2009
A really good read. Make 'em Laugh provides excellent commentary on many of the people who made America and the world laugh.
This is the perfect book for anyone interested in the art of comedy, be they a humorous motivational keynote speaker, motivational humorist or not.
Broken into six sections:
The Knockabouts
Sock it to me / Parody
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Nerds, Jerks, Oddballs and Suckers
Honey I'm Home
The Groundbreakers

The authors provide crisp interesting biographies of almost all of the greats.
About the only obvious name missing for me was Bob Newhart. If comedy is tragedy separated by time, many of those portrayed were bound to have been comics given the unhappy or lonely childhood many experienced.

Interesting photography and some great quotes add to the overall good feel about this book. A great gift for someone who is into fun and good humor.
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