Top critical review
American History through Comedy
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