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Overweight Sensation: The Life and Comedy of Allan Sherman (Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life) Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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In this entertaining biography of song parodist and comedian Allan Sherman, who wrote and sang the iconic hit “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah!,” Cohen shows that Sherman was the Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, and Weird Al Yankovic of 1963. The account details Sherman’s childhood, his comedy breakthrough, his struggle to adjust to fame, and his decline and untimely death at 48 in 1973. The opening section, covering Sherman’s family and childhood, is slow going, but Cohen hits his stride when he tackles Sherman’s comedy career, offering insightful and witty analysis of the song lyrics and explaining how his subject’s comedy impacted all strata of American society (it didn’t hurt, Cohen notes, that JFK was a fan). Finally, Cohen sees Sherman’s life as a case study of how immigrants chose between assimilating or maintaining tradition (or struggling to do both) and an example of how postwar American Jews broke into the mainstream, bringing with them a richness of wit and language. In bringing context to the life of a now largely forgotten one-hit wonder, Cohen adds a valuable chapter to the history of American popular culture. Song lyrics are appended, along with hints on how to find Sherman’s vinyl albums on CD. --John Rowen
"exhaustive and gripping new biography, Overweight Sensation"
-- The Forward
"[Sherman] did as much as anyone to bring Jews out of the American pop-culture closet. One can hope that, thanks to Cohen, his legacy is now safe." -Tabletmag.com
"Overweight Sensation is a remarkably well-researched, passionately written story of quite nearly tragic proportions."
-- Eric Alterman, co-author of The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama and The Nation columnist
"A penetrating biography by a savvy observer of show business." -- Jonathan Kirsch, The Jewish Journal
"told with intimate details, an affectionate touch of humanity and lots of [Sherman's] parody lyrics in the well-researched book Overweight Sensation." -- The Hollywood Reporter
"Lively and meticulously researched." -- Chicago Tribune
"You rarely come away from a portrait of a comedian understanding so totally why he and his work mattered…and how they mattered."
-- Mark Evanier, News From Me
"a well thought out cultural history of Jewish Americans in the mid- to late 20th century." --Library Journal
"Mark Cohen's masterful, critical biography, 'Overweight Sensation.'" -- Daniel Kimmel, The Jewish Advocate
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Top Customer Reviews
A year before 'Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah,' there was the breakout album for Sherman, 'My Son The Folksinger,' which was really parodying the Jewish culture in America a the time. I remember the relatives gathering around the card table in the living room of our home, actually LISTENING to 'My Zelda' (from Belafonte's 'Matilda'), 'Sarah Jackman' (from Frera Jacques), 'Streets of Miami' instead of 'Streets of Loredo,' etc. as Sherman both celebrated Jewishness and skewered parts of it. It was perhaps the first such ethnic album that became popular with mainstream America, in 1962; even President Kennedy, an Irish Catholic, enjoyed the album. I loved it, too, maybe more for the music than the lyrics, most of which I did not understand at the time, but there was something about this music/commentary. It certainly brought our family together for one of the few times, again, really LISTENING rather than trying to out-talk one another.
If my family had 'rough Jewish edges,' Allan Sherman's had many more. He may have only gotten through the many family moves, parental shifts and so forth by sublimating the dysfunction through his writings, and , later, the musical parodies that would hit big time. Though I have only begun the book I am already taken back to my own similar experiences growing up around the kitchen table, being encouraged to 'eat, eat' or in Yiddish, 'ess, ess,' while being told it's better to be seen than heard. So, I took a back seat and witnessed the Jewish culture around me with mixed emotions - a wonderful, historical culture with rich, intellectual properties yet sometimes with some of the less-desired aspects shoved down the throat (figuratively and literally).
Sherman's sordid yet colorful past gave him the ideal life experiences for which he would be become famous in the musical parodies he wrote. We learn that those parodies were his means of expression, throwing off the his one-time mother's 'chains of bondage,' as it were, as well as other dissatisfactions growing up - not always Jewish ones. Sherman also mocks the new suburbia that was taking over American in the early Sixties in songs like 'Here's to the Crabgrass.'
Mark Cohen takes a subject, Sherman, who had never really been written about in any depth before, and not only brings him and the time period back to life in 'Overweight Sensation and gives us a very detailed, well researched, documented and footnoted treatise on Sherman. Cohen has been able to gain access to not only the Sherman estate archives but many of the people who knew him - while they are still with us. The only thing missing from the book are actual multi-media samples of audio and video of Sherman; of course those are obtained through various sources like Youtube; we have also put some up on our tribute to Sherman and this book [...]
Whether you remember Allan Sherman or not, this book is a fantastic historical time capsule from what may be the 'Golden Era' of comedy about a man with a unique talent and story. Five Stars.
And now here comes a book about Mr. Sherman's life which masterfully examines every aspect of it. Brilliantly written by Mark Cohen, it not only shows the dysfunctional childhood Allan experienced, but also how it brought forth the flood of his creativity which seemed to know no bounds. Hilarious, tragic and inspiring all at the same time, it also details the Americanizing of Jewish culture, and how Sherman was in the right place at the right time to give it a universal voice.
There is much to be devoured in this book (Allan would've liked that), and I'm now making my way through my 2nd reading. There will be more reads as well, I'm sure. So many entertainers owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. Sherman, it's hard to fathom. And I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Cohen for the care that went into researching and writing Overweight Sensation. Read it! It couldn't hurt!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
brilliant man. A man who came from a difficult childhood and never got past
As for the life, it's less upbeat than Sherman's (apparently ghost-written)...Read more