Episode 6 of Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America opens with Billy Crystal spoofing the PBS pledge break. Considering this final episode of this comedy documentary is about satire and parody in American comedy, especially television, nothing could be more appropriate or funnier.
The show begins with a justification of political parody and then goes back to the grand daddy of political satirists, Will Rogers. Many will be surprised to learn the Sid Caesar show was a satire of the post-war American dream and white middle-class. The excerpt used to illustrate the point really makes it stick.
This is followed by a quick history of political and social satire and parody on American television. The segment on parody bible and jurisprudence setting Mad Magazine is too short, although the Gzowski Canadian interview with Bill Gaines is a find. Other parodists include Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman, and the great Mel Brooks.
Roseanne Barr makes an interesting point about parody, “If you make fun of your own in front of the dominant culture, you can move next door to them.” This cleverly introduces the point those at the bottom of the ladder are often the best critics of society.
Things get lighter with a look at The Caroll Burnett Show and Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In which made appearing on a comedy show a must for American politicians. Of course, no such program would be complete without a look at Saturday Night Live.
Other shows Make ‘Em Laugh The Funny Business of America part 6 looks at include The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, In Living Color (with a great clip of Wrath of Farrakhan), and The Daily Show.
This is the most television heavy show of the series and perhaps a greater focus on stand-up comic satirists would have been appropriate, but as all the other shows in this PBS series it is excellent.