Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America
Episodes 2 ? Honey, I’m Home!
Directed by Michael Kantor
Written by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon
PBS January 14th 2009, 9 P.M.

E.B. White said “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies of it.” The frog survives Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America. It even sings and dances “Hello my darling!” (Looney Tunes, One Froggy Evening, 1955).

Episode 2 of Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America follows the premiere episode of the series January 14th at 9 P.M. on PBS.  If all you really enjoy about comedy is situation comedy, Honey, I’m Home!: Breadwinners and Homemakers is a must.

Honey, I’m Home opens with The Simpsons of course but then goes way back to 1949’s The Goldbergs, television’s first radio transfuge situation comedy. The too brief segment on Gertrude Berg, writer, director, and star of The Goldberg suggests this show and its star were as important to the sitcom as Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy.

Another successful radio to TV transition was the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Make ‘Em Laugh features exquisite footage of Burns explaining what a straight man’s role is. Just this bit makes the second episode of The Funny Business of America worth watching. Of course, The Honeymooners gets its share of the spotlight.

Some cultural historian makes a link between the suburbanization of American and the sitcom. Uh huh. You can link anything in post-war America to suburbanization.

The most important situation comedy ever, All in the Family gets the attention it deserves. It segues most bizarrely to The Cosby Show with Cosby slamming All in the Family. Roseanne’s take on her own show is one of the most accurate descriptions of this groundbreaking sitcom: “It documented the destruction of the working class.” Jeff Foxworthy’s view of it as a redneck show really demeans it.

The same cultural historian declares Seinfeld the great American sitcom. He must be glad he doesn’t have to defend that falsehood as his PhD thesis.

This second episode of Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America closes with a brief acknowledgment of the toll reality shows have taken on the sitcom.

This six-part everything about comedy documentary continues January 21st and 28th at 8 and 9 P.M. on PBS


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