Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America
Episodes 5 : Never Give a Sucker an Even Break: The Wiseguys
Directed by Michael Kantor
Written by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon
PBS January 28st 2009, 8 P.M.

All stand-up comics are wiseguys. Some however are slicker and quicker. This is what episode 5 of Make ‘Em Laugh is all about. Never Give a Sucker an Even Break is about the real wise guy comics from W.C. Fields to Chris Rock. Yes, that is quite a leap.

The opening to the penultimate episode of this 6 part comedy documentary has Billy Crystal telling Groucho Marx a joke on You Bet Your Life. Wanna bet that is the real reason Crystal decided to host Make ‘Em Laugh?  The comedy documentary opens with a little bit about Don Rickles and then spends a bit too much time on Larry David: yada yawn yawn.

Fortunately, this Make ‘Em Laugh, The Funny Business of America episode then moves on to real wiseguy comedians like W.C. Fields and Groucho Marx. Entire programs could be made about these two but the information in this episode is succinct. Fields, like Mae West, was harmed by the 1934 Hays Code.

Also included in this episode are Jack Benny, Joan Rivers, Phil Silvers, and Paul Lynde. The segments on Lynde and Silvers are especially interesting. For some reason I feel Rivers does not get the attention she deserves yet I am not convinced she deserves that much attention. One of the very few negative remarks about a comic is reserved for Rivers when it is said she put the cause of women two steps forward and one step back.

Redd Foxx, Eddie Murphy, and Chris Rock do get the attention they deserve. I found it interesting that Rock was not part of the previous episode, Groundbreakers, as some of his routines really are edgy and smart. Perhaps the interview version of Chris Rock is too nice for him to be considered a groundbreaker.

The penultimate episode of Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America is very good. Hell, the entire comedy documentary is excellent.


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