Make Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America DVD set
Directed by Michael Kantor
Written by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon
3 DVD 6 Episodes plus extras
Originally aired PBS 2009
Rhino 2009

This 3 DVD box set features all 6 episodes of the comedy documentary Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America aired in early 2009 on PBS. It also features extra material such as interview outtakes and favorite jokes. The series was absolutely superb and featured a who’s who of American comedy both in terms of topics and in terms of interviews. (the episode links in this article refer to reviews of each episode as aired on PBS)

Make ‘Em Laugh is the most thorough look at American comedy ever produced and the extra elements on this DVD set just add to the wealth of information.

DVD 1 features Make ‘Em Laugh part 1 and 2. Would Ya Hit a Guy With Glasses looks at the oddballs of comedy. People such as Harold Lloyd, Jonathan Winters, Woody Allen, Steve Martin, and Robin Williams to name but a few.

Episode 2, Honey, I’m Home looks at the American family on television from the original The Goldbergs to The Simpsons. Of course this includes Burns and Allen, Roseanne, All in the Family and The Cosby Show. The best moment here is George Burns explaining the role of a straight man.

DVD 2 includes episodes 3 and 4 of Make ‘Em Laugh: The Knockabouts, and The Groundbreakers. The Knockabouts concentrates on the early days of American comedy and comedy teams such as Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers. Special attention is duly paid to Lucille Ball. The Groundbreakers is about the comics of the fifties and sixties who changed stand-up comedy: Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin of course.

DVD 3 has the last two episodes of Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America. The Wiseguys features comics like Groucho Marx, Redd Foxx, Phil Silvers, Paul Lynde, W.C. Fields and, for some reason, Larry David. This too is an excellent episode, especially the part about Phil Silvers.

The last episode in this brilliant comedy documentary focuses on satire and parody. A lot of this episode is about comedy on American television and the role of entertainment shows and talk shows in shaping the political views of the people.

Each Make ‘Em Laugh DVD has cool special features such as more than a dozen extended interview bits (3 minutes each on average). My favorite is the too short Jokes section where comics tell a few simple jokes. Some good names are here from Phyllis Diller and Mickey Rooney  to Jerry Seinfeld. This section is great for stealing easy to tell jokes you can tell your friends later on. Diller has a great variation on the standard car being stopped by a cop.

Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America is simply brilliant and a must for any comedy fan.


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