The Last Laugh: What’s So Funny About the Holocaust?

Mel Brooks. Courtesy of Ferne Pearlstein

What’s so funny about the Holocaust? Nothing is really funny about it but director Ferne Pearlstein explores whether or not the Holocaust should be off-limits for comedy. If it’s off-limits what becomes of other controversial topics? What is considered to be too taboo for comedy? How soon is too soon to be talking about 9/11?

In her interviews with survivors, we learn that those in the concentration camps turned to humor as a survival technique and footage from the cabaret performances in the camps are shown.

Among those interviewed are Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Robert Clary, Rob Reiner, Susie Essman, Harry Shearer, Jeffrey Ross, Alan Zweibel, Gilbert Gottfried, Judy Gold, Larry Charles, David Steinberg, Abraham Foxman, Lisa Lampanelli, David Cross, Roz Weinman, Klara Firestone, Elly Gross, Deb Filler, Etgar Keret, Shalom Auslander, Jake Ehrenreich, Hanala Sagal and Renee Firestone.

Clips are shown from movies and television programming such as The Producers, The Great Dictator, Curb Your Enthusiasm and appearances of Louis CK, Joan Rivers, and Chris Rock, to name a few. Also shown is new footage of the never-released Jerry Lewis film, The Day the Clown Cried. The Lewis comedy is one that was made well before its time and was never released in movie theaters.

However, it is through Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone in which the film is grounded. Firestone is not a part of the entertainment industry. She’s not even a comedian. But with the way that Pearlstein edited the film, it’s grounded through Renee’s story. Renee’s daughter, Klara, offers a perspective with being a child of survivors.

Mel Brooks’ interview is one of the central parts of the film. However, he doesn’t seem to be comfortable talking about the subject. He notes a distinction between making fun of the Nazis in a satirical way and humor coming at the expense of those killed.

Entertainer Robert Clary went from being a Holocaust survivor to starring in Hogan’s Heroes, a sitcom about one of the prison camps.

What makes The Last Laugh different from so many other Holocaust documentaries is that it is the first to explore the comedic perspective. As such, there’s not really any projects to look for comparisons. It’s the first of its kind.

The Last Laugh premiered during the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. After playing the festival circuit over the last year, the documentary will open in theaters on Friday in New York, in Toronto on March 10th, and Los Angeles on March 17th. More locations to be announced!

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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