Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America

2001, first edition, from Public Affairs
Lawrence J. Epstein
The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America
Original price $27.50, purchase price $7.35
Hardcover in good condition

Epstein traces Jewish-American comedy from its roots in 1880s immigration (with an afterword that goes back centuries) to then present day.  Obviously, some of this has been covered elsewhere, including in my book collection, but he does a decent job of bringing it all together without too much redundancy.  (And he's right that it's a "startling fact" that "Moe Howard of the Three Stooges was the first American actor to portray Adolf Hitler.")  I did find Epstein's style surprisingly bland, including a tendency to over-euphemize (not easy with the likes of Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen, and Seinfeld), but there are enough interesting quotes from others to compensate.

I was surprised that Epstein didn't mention Gabe Kaplan (who was a big part of Jewish sitcom humor of the '70s, as Gabe Kotter on the show with the Puerto-Rican Jew named Epstein), but he does mention some then new comics like Jeffrey Ross.  (I've never heard Ross, now going by Jeff, but he is still working.)   I did like that Epstein acknowledges the extra hurdles that gay and/or female Jewish comedians face(d).  And he addresses the ways that the often very verbal Jewish comedy, and specific comics, had to adapt to silents, vaudeville, talkies, radio, television and "the 'Net." 

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