Film: When Comedy Went to School (2013)

May 22, 2014 | By


WhenComedyWentToSchool_posterFilm: Excellent

Transfer:  n/a  Extras: n/a

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Released:  n/a

Genre:  Documentary / Toronto Jewish Film Festival 2014

Synopsis: Amiable and often hysterical chronicle of the Borscht Belt – a region in the Catskills where some of modern standup comedy’s most famous pioneers learned their craft.

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From the forties to the seventies, several generations of comedians worked the hotels at the Catskills (known as the Borscht Belt) to a tough crowd of largely Jewish vacationers wanting a lively yet familial atmosphere far away from the clamour of big cities like New York City. Early graduates of this tough school of improvisation included Red Skelton, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, Jerry Stiller, Mort Sahl, Mickey Freeman, and Robert Klein, the latter who also serves as the emcee of this nostalgic trip back in time from directors Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank.

Regarded as the birthplace of modern standup, the Catskills offered comedians training, a grinding schedule, exposure, and the growth of a tough skin which served them well in clubs and TV as guest comedians on variety shows, or in their own sketch comedy series, as was the case with icon Sid Caesar in Your Show of Shows (1950-1954).

Filled with anecdotes and numerous rare clips from newsreels, home movies, and TV, When Comedy Went to School is a loving tribute to a bygone era – only a handful of hotels remain today – and salute to the pioneers who used their gigs to expand the range of topics and styles. The directors’ affection sometimes runs a little heavy – the closing montage set to “Send In the Clowns” is very schmaltzy- and there’s a slick PBS style to the production (genial, free from any controversial topics) which seems to temper the zaniness and high energy of the various anecdotes, but School neatly and concisely chronicles an important chapter in modern standup, and its influence on American humour and pop culture.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
IMDB  —  TJFF 2014 Listing
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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