Film:When Comedy Went To SchoolBygone Days, Dated and Dusty
August 22, 2013 - By JP Spence
"When Comedy Went To School" hits and misses as it focuses on yesteryear.
Even for a documentary that focuses on history, When Comedy Went To School feels extremely dated and dusty.
PHOTO COURTESY OF CATSKILL FILMS
Directed by the team of Mevlut Akkaya, Ron Frank & Lawrence Richards, Comedy excels at highlighting the genesis of early comedy but fails to broaden the films appeal by trying to cover too much material with so little time.
The film would be more effective as two separate pieces, or given more time.
The first narrative tells the story of the Catskills mountains, where many Eastern European Jews found an identity in post-World War II America, while the second showcases the rise of myriad comedians from Mort Sahl, Sid Caesar, Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and Lenny Bruce. There is absolutely no problem with either of these topics. Only now is America truly beginning to look at the past 50 years and figure out its identity, which is nothing new to the Jewish community. Examining humor as the Jewish identity post-WWII, it shows a culture searching for a catharsis while Akkaya, Frank & Richards approach this with delicate, if not ham-handed digits.
Its also undisputed that the Catskills is the birthplace of modern American comedy. The brick-and-mortar 80s boom of comedy wouldnt exist without The Borscht Belt. To live in a world without Mel Brooks or George Burns is one not worth living in. Bruce singlehandedly gave us the cerebral comedic template that allowed George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Jerry Seinfeld and modern comics like Louis C.K. and Marc Maron to shine.
So why the short 77-minute runtime to document two watershed moments in American history? Screenwriter Lawrence Richards is left to cram so many big ideas into such a condensed time that the content comes off as hyperbolic and vague. With more time to generate a stronger exposition, Comedy could have had a wider appeal instead of appealing to a niche audience. The dramatic re-enactments dont help its cause. The best moments are when Jerry Lewis, Larry King and Jerry Stiller are telling their story firsthand instead of the dramatic flashbacks that are better suited for Unsolved Mysteries. Stuck between a documentary and a drama, its more self-aggrandizing than informative.
In comedy, there is the golden rule of ending your set at its peak. When Comedy Went To School is good but certainly left some funny on the table.