Critics' Pick

When Comedy Went to School (NR)

Comedy 77 July 31, 2013
By Ernest Hardy
From When Comedy Went to Schools opening moments, when a dulcet-toned Robert Klein says, "It was an Oz without the Wicked Witch," this enchanting documentary on the rise, fall and small-scale rebirth of the Catskills has something of a fairy-tale quality. Directors Ron Frank and Mevlut Akkaya have crafted a deceptively (in the best way) soothing tribute to the Catskills as the geographical and cultural birthplace of modern stand-up. It succinctly sketches in the trek from vaudeville to Chris Rock; from "take my wife, please" jokes to stinging political humor. But at the film's core is a mapping of the evolution of American Jewish identity, and how the trajectory of the Eastern European Jews who built the Catskills came to embody the American dream. Rich with clips from films (History of the World: Part 1; Fiddler on the Roof), '50s television comedies and rare live performance footage, as well as interviews with the greats (Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar) and the once-famous who now are largely forgotten, the film breaks no new ground in terms of craftsmanship, and little new ground in terms of information for the audience most likely to seek it out. But it is an expertly and lovingly assembled artifact from that robust realm of the modern pop culture machine: the nostalgia wing.
Mevlut Akkaya, Ron Frank Robert Klein, Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller, Jackie Mason, Larry King, Marc Maron, Hugh Hefner, Mort Sahl, Mickey Freeman Lawrence Richards Bob Kosch, Mevlut Akkaya, Ron Frank, Lawrence Richards International Film Circuit

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