June 16, 2024


Arts Fanatics

Book Review of “Make ‘Em Laugh” by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor

Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America. [Hardcover]

by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor

384 pages, $45.00

ISBN-10: 0446505315


Review by Steven King, MBA, MEd

Who doesn’t love a good joke? Television programs and radio specials have proven one thing: people love to laugh. It has long been contended that laughter is the best medicine. Laughing, or at least finding the humor in not-so-obvious places, drives us all. As Mark Twain famously opined, “Against the assault of laughter nothing can stand.”

Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor have written a phenomenal book in Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, which is a companion to the PBS series by the same name. In their introduction, these two witty authors assert that they are on a quest to discover what has made America laugh for the past 100 years – and, more importantly – why. In about 365 pages, you’ll read why comedy has exploded in America in about five decades. It is refreshing to read a close dissection of comedy and the comedians who made us collectively laugh.

Masterfully divided, these two comedy surgeons have something for everyone (and every age, too), whether you define comedy as the zany antics of Lucille Ball; the parody of Billy Crystal; or the comic mastery of Robin Williams. Perhaps the most refreshing read, however, deals with their analysis of comedians from yesteryear: such as W.C. Fields and Charlie Chaplin.

During your meanderings through this book, you will unveil interesting facts:

* Charlie Chaplin’s salary with Mutual Film Corporation was $670,000 in 1916, making him the highest paid performer in human history.

* Jim Carrey, whose comic brilliance approaches gargantuan proportions, was originally part of a sitcom that tanked in 1984 called The Duck Factory.

* Carol Burnett broke into comedy by wooing President Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, with a song professing her adoration of him.

The lore contained in this book will keep any trivia buff enthralled for a long time.

You won’t read this masterpiece in one sitting, it’s too big – table book big. Instead, you’ll read it in bite-size portions, maybe three to six pages at a time. In that way, you’ll get a very thorough look at comedy and the personalities behind it. Who knows? Maybe liberal readings of this book will prove the maxim that laughter truly is the best form of medicine.

It’s sprinkled with jokes, too. You won’t stop laughing…