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TFF: The Last Laugh is Smart, Witty & Relevant


Directed by Ferne Pearlstein Running Time: 85 Min USA DOC

What is the role of humor in processing horrific events in history? When does a joke go too far? Who is allowed to joke about the Holocaust? When it comes to massive wounds in a collective consciousness when does laughter heal and when does it draw more blood? The Last Laugh deftly unpacks these questions and gives some straight answers. Combining interviews with Holocaust survivors, stand-up comics, and Jewish entertainers who survived the Holocaust this documentary deeply explores the purpose of humor in dealing with the worst crimes on humanity. What struck me most was that though survivors knew their situation wasn’t funny, keeping a sense of humor was for them a way of preserving their dignity and holding onto themselves under horrific conditions. The experience of joy was necessary in protecting themselves from being consumed by their circumstances. Some concentration camps had troupes that would entertain the prisoners with careful subversive humor. The great extensive interviews with Mel Brooks explore the act of making fun of a particular group or person who carried out the atrocities being an essential part of healing. He weathered heavy criticism for his controversial work but asserted that this type of political satire is necessary in reclaiming power. The Last Laugh does dip quickly in and out of 9/11 and racial humor, making some valid points that get muddled with a refocus on Holocaust humor in the end. The best piece I found in that segment was how Saturday Night Live dealt with 9/11 and why it was an important step in the city’s recovery.

But, if someone hasn’t gone thru the experience do they get to joke about it? And, even if they are Jewish, can a joke still go too far or worse cause the subject to become too desensitized to the general public? In exploring these questions, this wonderful doc uncovers the complex role of humor and why it’s necessary to keep asking these questions about it. This is a beautifully crafted film that asks essential questions and gives an abundance of compelling answers.