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Last Laugh 2016


Distributed by Passion River Films, 154 Mt. Bethel Rd., Warren, NJ 07059; 732-321-0711

Directed by Ferne Pearlstein
DVD, color, 88 min.

General Adult
Genocide, Grief, Humor, Jewish Holocaust, World War II

Date Entered: 12/22/2017

Reviewed by Linda Frederiksen, Washington State University, Vancouver, WA

Is making fun of human tragedy the worst kind of bad taste? Or, is humor the best, and perhaps only, way to move beyond unimaginable suffering? In this entertaining and insightful film, survivors and well-known public figures ask how soon is too soon to tell jokes about the Holocaust? The responses to these questions are often surprising. For many, survivors and comedians alike, it is a fine line between a taboo topic and a good punchline. Comedian Mel Brooks, for example, who has famously found humor in the Spanish Inquisition and Nazi Germany, shies away from concentration camp jokes. For others, such as Sarah Silverstein, it is acceptable to put the “hah” in Holocaust as long as it is truly funny. Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone and actor Robert Clary believe to laugh is not to diminish the past but to emotionally rise above and psychologically overcome the horrors of the camps.

Numerous interviewees provide the narration, which for the survivors is also an oral history. Of equal interest is the use of rare archival and never-released film footage that includes clips from concentration camp cabarets as well as a never-released Jerry Lewis comedy. Although cinematographer Pearlstein is more interested in raising rather than resolving these serious existential questions, she does so in a way that is thoughtful, inspiring and, ultimately, funny.