The Holocaust is not funny. But does that mean it’s off-limits for comedy? Such is the topic of The Last Laugh, Ferne Pearlstein’s insightfully open-ended inquiry into the role of humor as it relates to unspeakable tragedy.
Mel Brooks, Gilbert Gottfried, Carl Reiner, Sarah Silverman, Rob Reiner and more weigh in on their own attempts to tackle taboo subject matter in an amusing way (be it on the stand-up stage or through movies like The Producers), as well as discuss their own personal boundaries — if they have any — as they relate to such material. Meanwhile, former Auschwitz resident Renee Firestone serves as the primary face of Holocaust survivors, expounding on her desire to educate and her commitment to enjoying life to the fullest, even as she exhibits scant fondness for many Final Solution–themed comedy bits.
Of course, whether there’s a definitive line between acceptable and improper ultimately proves to be a question without an answer, just as it remains open to debate whether such humor is a means of cathartic release, a way to get revenge on historic villains or merely tasteless garbage.
In the end, what seems most clear is that the passage of time is an enormous factor in this equation — and that the age-old maxim about porn also holds true with regards to a Holocaust joke’s appropriateness (and worth): You know it when you hear it.
The Last Laugh
Directed by Ferne Pearlstein
The Film Collaborative
Opens March 3, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 1, 2017