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January 7th, 2009
The Online Episode
Featured Comedians and Web Sites
  • Toula Colovos

    Bscause we were out of town we saw only part of this series on KCET. Please, can you tell me, when it repeats or if it will appear on any of the other PBS stationsthis year?

  • Steve Harvey

    You can skip through a lot of it. The one on Free Speech was particularly bad: just a liberal screed about McCarthy, Vietnam, and the Establishment.
    The Smothers Brothers? Give me a break!

  • Jeff Sweet

    Gee, Steve Harvey, sorry some of us laugh at different things than you do. I thought the Smothers Brothers were not only very funny, but they gave heart to a lot of us who were afraid of losing the ideals this country was founded on. I feel the same about Stewart, Colbert, Fey, the gang from Second City. They are necessary for maintaining perspective and sanity, and they make me laugh in a way the Three Stooges never did. (The Marx Brothers, on the other hand — great.)

  • Sherry Rogers

    I lived through the 60s and found little to laugh at. The Smothers Brothers articulated the rage we felt but did so in a way that “spoke truth to power” in a way that enlightened and jabbed as well as tickled. Their influence is too often overlooked.

  • Jellie

    I can’t believe this series didn’t include Bill Hicks…that’s the biggest joke of Make ‘Em Laugh. What an absurd oversight. Carlos Mencia (why?) as a groundbreaker, but no Bill Hicks.

  • MiMi

    I’m almost surprised that Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job isn’t on the above list. I suppose it is too obscure and out there to compete with the likes of Funny or Die…

  • Brenda

    I missed some of the Make Em Laugh episodes and segments. Sure hope they do a repeat. Did anyone video tape it? Could I borrow it?

  • Steve

    I guess it would be too much to ask that your series not have the knee jerk liberal bias.
    First, your invocation of the great boogie man Joe McCarthy, as the persecutor of Hollywood and comedians only fails on the facts. Tailgunner Joe went after government employees. The House (note Joe was a senator) Unamerican Activities Committee went after Hollywood. Joe was not on the Committee. He was not in the House. He wasn’t even a senator when they were at the height of blacklisting people.
    Second, you had a glimmer of the very valid argument that the Smothers Bros did not have their 1st amendment rights violated when a private company chose to cancel them. Freedom of speech does not mean the government must give you a printing press. If the government would have forced CBS to air the Smothers Bros, they would have violated CBS’s free speech, freedom of the press, etc. Third, your making Jon Stewart (who I find very witty and talented) into some kind of innovator is ridiculous. Sit down now. Rush Limbaugh all but created the humorous news format. Also missing from your “review” of American comedians was any discussion of the conservative humor of much of talk radio, South Park, P.J. O’Rourke, Family Guy, Paul Shanklin, Nick DiPaolo, Judd Apatow, Mark Steyn, Tom Shillue, Ann Coulter, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, David Zucker, etc. You sure spent a lot of time making radical comedians into “heros” who fought the “establishment.” Now that the establishment is liberal, isn’t it Conservative comedian the hero? You really gave up your game when talking about political comedy on SNL and you stated how evenhanded they were and then showed them making fun of GW Bush, GHW Bush, Ford and Nixon. You spend an inordinate amount of time on GW Bush. Anyone remember Bill Clinton? Jimmy Carter? I remember SNL making fun of them (You also missed Regan). The greatest gift to late night talk shows and SNL was Clinton. Whereas they had to create something to make fun of GW Bush (wow he’s dumb, that’s funny) Clinton provided one liners at every turn. An interesting discussion could have been about President Obama humor. Go to Comedy Central’s joke website ( and put in “Bush.” Two hundred and four jokes show up. Put in “Obama” and one joke from a year ago shows up. Where is the satire of the “establishment?”

    Maybe, in the end, you should have just done a series about American comedy, you know . . . what is funny, and left the liberal politics on PBS to . . . I was going to say Charlie Rose, Jim Lehrer, Nova, Frontline. I guess just about everything else on PBS except American Experience and Antiques Roadshow. In the end, comedians are not heroes, and what makes ‘em laugh is comedy, not politics.

  • Bob

    So, to recap the series, there were only a few comedians in the last 100 years that were not Jewish.

  • Mark Nielsen

    Yup. Not so great. Didn’t see all the episodes, but what I did see smacked of dumbed-down, preaching to the choir, backslapping of a liberal Hollywood and/or of the “sophisticated” PBS community and its own agenda. (And I’m a liberal… I just prefer my documentaries to have a genuinely new social critique, and this one didn’t.) So whether or not the “Steve Harvey” above is the real actor/radio host we all know, I would tend to agree with him, that this series was not groundbreaking or original. It took no risks whatsoever. Plus I was surprised at how little I laughed… the taped archival material they chose was of such varied quality.I was bothered enough to blog about it, here: .

  • Comedy Crisis: Super Bowl Ads, PBS, and “Show Me the Funny” « Marking Time

    [...] Caesar in tv’s early days, are worth noting. But I was underwhelmed, overall. Some of the commenters at PBS’s official website seem to agree, as [...]

  • Ronald Helfrich

    1. Make em Laugh was produced by WNET, Ghost Light Films, the BBC, and Rhino Entertainment. WNET and the Beeb are public institutions. Ghost Light Films and Rhino are private.

    2. The notion that if censorship is acceptable if it is done by a private corporation is an interesting one. It also says something about the ideological biases and double standards of the US public.

    3. Limbaugh did not create the humourous news format. Monty Python, of course, did several back in the 1960s. I am sure Python did not invent this. By the way, I do think Limbaugh is sometimes funny. Sometimes the humour is unintentional (his ahistorical flights of ideological fancy).

    4. The episode I just watched contained an interview with Apatow. I don’t find his work particularly interesting. I liked Freaks and Geeks but have a sneaking suspicion that F&G was more Paul Feig than Apatow.

    5. Any documentary of this length is going to leave some people who deserve mention out and include mention of those who may not deserve mention. History is always selective and it is selective by necessity.

    7. I don’t think the topical comedy of South Park will play well in the future. It is, to me, a kind of 2000s version of The Smothers Brothers Hour. That show, which likewise is very topical, doesn’t time travel particularly well. Nor will South Park, in my opinion.

    As to the politics of Parker and Stone at least one of them has referred to it publicly as “anarchist”. In the end South Park is, to a large extent, an equal opportunity parody (like that reference to one of those “knee jerk liberal” concepts?). By the way, Parker and Stone did a one hour interview with that “knee jerk liberal” Charlie Rose. It actually has substance (something found only rarely in the US beyond PBS)

    8. The problem with the documentary is not its supposed “knee jerk liberal bias”. It is its parochialism. Aristophanes, of course, is fundamental to an understanding of contemporary comedy. South Park really is, in some ways, heavily indebted to Aristophanes. Chaplin and Carey point up (or should point up)the fact that comedy is something that is global even if we focus exclusively on the English language. A few references: Ealing, Python, Cleese.

    9. Yes it is nice for documentaries to have a social critique or a social scientific and humanities component to them. Given that you always hear cries of “liberal bias” (and most of these are without validity) about PBS. Over the years PBS has been forced to transform programming due to the reality of political interference (the conservative Congress over the years has cut and cut PBS funding…compare that how the Beeb is funded and how it insulates the Beeb from political interference to some extent) and, as a result of cuts in funding, a tendency to try not to offend the potential audience. Fund drives (and PBS realises who butters its bread) have meant an increase in programmes aimed at the common denominatior.

  • Emma Tester

    I had hoped to see more of the old comedians, especially Charlie Chaplin. Are the episodes that you can air?

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  • Trushna P shah

    I had hoped to see more of the old comedians, especially Charlie Chaplin. I love what you write! thnaks for sharing the information

  • Cairns

    A couple pictures would have been nice

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    I can’t believe it’s that uncomplicated. I am heading to give it a shot. will report again

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  • Bianca Gascoigne

    lol.., Lil chris blow mi wen buster farted !! ha ha ha, laughing at someone worth his grand dad.., real baby boy lil chris

  • Michael G

    I just saw this entire special on Thanksgiving day and was severely disappointed that the great Bill Hicks was not included. Bill Hicks was one of the most brilliant comedians to ever walk the globe and he died of cancer at the height of his career. This world needs him and George Carlin….two American Prophets of truth.

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