The Last Laugh

The Last Laugh

  • BY Ferne Pearlstein | IN Arts & Culture
    Premiered April 24, 2017

About the Film

The Holocaust would seem to be an absolutely off-limits topic for comedy. But is it? History shows that even victims of Nazi concentration camps used humor as a means of survival and resistance. Still, any use of comedy in connection with this horror risks diminishing the suffering of millions. So where is the line? If the Holocaust is taboo, what are the implications for other controversial subjects — 9/11, AIDS, racism — in a society that prizes freedom of speech?

The Last Laugh offers fresh insights into these questions, with an intimate portrayal of Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone alongside interviews with influential comedians and thinkers ranging from Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Ross (Comedy Central Roast Battle), Larry Charles (director of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Borat), and Gilbert Gottfried, to authors Etgar Keret and Shalom Auslander, plus Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. The film also includes rare archival footage of cabarets inside the concentration camps themselves, as well as clips ranging from The Producers to Curb Your Enthusiasm, video of performances from comics Louis CK, George Carlin, and Chris Rock, and newly discovered footage of Jerry Lewis’s never-released Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried. MORE

Mel Brooks has made a career out of making fun of Nazis, calling it "revenge through ridicule." Yet the Holocaust itself is a subject he won’t touch. Not so for Sarah Silverman or Judy Gold or the late Joan Rivers. From Hogan’s Heroes, to Seinfeld’s "Soup Nazi," mainstream pop culture has pushed the envelope of what is considered acceptable. As Rob Reiner notes in the film: "The Holocaust itself is not funny. There's nothing funny about it. But survival, and what it takes to survive, there can be humor in that."

The Filmmaker

Ferne Pearlstein, an American filmmaker based in New York City, holds post-graduate degrees in documentary film and photography from Stanford University and the International Center of Photography. In 2003, Pearlstein‘s documentary Sumo East and West premiered at the Tribeca, Los Angeles, and Melbourne International Film Festivals, and was shown nationwide on Independent Lens. Other credits as director include Dita and the Family Business (PBS) with Josh Taylor, and three short films, including her debut Raising Nicholas, which premiered at the Sundance and San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festivals. As a director of photography with dozens of films to her credit, Pearlstein is one of only a handful of female cinematographers featured in Kodak's long-running “On Film” ad campaign in American Cinematographer magazine. In 2004 she won the Excellence in Cinematography Prize at Sundance for her work on Imelda, which followed former First Lady of the Philippines Imelda Marcos during her campaign for the presidency. Among her other credits as cinematographer are: Academy Award®-winner Alex Gibney’s segment of Freakonomics; Ruthie and Connie (HBO); and The Voice of the Prophet where she met her longtime collaborator and husband Robert Edwards. LESS

Film Credits

Ferne Pearlstein

Ferne Pearlstein
Robert Edwards
Amy Hobby
Anne Hubbell
Jan Warner

Robert Edwards
Ferne Pearlstein

Anne Etheridge

Karen Sim
Mark Becker

"The Last Laugh" by Kent Kirshenbaum

FEATURING (in order of appearance)
Renee Firestone
Klara Firestone
Gilbert Gottfried
Rob Reiner
Mel Brooks
Judy Gold
Sarah Silverman
Carl Reiner
Robert Clary
Etgar Keret
Aaron Breitbart
Jake Ehrenreich
Alan Zweibel
Susie Essman
Larry Charles
Eugene Lebovitz
Deb Filler
Gerhard Maschkowski
Elly Gross
Dave Lux
Jeffrey Ross
Harry Shearer
David Steinberg
Lisa Lampanelli
Roz Weinman
Abraham Foxman
David Cross
Shalom Auslander
Hanala Sagal
Herman Feuerstein

Steven Bennett

Anne Etheridge
Dori Stegman

Adrienne Collatos
Yelena Rachitsky
Jamie Lauren Davis
Jane Brendlinger
Catherine DeCioccio

Nikki Robbins
Ryan Bronz
Jean Elizabeth Lee
Juan Mateo Menendez

Richard Fleming
Nico Ruderman
Hilary Stewart
John Slocum
Taj Musco

John Roney
Mike Farino

Sam Friedman
Adam Gonzalez

Melanie Levy
Matthew Levy

Final Frame

Steve "Major" Giammaria

Chris Perez, Esq

Howard Paar

Michael Berenbaum
Hasia Diner
Lawrence Epstein
Mary Gluck
Steve Lipman
Chaya Ostrower
Richard Trank
Joy Turek
Rabbi Moshe Waldoks
Robert Hawk
Bruni Burres

Aero Theater
Angel Orensanz Foundation
Bar Chloe
Canter’s Deli
CBS Studios
LA Museum of the Holocaust
The Milky Way
Museum of Tolerance
Simon Wiesenthal Center
USC Shoah Foundation
The Venetian / The Palazzo Las Vegas

Villon Films
"Westerbork," Beeld en Geluid
BBC / Getty Images

All in the Family and Hogan's Heroes, CBS
Ricky Gervais Live: Animals, Channel 4
Showbiz Tonight, CNN
You Natzy Spy!, Columbia Pictures
Amy Schumer: Mostly Sex Stuff, Chapelle's Show, Comedy Central Roast of David Hasselhoff, The Daily Show, The Sarah Silverman Program, and South Park, Comedy Central
Lenny Bruce Without Tears, Fred Baker Films
Chris Rock: Bigger & Blacker, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Da Ali G Show, George Carlin: Doin' It Again, Jack Benny: Comedy in Bloom, The Larry Sanders Show, and Life's Too Short, Home Box Office
Lenny Bruce in "Lenny Bruce," Image Entertainment
The Day the Clown Cried, Jerry Lewis
Life Is Beautiful, Miramax
The Führer Gives a City to the Jews, National Center for Jewish Film
Saturday Night Live, NBC
Peeping Times, Seinfeld, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, NBC Universal
Fresh Air with Terry Gross, NPR
Duck Soup, Paramount Pictures
Sarah Silverman: Jesus is Magic, Roadside Attractions
The Producers, StudioCanal
Fashion Police, Style Network
Conan, TBS
AFI Lifetime Achievement Award: A Tribute to Mel Brooks, TNT
Family Guy and History of the World, Part 1, Twentieth Century Fox
The Great Dictator, Manhattan, and To Be or Not to Be, United Artists
Schindler's List, Universal Pictures
"Herr Meets Hare," Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.
The Yad Vashem Archives

"O Solo Mio"
Written by Eduardo Di Capua
Performed by Jan Peerce with the RCA Victor Orchestra
Courtesy of Sony Classical
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing

"Joseph! Joseph!"
Written by Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin, Nellie Casman
Performed by Richard Lund, Heather Pierson, Shawn Nadeau

"April Kisses"
Written and Performed by Eddie Lang
Courtesy of Epic Records
Courtesy of The Occasional Jazz Trio
Courtesy of Columbia Records
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing

"Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen"
Written by Sammy Cahn, Saul Chaplin,
Jacob Jacobs, Sholom Secunda
Performed by Benny Goodman

"Danke Schoen"
Written by Milt Gabler, Bert Kaempfert, Kurt Schwabach
Performed by Wayne Newton
Courtesy of Capitol Records
Under license from Universal Music Enterprises
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing

"It’s Now or Never"
Written by Wally Gold, Aaron Schroeder, Eduardo di Capua
Performed by Elvis Presley
Courtesy of RCA Records
By arrangement with Sony Music Licensing

Leah Adler
Martin Amis
June Beallor & John Dragon
Bernie Brillstein
Girvan Calder
Anne Carey
James Carr & Archana Kumar
David Brown Middle School
Naren Desai
Mike DeWitt
Carlo Driggs
Eric Dugdale
Katja Esson
Zdenka Fantlova Ehrlich
Esther Finder
Martin Garbus
Lisa Gossels
Dara Gottfried
Roger Graef
Scott Greenberg
Melanie Greene
Sam Gross
Michael Gruskoff
Pam Halstead
Rudolph Herzog
Werner Herzog
Debbie Hoffmann & Frances Reid
Pam Jones
Amy Jacobs
Bill Jersey and Shirley Kessler
Amir K
Elizabeth Kaiden
Aviva Kempner
Lee Kernis
Adaire Klein
Jan Krawitz
Eugene Lebovitz
Pancho and Margeaux Leiner
Jeff Lesh
Yann Martel
Hanna L. Marx
Robert Mastronardi
Doug Miller
Charlie Nadler
Joshua Neuman
Lynda Obst
Monica Osborne & Jay Karas
Keely O’Rourke
Robert Porter
Margaret Riley
Abby Russell
Kris Samuelson & John Haptas
Eddie Sarfaty
Bess Scher
Anthony Shallenberger
Avra Shapiro
Bree Sharp
Yvette Shearer
Jeanette Shelburne
Andy Peden Smith
Stephen Smith & Heather Maio
Art Spiegelman
Adam Spivak
Robyn Steinberg
Robert Sutten
Eliza Swift
Krystal Szabo
Amber Tamblyn
Edith Umugiraneza
Mark Urbanek
Yvette Shearer
Shelby Van Vliet
Brandon Vega
Ari Zev & Bonnie Samotin Zev
Amy Zvi
Joan Rivers and Her Team

Women Make Movies
Meteor Films

New York State Council of the Arts

This program was produced by Common Pilgrim LLC, which is solely responsible for its content.

©2016 Common Pilgrim LLC. All rights reserved.

Can humor be used as a weapon? Have you used humor in your own life to work through painful topics? Is there anything you consider taboo to joke about? Do you have favorite comedians who some would consider controversial?
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Can humor be used as a weapon? Have you used humor in your own life to work through painful topics? Is there anything you consider taboo to joke about? Do you have favorite comedians who some would consider controversial?