Can the Holocaust be funny? Is “Springtime for Hitler” jn bad taste, and, if it is, should we not have laughed at it in the context of Mel Brooks’ “The Producers”?
It’s a great concept. At times, the documentary is funny and witty. It discusses decades of humor on the most taboo of topics, interviewing well-known comics like Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Gilbert Gottfried, Rob Reiner, Carl Reiner, Robert Clary, Susie Essman, Harry Shearer, Jeffrey Ross, Allan Zweibel, Judy Gold, David Cross, Larry Charles, David Steinberg, Abraham Foxman, Lisa Lampanelli, and others. The comics interviewed discuss why and how they joke about subjects like the genocide of the Jews. Probably fewer comics would have been a good idea, in the cliched wisdom of “too many cooks spoil the broth.”
Meanwhile, Holocaust survivors and Jewish community leaders are shown trying to decide whether it is okay to laugh or whether they should draw some sort of line against tasteless humor.
The pacing made the 85 minutes seem like 185 minutes. It also seemed as though there were actually two stories here wanting to be told: one was the story of Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone, whose young sister Klara was experimented upon by Josef Mengele before being killed. This one story could easily have been the sole focus of the documentary, but, instead of focusing on Renee’s remarkable story and her resilience and optimism in the face of extreme adversity, the film also takes on humor and the Holocaust.
Renee didn’t seem to be any sort of authority the audience should really look to for guidance on the film’s central issue of “What is funny?” She was a survivor of the camps and explained her own POV about looking for the good and the optimistic (not shared by another woman featured in the docudrama). Does that make Renee an expert on humor? To paraphrase a better writer: “To laugh or not to laugh? That is the question.” When you also factor in all the different ways people respond to humor, it seems as though the documentary needed more focus and fewer talking heads.
Some jokes are told (one line by one comic; one by another) but they failed to save this documentary, for me. A great idea gone awry, perhaps because it attempted too much in one 85 minute span.