As usual, I’m late to the party when it comes to seeing movies I should have seen ages ago. Originally released in 2016, but new to Netflix this summer, The Last Laugh explored humor and a touchy subject – the Shoah (Holocaust). Many other documentaries explore the trauma and how people managed to survive the Holocaust. But this film chose to focus the lens in a modern context and featured contemporary comedians talking about the Holocaust today. The film isn’t otherwise unique, aside from its star-studded cast of A-list celebrities like Mel Brooks, Jeff Ross, Gilbert Gottfried, Rob Reiner, and some really insightful commentary from Etgar Keret.
What I Learned
What really stuck with me was the extremely wide range of opinions that were voiced from intelligent, thoughtful people who had often shared similar life experiences – either as a comedian or as a survivor. The dialogue was laced with nuance and it is clear that the subjects of the documentary were really seeking to understand one another’s point of view, instead of just trying to convince each other that their view was correct. In one scene, two women, both survivors of the Holocaust are listening to a gondolier sing a song to them as they floated down the moat in the Venetian in Las Vegas. One of the women was enjoying herself while the other sat sullenly. The woman with the smile turned to her friend and asked how she could not enjoy this wonderful song? And the other replied that she couldn’t as she always remembered the suffering and all of those who weren’t alive to hear it.
Another poignant moment was when Mel Brooks laughed at a particularly controversial joke told by Sarah Silverman about the Holocaust. Brooks commented that while he acknowledged the joke was empirically funny, he’d never consider telling a joke like that.
All in all, I’d say the movie is worth a watch, especially if you’ve never seen a documentary on the subject. The primary take away for me was watching how folks with such different opinions on such a visceral subject could speak respectfully to one another and come from a place of genuine curiosity.
The Last Laugh is available streaming on Netflix.
Charley Smith works for both the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Jewish Federations as the Young Adult Engagement Manager.