Tuesday, November 06, 2018

The Last Laugh (2016)

I remember the first time I heard of dead-baby jokes.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.  No, I won’t be repeating any here.  (If you’re really curious, you can look it up on Google.)  It struck me as odd that such a specific type of sick humor existed.  I would have thought that such a topic would be beyond the scope of humor, but it’s not.  Instead, there are lots of them.  The Last Laugh takes a look at that line.  Are there some topics that aren’t for making jokes?  Can you make jokes about the Holocaust or 9/11?  How about AIDS or rape?  Is pedophilia acceptable?

The movie focuses mostly on the Holocaust.  Many of those interviewed agree that the topic is off limits for now, but making fun of Nazis is acceptable.  Renee Firestone, a survivor, is featured in the film.  It shows her reacting to some clips by various people.  Some, she finds to be not funny.  Others manage to illicit a chuckle or two.

Time does seem to make a difference, though.  The Inquisition would probably have been off limits several hundred years ago, but is perfectly acceptable to joke about now.  Firestone recalls meeting Josef Mengele, who advised her to have her tonsils removed, should she survive.  At the time, it was serious.  Decades later, there’s a certain absurd humor to it.

There are a lot of celebrities interviewed, such as Mel Brooks and Sarah Silverman.  There are also clips of routines from Chris Rock, Louis C.K. and George Carlin.  Gilbert Gottfried is also interviewed, which has a certain irony to it, in that he made his own controversial comments back in 2011.  (That controversy isn’t mentioned in this documentary.)

I don’t know that anyone will be able to agree on where the line is.  It is possible, with a certain level of skill, to joke about certain topics.  George Carlin was able to do it well.  Others, not so much.  I tend to be more liberal with what I find funny.  Most people I know would be offended at a lot of the jokes I find funny.  That being said, there are a few topics I wouldn’t venture to joke about.

I would say that this could be used in a class on humor or as a starting point for a discussion.  My one big complaint is that it deals too much with the Nazis.  Other topics are mentioned, but there are a lot of topics that would be considered too dark.  (I don’t think dead-baby jokes were even mentioned.)  I think it could have been a little more balanced, or at least bring up more examples of what’s considered taboo.  Still, it’s an interesting documentary to watch.  For the moment, it’s available streaming on Netflix.

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