Are there things we shouldn't joke about? 9/11? AIDS? The Holocaust? At what point does humor stop being funny? “The Last Laugh,” directed by Ferne Perlstein, aims to answer all of these questions as A-List comedians like Sarah Silverman and Mel Brooks join Jewish and non-Jewish comedians and Holocaust survivors to discuss the boundaries of comedy.
The cast is out to reflect shows, movies and the shock value of statements like “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into ovens” made by late comedian Joan Rivers regarding model Heidi Klum's dress. The central questions of determining bar-setters for topics, “good taste” of jokes, and people in the position to make jokes about tragedies like the Holocaust are at the heart of this 90-minute documentary.
The audience meets 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor and anti-genocide activist Renee Feuerstein during an afternoon tea in an abandoned Nazi bunker. Viewers will follow her throughout the documentary as she addresses Holocaust jokes with a variety of different people. Feuerstein is seen doing dishes, eating lunch, watching comedy routines about Nazi death camps, and attending a Holocaust survivor meeting while sharing stories about how Josef Mengele advised her to get her tonsils removed during a “medical examination,” assuming she would survive Auschwitz. While opportunities for humor about the man who killed Feuerstein's sister are rare, she can acknowledge the insanity of the situation and have a laugh.
Despite her first-hand experience, Feuerstein isn't afraid to joke about situations she and other survivors found themselves in and will stand up to disagreement from other Holocaust survivors who fail to see the humor in jokes at their expense.
While it's socially acceptable to make jokes about oppressors, and Nazi jokes are hardly shocking in this day and age, once the jokes target the victims, the controversy of freedom of speech, comedy, and self-censorship for the sake of “good taste” is stirred up. Sarah Silverman, who considers herself culturally Jewish, frequently finds herself the target of anti-Semitic attacks. In this film she is shown during her standup show “Jesus Is Magic” saying, “The Holocaust would never have happened if black people lived in Germany in the 1930s and 40s … well, it wouldn’t have happened to Jews.”
While “The Last Laugh” cast provides a broad range of answers regarding the difficulties of making personal and offensive jokes, it is up to the audience to decide the personal boundaries of what is funny. Although an overload of comedians is at work for this documentary, it often seems lengthy and requires the audience to focus on keeping up with the conversations that jump back and forth throughout the documentary.
Someone looking for a chuckle should consider a different movie as the jokes featured don't even seem to strike Feuerstein as especially comedic as she is seen watching YouTube videos deeming some jokes funny and others tasteless, often without any real explanation for the ranking. The audience is challenged to determine the level of amusement for themselves, as there is no clear indicator on how to best judge the jokes.
“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, “ says film director Rob Reiner. The documentary itself fails to deliver many examples of jokes that could be considered taboo, but rather focuses on discussing the issue of off-limits in comedy. The audience can expect to leave with many different viewpoints about people's personal taste of humor, but no ultimate answer regarding what is in "good taste" considering the comedic talents can't agree on limitations or tasteful comedy, giving an excellent example of free speech and opinion-forming in a continuously-offended society.
”You have to remember the screams, but you can't live in the shadows,” says Feuerstein, who apparently sees Holocaust jokes as a way of healing and shedding light on a dark subject. By concluding with memories of her last afternoon before deportation, what you will get is a brief history lesson and personal experience that doesn’t soften the hardship behind the comedy.