Sometimes a critic’s life is a delightful and even hilarious one. And one such night a couple of weeks back, I got a very pleasant surprise when I stumbled in to the first presentation of Hot Nights @ a Cool Shul at the Actor’s Temple on W. 47th Street. I didn’t know what to expect, but I went.
Imagine my surprise to be treated (and educated!) to a first rate documentary on a subject dear to everyone’s heart, Great Comedy!
It was a screening of “When Comedy Went to School” and it was FUN-KNEE! I mean hysterical! And the place was packed and the audience came primed to laugh until they split their britches and I think some did!
It was an uproarious history of the great Jewish comics, who so dominated American humor in the middle of the last century, and who all got their training in the Catskills in the 1940s and ’50s at legendary hotels like Grossingers. The big hotels there were filled with the top comics, who then went on to keep so much of America entertained on television when I was growing up in the Bronx.
Ed Sullivan, who was not Jewish, booked all these great entertainers from Sophie Tucker to Jerry Lewis and brought them all into our homes every Sunday night in the ’60s and ’70s, making America laugh. Sid Caesar, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Totie Fields, the list was endless, and they are all there in this sharp, funny film.
And “When Comedy Went to School” kept you laughing non-stop with all the top comics doing their best bits. I roared til I plotzed! Every headliner is represented in this terrific film, which if it pops up again at a theater near you, you must run out and see it! You won’t be disappointed.
The moment that stayed with me the most, was when a very sympathetic and toned down Jerry Lewis who told in an interview(see above picture) that he used to make $7o0 a night as a busboy! He was so funny, he kept dropping things and doing schtick, he said, that customers just kept shoving tips at him. He was told not to tell the waiters because they’d get jealous!
Laughter as they say is the best medicine, and it was being served that night in large doses of mirth at the Actor’s Temple, a historic landmark right in the heart of the theater district.
It has quite an incredible history, and has had a historic commitment to serving Jewish theater artists and the greater NYC arts community. The list of the greats who worshiped there is just jaw-dropping, Shelley Winters, Edward G. Robinson,Sophie Tucker (as I said), Jack Benny and yes, even the Three Stooges!
The event was followed by a panel discussion which featured the drier-than-dry Jackie Hoffman and comedy legend Marilyn Michaels, who kept asking “What am I doing here???”
This first night in a series of evenings that all begin at the Temple at 7:30pm was produced by the redoubtable, indefatigable and GLAMOROUS, Carol Ostrow, who is sort of a legend herself in New York Theater circles.
Next in their Hot Nights @ a Cool Shul series is the Epichorus, a Judeo-Arabic music group. I think the word is Klezmer band and that is on Monday, December 14.
You can find out more info and about tickets at their website http://www.theactorstemple.org/events or call (212)245-6975.