The Arty Semite

The Ones That Missed the Cut

By Saul Austerlitz

Earlier this week, Saul Austerlitz wrote about his recent author tour and five not-as-terrible-as-you-think movies. His blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


One of the trickiest aspects of writing my book was figuring out how to structure it. After tinkering with a variety of approaches, I settled on 30 chapters, each dedicated to a single filmmaker or performer whose body of work I considered to be significant to the history of American film comedy. These 30 selections were joined by about 100 additional short entries on comic figures significant enough to deserve a mention, if not quite meritorious enough to earn a chapter of their own. 130 directors and actors seems like a lot, and I got to include most of the people I wanted, but as I expected from the outset, readers and reviewers have often been most interested in discussing the exclusions. (That is, after all, a significant part of the pleasure of assembling a list, and what is a book about film other than a bulked-up list of movie suggestions?) I’ve enjoyed the discussions, kept them in mind, and pondered who else might deserve inclusion. (Second edition, anyone?)

Here, then, are a handful of performers and directors who just missed the cut.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Zach Galifianakis, Woody Allen, The Office, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The Court Jester, The Naked Gun, The Hangover, Steve Carrell, Saul Austerlitz, Robert Stack, My Jewish Learning, Michael Scott, Mel Brooks, Lloyd Bridges, Little Miss Sunshine, Leslie Nielson, Jim Abrahams, Jerry Lewis, Jerry Zucker, Jewish Book Council, Howard Hawks, It's Kind of a Funny Story, Despicable Me, Dinner for Schmucks, Film, Forbidden Planet, Gary Cooper, David Zucker, Date Night, Danny Kaye, Comedy, Borscht Belt, Books, Bored to Death, Ball of Fire, Author Blog Series, Another Fine Mess, Airplane!, A Song is Born

Five Not-As-Terrible-As-You-Think Comedy Movies

By Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is the author of “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy.” His blog posts are appearing this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series please visit:


In writing my book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” I spent a lot of time concentrating on the greatest films in the history of American comedy: your City Lights, your Shop Around the Corners, your Annie Halls. But often, the most pleasurable films I watched over the course of researching my book were the ones that were surprisingly decent. The mediocre films that turned out to be pretty funny; the supposedly terrible movies that I found myself, to my surprise, enjoying.

In their honor, I’d like to single out five pleasant surprises from among the ranks of American comedies. These might not be movies you’d want at the top of your Netflix queue, but you might find yourself pleasantly surprised if you happened to come across them, anyway.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Teacher's Pet, Steve Martin, Shop Around the Corner, Sherman Klump, Saul Austerlitz, Ronald Reagan, Ron Burgundy, Rock Hudson, Ricky Bobby, Razzies, Randy Newman, Norbit, Napoleon Dynamite, Nancy Kerrigan, My Jewish Learning, Martin Short, Lorne Michaels, Jon Heder, Jewish Book Council, Jerry Lewis, Hardly Working, Gordon MacRae, Gig Young, George Seaton, Film, El Guapo, Eddie Murphy, Doris Day, Comedy, Clark Gable, City Lights, Chevy Chase, Chazz Michael Michaels, Brian Robbins, Books, Bo Hooper, Blades of Glory, Author Blog Series, Another Fine Mess, Annie Hall, Three Amigos, Tony Randall, Tonya Harding

Messing Around on Tour

By Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is the author of “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy.” His blog posts are appearing this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series please visit:


Being on tour for a book is simultaneously an exhilarating and a terrifying experience. Exhilarating because, after toiling so lengthily in the mines of authorial solitude, it is a pleasure of no small import to emerge to the surface, book in hand, and talk about it with friends, family, and total strangers. Terrifying because, as all authors who have ever done a book tour can attest to, the midnight panic that occasionally bubbles up, convinced you’ll give a reading and no one — literally not a single person — will show up.

Thankfully, that did not happen to me during my tour for my new book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something I occasionally broke out into a cold sweat at the prospect of.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: The Hangover, Comedy, Film, Jewish Book Council, Jews for Jesus, My Jewish Learning, Preston Sturges, Saul Austerlitz, Schindler's List, Charlie Chaplin, Books, Bill Murray, Author Blog Series, Another Fine Mess, Tyler Perry

Making a Mess of Comedy

By Matthew Rovner

Wiki Commons

Comedy, explained Aristotle, has a vague history, because at first no one took it seriously. We cannot know for certain if Aristotle was deadpanning, but his observation would amuse Saul Austerlitz. According to Austerlitz, American film comedy has not been taken seriously, either. In fact, the author quips, it is American film’s “bastard stepchild.” With his latest book “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” Austerlitz gives us a broad survey of the genre, hoping to spark debate.

There were few Jewish comedians in Aristotle’s day, but in American comedy, Austerlitz notes, Jews are “the only minority group overrepresented.” The title of his book is taken from a catch phrase by the gentile comic geniuses Laurel and Hardy, but on the cover of the book, it is Jewish comedians, The Marx Brothers, who are making a mess. For Austerlitz, the Marx Brothers are the embodiment of Jewish humor — “anarchic, absurdist, and ebullient” — existing in the face of a hostile or dismissive power structure.

Read more


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Will Ferrell, W.C. Fields, The Producers, Stanley Kubrick, Saul Austerlitz, Richard Pryor, Preston Stuges, Peter Sellers, Mel Brooks, Matthew Rovner, Marx Brothers, Mae West, Leo McCarey, Laurel and Hardy, Judd Apatow, Joel Coen, Jerry Lewis, Film, HItler, Ethan Coen, Ernst Lubitsch, Dustin Hoffman Woody Allen Albert Brooks, Comedy, Dr. Strangelove, Coen Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Books, Billy Wilder, Ben Stiller, Aristotle, Another Fine Mess




Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.