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Old Jewish Comedians
posted October 4, 2006
Fantagraphics, Hardcover, 32 pages, $14.95, November 2006
This is a fine book, the best of Monte Beauchamp's Blab! Storybooks to date. In fact, Old Jewish Comedians
was so good that it made me pull out all of the other books in the series, realize that they're all formatted the same, and shelve them together in my office. Now that's quality.
A series of portraits of older Jewish comedians like Buddy Hackett, Jack Carter and cover boy Milton Berle, the project settles onto the square pages of the Blab! format with formidable grace -- it feels like Friedman's been making books like this one for more than 20 years, although we aren't quite that lucky. Friedman's art is as lovely as it's ever been (the one I stared at the longest is the Jack Benny, with its pitch-perfect depiction Benny settled into a classic older person's apartment), and the foreword by Leonard Maltin prepares the reader for the variety of emotions that are likely to come to play. A lot of the work for which Friedman became rightfully well known used his "liver spots and all" approach to provide an unblinking look at the uglier, more ridiculous side of Hollywood potency and glamour. These portraits are softer, more affectionate, still brutal in some ways but linked less by a shared revelation of some dark underbelly than by the ways they show these vibrant dealing with the onset of old age. I've already looked at this book multiple times, and I suspect it will be one of a few I frequently pull off the shelves to show visitors between now and Christmas. For one thing, I know where it is.