Review: ‘The Last Laugh’

Hot Docs 2016

2 mins read

The Last Laugh
(USA, 85 min.)
Dir. Ferne Pearlstein
Programme: Special Presentations (International Premiere)


What are the limits of humour? Can one joke about the fascist without belittling the seriousness of fascism? When is it too soon to laugh at a maniac intent on genocide? Is it ever time to find light within the darkness of death? These profound questions are at the heart of Ferne Pearlstein’s entertaining and deeply philosophical The Last Laugh, a work tracing an almost Talmudic quandary – can Jews, or even gentiles, tell jokes about the Holocaust without themselves creating a shonde (or in English, shameful scandal)?

With interviews from a pantheon of funny people including Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Rob Reiner, Gilbert Gottfried and many more, the documentary deftly covers the grey area between being disrespectful to the memory of those that suffered during the Holocaust and refusing to lose one’s humanity (and humour) in the fact of annihilation. Each comedian finds lines to be crossed or respected, with the overarching mandate being that the joke has to be funny, first, and the rationalisation can come a bit later. Silverman’s shtick is particularly brazen, unafraid to go where even Brooks refuses to travel.

At the same time, the film looks at survivors of the camps and how even during the darkest times, the surrealism of their suffering caused them to find ways of laughing. The contrast between the lives of those that held onto happiness versus those who can’t forget the torment is a telling one, adding a more sophisticated level to the film than otherwise might be assumed by its premise.

Ferne Pearlstein does well to keep the questions coming and the conversation a rich one, presenting to a wide audience the kind of kibitzing that has characterized Jewish comics.

The Last Laugh screens:
-Saturday, May 7 at the Isabel Bader at 10:30 AM

Jason Gorber is a film journalist and member of the Toronto Film Critics Association. He is the Managing Editor/Chief Critic at and a regular contributor for POV Magazine, and CBC Radio. His has written for Slashfilm, Esquire, The Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, Screen Anarchy, HighDefDigest, Birth.Movies.Death, IndieWire and more. He has appeared on CTV NewsChannel, CP24, and many other broadcasters. He has been a jury member at the Reykjavik International Film Festival, Calgary Underground Film Festival, RiverRun Film Festival, TIFF Canada's Top 10, Reel Asian and Fantasia's New Flesh Award. Jason has been a Tomatometer-approved critic for over 20 years.

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