In the early days of late-night network television shows like The Tonight Show with Jack Paar or The Ed Sullivan Show, the appearance or depiction of blacks and Jews was minimal and often limited to stereotypical representations. A new play, What Passes For Comedy, revisits those days to show audiences that not everyone was laughing back then — nor was every type of joke-teller given a chance.
The play, at a cozy, 99-seat, Off-Broadway indie theater (The Chain Theater), is set in the early 1960s. A fictitious late-night TV host reads a joke off of a cue card that accidentally made it into the approved joke list. The bit ends with the use of a derogatory name for Jews. All hell breaks loose and the rest of the show, which takes place over the span of one night, examines how the shows that shaped and entertained America were far from being as sweet as humble pie when it came to how blacks and Jews were treated.
The play, which could have shaved about 20 minutes off of its run-time, leaves the audience with a lot to ponder. Getting to laugh often enough while being treated to behind-the-scenes debates over what is funny and who gets to tell such jokes, theater-goers feel the all-too real and still very relevant issues of racism and anti-Semitism. The all-male cast didn’t even get to tackle sexism or the lack of women in the industry.
Who has a seat at the table is the question posed here. While there was an uproar over a blatant anti-Semitic comment, no one but the show’s lone black writer complains about the subtle racism that takes place in nightly exchanges between the white talk show host and his sidekick band host, a black man accused of being like an Uncle Tom field hand who shucked and jived to the beat of a segregated society — and who subordinately but seemingly happily calls his white colleague “Boss.”
All of the characters played their roles
believably well, though one did forget a few of his lines. The engaging
writing raises key issues about a bygone era that is still, to a degree, reflected
in today’s society.
What Passes for Comedy certainly does its job by leaving audiences smiling while allowing them to silently seethe underneath the outward appearance that all is well in the world.
For more information, please see: https://www.chaintheatre.org/what-passes-for-comedy-world-premiere.
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Brian Feinblum should be followed on Twitter @theprexpert. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2022. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester with his wife, two kids, and Ferris, a black lab rescue dog. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s The Independent. This award-winning blog has generated over 3.2 million pageviews. With 4,400+ posts over the past decade, it was named one of the best book marketing blogs by BookBaby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs and recognized by Feedspot in 2021 and 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. It was also named by WinningWriters.com as a "best resource.” For the past three decades, including 21 years as the head of marketing for the nation’s largest book publicity firm, and two jobs at two independent presses, Brian has worked with many first-time, self-published, authors of all genres, right along with best-selling authors and celebrities such as: Dr. Ruth, Mark Victor Hansen, Joseph Finder, Katherine Spurway, Neil Rackham, Harvey Mackay, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Warren Adler, Cindy Adams, Susan RoAne, Jeff Foxworthy, Seth Godin, and Henry Winkler. He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America, and has spoken at ASJA, IBPA, Sarah Lawrence College, Nonfiction Writers Association, Cape Cod Writers Association, Willamette (Portland) Writers Association, and Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association. His letters-to-the-editor have been published in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Post, NY Daily News, Newsday, The Journal News (Westchester) and The Washington Post. He has been featured in The Sun Sentinel and Miami Herald. For more information, please consult: linkedin.com/in/brianfeinblum.
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