The Legendary Catskills Comedy Circuit
When Comedy Went To School is a hilariously funny and delightfully nostalgic look at the era when stand up comics were the featured entertainment at top summer resorts in New York's Catskill Mountains.
It was during the relatively prosperous 1950s, and come summer, middle class New Yorkers fled the city's heat and humidity for cooler climes of the scenic Catskill Mountains, where full service resorts awaited their patronage.
A Catskills vacation was a must. Families reunited at the resorts, weddings were scheduled to take place there, professionals of all ages networked with each other. Summer romances blossomed -- sometimes into scandals.
Legendary resorts such as Grossinger's, Kutsher's, Brown's and The Concord, among others, catered primarily to Jewish clientele, who were -- by virtue of an unwritten 'gentleman's agreement -- not welcomed in Christian resorts.
Keep "Em Laughing
These 'Borscht Belt' retreats provided not only cooler climes, but please their guests, many of whom returned year after year, with diversions of all sorts. There were organized bridge and golf tournaments, hula and horseback riding classes, and talent shows in which guests took to the stage.
The resorts also competed for patrons by presenting headliner talent. Big bands with name singers were regulars. There were touring musical productions and cabarets, and local summer theater companies. But the biggest draw was the stable of stand up comics who made the Catskills resorts their summertime stomping grounds.
A School For Stand Ups
In When Comedy Went to School, directors Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank take a look at the careers of some of the all-time great American comedians who perfected their 'shtick' and flourished on the 'Borscht Belt.' Included in the lot were Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis, Joan Rivers, Woody Allen, Danny Kaye, Mel Brooks, Robert Klein, Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield, Mort Sahl and Jerry Stiller -- and the list goes on. These were the stand up stars who later moved their acts to television and the movies, but the Catskills -- as Jerry Lewis puts it -- was their laboratory, the place where they tried things out and got their chops. They were youngsters when they started playing the Catskills resorts, and the audiences were extremely demanding. They felt cheated if they were treated to the same joke twice, and they were vocal in their reactions. In fact, as Sid Caesar quips, "If they're not laughing, you'd better shut it down."
Sampling the Best
Filmmakers Akkaya and Frank treat us to a rich montage of delightful archival clips of many of the best comedians' stand up performances and nostalgic footage that captures the ambiance of the Catskill Mountains resorts during the 1950s. Then, there are also remarkable on camera interviews with many of the comedians who are now well into their 80s and still going strong -- in fact their comments are not only insightful, they're hilarious.
When Comedy Went to School presents a humorous, nostalgic and delightful look at a bygone era when modern stand up comedy became part of the fabric of American life. This documentary succeeds admirably in shtick-ing to the Catskills comedians' credo, "Keep 'Em Laughing."
If You Like This Documentary, You May Also Like:
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- Title: When Comedy Went To School
- Directors: Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank
- Release Date: July 31, 2013 (limited theatrical release)
- Running Time: 83 mins.
- MPAA Rating: Not rated
- Parents Advisory: Content advisory for parents for strong language and drug content.
- Locations: Catskill Mountainss, New York, at various summer resorts, including Grossinger's. Kutsher's, Brown's and the Concord.
- Language: English
- Production Company: Catskill Films
- Distribution: International Film Circuit
- Official Website:
- Official Trailer: