“When Comedy Went to School”: The Serious Story of Catskills Stand-Up

When Comedy Went to School The title is perfect, if the idea is to turn a joy into a labor. That can't be the idea. Can it? When Comedy Went to School, it's called, and it's an oddly dispiriting documentary history lesson, from directors Mevlut Akkaya and Ron Frank, on the influential postwar stand-up scene in the Catskills, aka the Jewish Alps, aka, the Sour Cream Sierras, aka the Borscht Belt. It is somewhat informative, but very muddled, and more maudlin than funny. The filmmakers have some face time with famous veterans, including Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, and Jerry Stiller, plus some lively archive footage, plus some dull re-creations which might as well be stock footage. Worse, it's all very stiffly “hosted” by a quite faded-seeming Robert Klein, who once worked as a Catskills busboy.

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