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Gene Wilder Appreciation: Goodbye to One of Last Giants of ‘Jewish Shtick’

Gene Wilder an actor hailed for his comedic genius, is one of the last of the giants of Jewish shtick. He died Aug. 29, from complications related to Alzheimer's. (Photo: Getty)

Gene Wilder an actor hailed for his comedic genius, is one of the last of the giants of Jewish shtick. He died Aug. 29, from complications related to Alzheimer’s. (Photo: Getty)

Gene Wilder’s passing should not only make us appreciate, and celebrate, his incredible talents, but also to celebrate and cherish the few legendary giants of Jewish “shtick” who, thankfully, are still with us.

His classic humor that he wore as a badge of honor, in turn, influenced generations of others, from Billy Crystal, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and the late Garry Shandling to Sasha Baron Cohen, Seth Rogen and Jon Stewart.

After them, only Adam Sandler movies will be left.

Wilder graduated from a classic school of comedy that includes Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Milton Berle, Woody Allen, Albert Brooks, Lenny Bruce and Groucho Marx.

The influence of Jewish humor on so many of our lives through comedy simply can’t be ignored.

Guilt, self-deprecation and suffering will never be emotions exclusive to Jews. These less-than enviable traits–the raw materials of humor–can also be found in other ethnic groups, especially Italians.

But for whatever reason, Jews know best how to make them funny.

Jews made an entire culture out of it, turning the Catskills into the “Borscht Belt.”

They nurtured, and subsequently vaulted to legendary status, comics such as Buddy Hackett, Alan King, Robert Klein, Don Rickles, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers and Bette Midler.

I feel bad for kids today, who’ll never know what it’s like to have such deep and consistent roots.

They have to grow up in an age where movies are all about sequels. Where, in most cases, actors are joined together by their agents, not the actors, themselves.

As far as humor goes today, what critics call “funny” simply doesn’t hold a candle to yesteryear’s humor.

There will never be another Harvey Korman, Madeleine Kahn or Cloris Leachman.

And there will never be any ensemble as funny as the group the great Mel Brooks so easily assembled for such comedy masterpieces as “Blazing Saddles, “Young Frankenstein,” “The Producers” and “History of The World.”

Who’s going to pick up the torch when Mel and Woody depart? Andy Samberg? Jack Black? C’mon.

Ben Stiller has shown moments of greatness, but now seems to be most comfortable peddling his lowest-common-denominator brand of comedy with the likes of Owen Wilson and/or Vince Vaughn.


David Fagin

David Fagin

David Fagin is a New York writer, producer and musician. His resume boasts an incredibly diverse range of contributions, from top news sites such as Salon, TheImproper, AOL News, Yahoo and The Huffington Post to a wide-range of humorous entities such as The Onion, The Muppets, Comedy Central, Dennis Miller, and Howard Stern. He is fascinated by technology and social media and the seemingly love/hate relationship we have with the changing world. He is also a food snob.


 

Much of the humor today is just a “Saturday Night Live” sketch gone way too long, filled with splashy special effects, weak storylines and f-bombs.

Many comedies today feel like they were made simply to cash in on that big, first weekend, before folks realize how bad they are.

In fact, the lack of substance in films is the reason Wilder gave for not making another movie in the last 20 or so years of his life.

As we move further and further away from traditional values, from self-deprecation to self-gratification, it’s scary to think of a world without a Mel Brooks. Without a Woody Allen. Without a Gene Wilder.

These one-of-a-kind talents were/are the last remaining connection to truth in comedy.

They’re the gate-keepers between those looking to hang on to a bygone era and the non-stop machine that is change. But, change isn’t always for the better.

Rest in peace, Gene, and thanks for your inestimable comedic gifts.

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