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Momedy Comedy Part Two
keeps up the pace

Second installment of lecture series looks at Jewish comediennes since mid-century

By Byron Toben

Irene Lillienheim Angelico, the Montreal documentary filmmaker who has assembled and moderates this three-part series about female Jewish comedians, keeps up the pace established in Part One. That part, reviewed here earlier, went back to the turn of the 20th century to display six of the greatest pioneers of the category.

Part Two examines ten more since mid century.

Ms. Angelico, who described the Jewish feeling as combining satire, irony and self-deprecation, went on to stress that commonalities shared by many of the performers were broken homes and battles with weight.

In a post screening talkback, soliciting audience response on which were their favourites, she expressed her own choice, Joan Rivers. (My own was Elaine May)

Ms. Angelico… went on to stress that commonalities shared by many of the performers were broken homes and battles with weight.

In the review below, links to brief videos giving a taste of the comic described are my own so as not to duplicate the better ones selected by Ms. Angelico in her showing. Well, one exception as it was too funny to omit, the one involving Gilda Radner.

Speaking of whom, viewers may remember that local actor/writer Rosaruby Kagan portrayed Gilda in Bunny, Bunny staged at the Segal Centre in 2014.

Here are the ten ladies:

Totie Fields born Sophie Feldman 1930 in Hartford. Died 1978 age 48.
Ms. Fields often appeared on variety shows such as Ed Sullivan and Merv Griffin. Short of stature, she drew laughs getting on and off of high chairs. Chubby, she wrote a diet book in 1972, I think I’ll start on Monday. Selected in 1978 by AGVA as female comedy star of the year.

Elaine May born 1932 in Philadelphia. Still around at 88.
Ms. May, who was brought up in California, hitch hiked to Chicago as a teen to attend the University of Chicago, which allowed selected students who lacked a high school diploma, to enrol. There she was captivated by the Compass players, the oldest improv acting group in the US (and predecessor to Second City) and combined forces with Mike Nichols to create a nationally acclaimed duo. They later had successful careers individually in writing and directing.

Joan Rivers born 1933 in Brooklyn as Joan Molinsky. Died 2014 aged 81.
Ms. Rivers, who was a particular favourite on the Johnny Carson Show, became the first woman to have her own one-hour show on a major network. She also found time to write 12 books and turn out 3 comedy albums.

Madeline Khan born 1942 in Boston as Madeline Wolfson. Died 1999 aged 57.
Ms. Kahn is perhaps best known for her roles in famous Mel Brooks movies such as Blazing Saddles.

Goldie Hawn born 1945 in Washington, DC. Now 73 years old.
This smart gal who has often played dumb blondes started out as a dancer who could sing. She shot to fame on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In TV show, went on to appear in 32 films, winning an academy Award for best supporting actress (Cactus Flower) and co-producing a number of TV shows. Daughter actress Kate Hudson often appears with her in TV interviews.

Gilda Radner born 1946 in Detroit. Died 1989 aged 43.
Ms. Radner became an improv star in Toronto’s expansion of Chicago’s Second City and moved with most of those performers to NYC to create the Saturday Night Live hit TV show. She married actor Gene Wilder who carried on her cancer research funding after her untimely early death from that disease for 15 years until his own death in 2016.

Elayne Boosler born 1952 in Brooklyn. Now 66 years old.
Ms. Boosler became the first female to host her own cable TV one-hour comedy show in 1980. She is an actor, writer and producer with many awards, mostly on cable. Early championed by Andy Kaufman.

Rita Rudner born 1953 in Miami. Now 65 years old.
Ms. Rudner started out as a dancer at 16. She later tried stand up and became so proficient that she now hosts the longest running comedy show in Las Vegas.

Deb Filler born 1954 in Auckland, New Zealand. Now 63 years old.
Teaching drama in high schools and singing in rock bands, she met Leonard Bernstein through her father and co-wrote a short film about him, Further studying in NYC, she appeared in comedy shows and excelled at portraying multiple characters. She now apparently resides in Toronto.

Judy Toll born 1958 in Philadelphia. Died 2002 aged 44.
Ms. Toll developed her improv skills with the Santa Monica Groundlings group. She went on to perform at clubs and movies and also wrote for other productions such as Sex and the City. Like Gilda Radner, she died in her 40s and inspired a 2007 documentary Judy Toll: The funniest woman you’ve never heard of.

Sponsored by the Cummings Centre, Momedy Comedy concludes with Part Three, taking us up to date with 21st century stars, on Thursday, September 27 at 7 pm in the Gelber Room of the Jewish Public Library, 5151 Côte Ste-Catherine.

For individual tickets ($20-25) call Michele Lander at 514 734-1748.

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Feature image: Joan Rivers on the Johnny Carson Show

Read also: Momedy Comedy Part One opens with a bang


Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.


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  1. Jane Gilchrist

    Thanks for reminding me of Rita Rudner. I loved her subtlety . My favorite will always be Goldie Hawn. I guess because I love to giggle.


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