Six-parter on MPT looks at the business of making people laugh

The Baltimore Sun

The funniest people don't take no for an answer - at least, they don't without a fight for their audience's yuks. Their policy has never been "invite 'em to laugh." It's "make 'em."

This never-say-die zeal (and the laughter that results) is the unifying spirit of Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America, PBS' six-hour, century-spanning showcase of the nation's leading laugh-getters.

Hosted by Billy Crystal, the series (two hours over three nights) blends history with performance and taps the expertise of more than 90 comedians, writers, producers and comic scholars. Rather than travel a chronological path, Make 'Em Laugh" makes hay with six broad genres of comedy.

Kicking off tonight, the series asks, "Nerds, Jerks & Oddballs: Would Ya Hit a Guy With Glasses?" as it celebrates comedy's towering nerds, jerks and oddballs. In a nation of immigrants, the outsider has always been a source of amusement, as the series observes. Examples range from bookish Harold Lloyd of the silent-film era through Phyllis Diller and Steve Martin to the goof-ball heroes of Judd Apatow comedies.

In the second hour, "Breadwinners to Homemakers: Honey, I'm Home!" shines a light on domestic comedy, from Burns and Allen, who sprang from the radio era, through TV sitcoms including I Love Lucy, All in the Family and The Simpsons. (8 p.m., MPT, Channel 22)

Late-night guests: :: Author Cherie Blair visits The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and TV personality Regis Philbin stops by the Late Show with David Letterman.

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