Laughing Matters

A generous serving of “wry,” LAUGHING MATTERS: ON WRITING M*A*S*H, TOOTSIE, OH, GOD!, AND A FEW OTHER FUNNY THINGS offers readers a glimpse into the mind of comic scribe Larry Gelbart. From snippets of plays and radio, television, and film scripts to a series on cities (beginning with “Less Angeles”) first published in HARPER’S BAZAAR, the book offers a scrapbook of Gelbart’s writing life. This is a scrapbook without photographs—all the pictures are in the words on the page. And those words often sting. Gelbart is a satirist, after all. Perhaps his sharpest barbs are directed at the world he knows best as it succumbs to cynicism and greed: the world of entertainment.

Devotees of television comedy will not want to miss Gelbart’s reminiscences of writing for CAESAR’S HOUR and M*A*S*H. The man’s acquaintances constitute a who’s who of comic writers and performers from television’s Golden Age—Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Jack Benny—as well as Broadway—Neil Simon, George Abbott, Jerome Robbins—and anecdotes about these luminaries provide the book’s brightest spots. (An index helps locate these.)

Those looking for an autobiography, however, are directed elsewhere. Readers never even learn the full name of Gelbart’s wife (her first name is Pat). But they do learn something about the business that is show business and also about the survival techniques of one of its most honored practitioners (Gelbart’s list of awards is nearly as long as his list of credits—the book supplies both). They also learn something about persevering in the process of writing from someone who, “over a lifetime,” has “produced more drafts than the north wind.”