In the current issue of New York Magazine, Mark Harris puts Woody Allen’s latest film Whatever Works (June 18) into the context of the shifting landscape of so-called Jewish humor. He traces a line from Allen through Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David to current incarnations such as John Stewart and Judd Apatow, two funny men who are not specifically defined by their Jewishness. So, what happened to the humor of which Allen was once king?
To understand why [Allen’s] particular flavor of urban Jewish comedy seemed to vanish so quickly after Annie Hall and Manhattan, even as New Yorkers young and old held it dear, it helps to remember that Allen walked away from it first. In the eighties, he did his Fellini movie (Stardust Memories), his cheery Bergman homage (A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy), his claustrophobic dramas (September and Another Woman), his trifles (Alice). Jewish humor-the gags, the one-liners, the cheerful vulgarity, the tsuris-seemed to become old hat to him; tellingly, when he wanted to give it some play, most of the time he did so in period (Radio Days). When he returned to contemporary New York, most successfully in Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors, he kept to the margins, deploying himself as minor comic relief. The schnook was no longer the center of Allen’s writing or his thinking-or his movies.
In the current environment, Allen’s film about an abrasive neurotic who falls for a younger woman (surprise!) seems like a throwback…and it is. It turns out the looming actor’s strike forced Allen to work quickly and in New York instead of abroad so he dusted off an old screenplay he’d once written for Zero Mostel, updated it a bit and recruited Larry David to play the Allen role.
Check out the New York Magazine article to find out why the seemingly obvious Larry David didn’t think he was the right guy for the part and other interesting nuggets of goodness.
It’s a good read.