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Playboy Laughs: The Comedy, Comedians, and Cartoons of Playboy by Patty Farmer (Beaufort Books, $27.95 US)

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“To this day I have fond memories of the whole Playboy experience.  Playboy represented a time and place unique in history.  It will never come back again.  It was an amazing moment and I was thrilled to be a part of it”

-Arlyne Rothberg (from Playboy Laughs)

“I think the real meat of Playboy was the intellectual content – including the cartoons.  The center-folds were the addendum.  The cartoons not only entertained but advanced social messages that we believed in.  They were a new kind of cartoon, the kinds that were also being done in Esquire and The New Yorker.”

-Cynthia Maddox (from Playboy Laughs)

I remember the first time I bought a copy of Playboy.  It was the infamous September 1985 edition that featured black and white nudes of Madonna.  I purchased it for $4 at a St. Denis Street depanneur on a humid afternoon while making the rounds working my summer job delivering ice with my brother.  It also holds the distinction of being the last stapled issue of that publication.  I still have it.  It was the first time I had had a Playboy of my own to examine at my leisure.  I soon noticed that it also contained numerous original cartoons and articles, some humorous in nature.  I the jokes were a little raunchy, corny, and juvenile (and I was 15 at the time) for my taste, but they still made me laugh a little.  The comedy, comedians and cartoons of Playboy are now the subject of Playboy Laughs, a new book by Patty Farmer.

Playboy Laughs could actually be two books (it is divided into distinct sections): The first is a mostly first-person account of the Playboy nightclubs and resorts and the stand-ups who worked their “circuit”; the second deals with the original art that appeared in the magazine, both facetious and serious.

The former chapters are filled with a seemingly endless series of anecdotes and mini-bios of comedians who did not quite make it big-time that read mostly like:

Legendary funnyman Jackie Jackerman was born Jerome Zibitzky in 1903 to poor immigrant parents living in The Bronx.  His father was a street vendor who sold used dirt from his push-cart.  Jackie left school at age 6 to work the family business.  When in the Navy he discovered he had the ability to make others laugh (a small aside here:  Why did every old-time comic hone his craft in the service? It almost seems like the military is a better place to develop your show-business chops than Second City!).  After being discharged he hit the vaudeville stage for pennies a show where he appeared at the same venues as Jack Benny, Milton Berle and The Marx Brothers (but not on the same nights, apparently).  Eventually he started performing in Playboy clubs, where he dated many of the Bunnies, even though he wasn’t supposed to.  After the clubs folded, he made numerous TV appearances on Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and The Joey Bishop Show.  Jackie died at the age of 94 at the washed-up old comedians’ retirement home of a stubbed toe.

(I am not exercising hyperbole here!)

That being said the book does contain interesting tales and harkens back to a time when nightclubs had live entertainment and not some pretentious douche with a laptop of premixed cacophonous drivel who does little more than show up and run a program.  And act like a douche.  (Did I mention that?)

As for the latter chapters dealing with the art and artists, that was my favorite, mostly because many of the subjects, like Shel Silverstein, Leroy Neiman and Alberto Vargas, made it big-time and went on to individual fame after their stint with Playboy.

When I think about it now, Playboy was essentially a burlesque show in print; at least it evolved from that style of entertainment, anyhow.  And along the way Hugh Hefner and his creation helped change, progress, and form our modern society (for example Hef employed women in executive and management positions in his organization decades before the rest of the corporate world caught up).  Despite a few shortcomings, Playboy Laughs is good chronicle of that history and an enjoyable snapshot of a lost era.  I recommend it especially for ardent followers of American pop culture.

*Please Note: The preceding review is based on advanced reading copy.  The version scheduled for release on August 3rd, 2017 may differ.*

Twitter: @Akessaris


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