Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder’s “Haunted Honeymoon” Interview


The schlemiel is often called a man-child.  The best way to articulate what this means is by taking a look at comedians who play men-children.  I originally planned to blog on this topic.  And I thought of three routines.  I first thought of the Three Stooges’ children routine.


I was especially interested in the later stooge, Joe Besser, who replaced Shemp from 1955-1958.  His childish routines are highly gestural, sometimes flamboyant.


Here he plays a child:

He also played “stinky” in Abbot and Costello:

I also thought of Gilda Radner.  She played many children in her own routines and on Saturday Night Live.  And, as in this routine, she slips from being the good, innocent child to the child who likes to speak dirty.

I am intrigued with all of the children she plays and I wanted to write on them today, but something else caught my eye which conflicted with her image as a child: a new routine that cast her as married…to Gene Wilder, a man she was married to in real life.  The movie that I’m talking about was directed by Gene Wilder and starred both he and Gilda (and Dom DeLuise as a cross-dressed man-child schlemiel): its called Haunted Honeymoon. It was filmed in 1986, two years after they were first married.

But it wasn’t the movie that first struck me as interesting so much as an interview I came across.  In the interview, we see a sobriety and an everydayness with not only Radner but Gene Wilder as well.

In the interview we see that Wilder wants to clearly separate himself from the comedian as does Radner. They even go so far as to say that they may not laugh at their own jokes.  Wilder, in fact, is very realistic and frank about how serious he actually is.

Radner stresses how normal they are in real life and that their fans should know this.  In other words, they are not schlemiels but they play them.   But there is more to the story then simply a separation between the world of the schlemiel and everydayness; there is an oscillation between horror and comedy which is of great interest to Wilder (and apparently Radner).

The interviewer’s first question to Wilder (who grants the interview from a bed) and Wilder’s response foreshadow this. When asked what Wilder can tell the audience about the film that “won’t give too much away.” To this, he says “nothing.”  But then he says: “Except for one thing.”  Namely, that he loved “these kinds of films,” by which he means “comedy chillers,” when he was a “little boy.”  He explains that they were called “comedy chillers” because they “scared you but you also laughed.”

As we saw with Irving Howe’s reading of Jewish humor (and Jewish identity), which was drawn from a remark made by the Jewish-American novelist Saul Bellow, there is a movement in Jewish humor between “laughter and tears.”

Gene brings the tears in the interview, too.  By talking about how exhausting it is to “direct” oneself, he puts forth a negative sense that the film isn’t any “fun” to make.  And he drives the mood to sadness when he says this may be his last film ever: “I don’t mean anything prophetic or sad but this may be my last movie as a director or an actor, actually.”

Gilda Radner follows suit.  She says that she and Gene don’t like being funny all the time. Genes response to the last interviewer’s question says it all:

The Interviewer: “What besides your own work makes you laugh?”

Wilder: “You assume my own work makes me laugh..that’s quite a big assumption…sir.”

For Wilder, who plays a schlemiel in nearly all of his movies, his humor may not make him laugh.  It may make him somber, sad.  His comedy is somewhere between laughter and tears.  He may evoke the laughter of others, but he may not find his own antics to be funny of all.  So when Radner or Wilder play that man-child, they may not find it so funny. But we do.

What does that tell us?

Perhaps it tells us that our “honeymoon” with the adorable yet deviant man-child may be “haunted” by something we may not want to recognize. Perhaps we wish I.B. Singer’s Gimpel the Fool was a schlemiel in fiction and in reality. That way, we would always bear witness to a schlemiels blind trust of others, and to society’s mockery of this trust. We can imagine a perpetual schlemiel like Sasha Baron Cohen who lives reality as his character. And perhaps this perpetual schlemiel is what Wilder and Radner, at this point of their careers, wanted to haunt.

(I hope to return to the theme of man-children over the next week.  There is so much to reflect on….)




JAPS, Schlemiels, and Princesses: Long Island


The post-WWII American schlemiel takes many forms that  more often than not go along gender lines.  Yes, there are male schlemiels who, in the 60s and 70s, are represented by Bruce Jay Friedman, Phillip Roth, or Woody Allen as Portnoy’s or nebbishes. Think of Friedman’s Stern, Roth’s Potnoy’s Complaint, or any of Allen’s movies from the period.   These schlemiels, often young men or bachelors, are as David Biale would say “sexual schlemiels.”  And sometimes, as in the case of Woody Allen’s schlemiels, they are charming.  We also are fortunate to have many Jewish women who play schlemiels.  Fanny Brice was a schlemiel but not as much of a sexual schlemiel as Barbara Streisand who played her in Funny Girl.  The stand-up comedienne Joan Rivers is also a sexual schlemiel, but she traverses all kinds of sexual territory. And, unlike Brice or Streisand in Funny Girl, she can also be very irritating.  She was and still is far from shy; but, like any schlemiel, she is absent-minded.  With her comedy, we see an alteration of charm and irritation.

In the 80s the feminine-schlemiel-landscape changes.  We see something new that the female schlemiel must contend with; namely, the Jewish American Princess.  She also has sexual problems and, like the schlemiel, seems out of touch with the world.  But her biggest problem is that she is portrayed as someone who is spoiled, expects a lot out of men, and is aggressive.  But when a schlemiel like Gilda Radner portrays the JAP; the character is aggressive but not too aggressive.

In this clip, she is playing the Long Island Jew who happens to have a group: “Rhonda and the Rhondettes.”  She is tinkering with the stereotype by playing the schlemiel.  She goes way over the top with it, to such an extent that the JAP appears ridiculous while she appears charming.

To be honest, after Gilda Radner died I didn’t think I would see another JAP being parodied again.  I was wrong.

Believe it or not there is a new reality show on Bravo that is all about Jewish American Princesses. Its called Princesses: Long Island.  It’s not often that you see a comedy routine, a TV Episode, or even a film clip of or about a group of unmarried Jewish American Princess (JAP).   They are, without a doubt, almost a mirror image of the Judd Apatow bachelors in films like 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Super Bad.

All of these girls are having a hard time hooking up, they are getting older, and they are in a bind.  They love home and are attached to their parents. (And their parents are attached to them.) They want too much.  And this creates major (potentially comic) difficulties.

The reality TV show stars and their locations in Long Island are:

Here’s the trailer:

As you can see, the show emphasizes their “Jewishness” and equates it with their awkwardness.  What we find here is a recurrence of the JAP but with a few differences.  More interesting is the fact that they are presented as being real embodiments of JAP schlemiels.

Take a look at episode number one:

Although they may be, at some level “irritating,” they are nonetheless charming schlemiels.  But not all JAPs are schlemiels.  In an effort to deflate the JAP stereotype, Anna Sequoia, in The Official JAP Handbook (published in 1982) notes that JAPs are good, charming, and intelligent. But she associates them with mothers and not their unmarried daughters:

Jewish American Princesses are warm, coddling, funny, smart and achieving.  They are wonderful, dedicated mothers.

Later in her book, however, we see the bachelorette.  Namely in a section entitled “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”   But what we find are more or less warnings about how a JAP mother should worry about her JAP daughter.  After all, she doesn’t want her daughter to get involved with the wrong guy.  Hopefully, she can inculcate the right JAP values in her daughter:

Maybe secretly…little Marsha Lynn feels insecure and has to “sleep up,” or “sleep down,” or maybe its just part of growing up, gaining the experience of love, and life will one day, one hopes, lead them toward the right people for them (114).

This motherly concern hovers all over Princesses: Long Island.   These mothers are concerned because their daughters are at an awkward age and are still living with them.  Their JAP daughters internalize this concern. And, in a way, they share too much with their scared Jewish mothers, like Anna Sequoia, the author of The Official JAP Handbook.

Their awkwardness, while silly, has its charm. At the same time, these girls irritate us.  The frission is enticing and may propel the show to a second season.  On the other hand, it may not.  I have a “feeling” about this.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But after Gilda Radner modeled Jewwess Jeans on SNL, I knew that it would be really hard for any comedienne to fill her designer schlemiel jeans.