THE LAST LAUGH by S. J. Perelman
Kirkus Star


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Sad but true--and this is the last laugh in more ways than one. Here, of course, are the late, great SJP's last, uncollected humor pieces (17 of them), plus fragments from his uncompleted autobiography (which was to have been titled, gloriously, The Hindsight Saga). But here, too, is the end of an era: the last laughter from the Golden Age of written (as opposed to spoken) American humor. And, with the possible exception of Woody Allen at his infrequent best, there is no humorist on the horizon who's fit to shine Benchley's shoes. . . or slice Perelman's beloved Novy. Ah well, enough of these lamentations; on to the fun. True, about half of the pieces here are well-below-par Perelman. But then there's ""All Precincts Beware--Paper Tigress Loose!,"" in which SJP undertakes to track down the femme fatale who is using her allure to persuade men to buy huge quantities of carbon paper: "" 'Then you are implying,' I queried, 'that somewhere in this puzzling affair there lurks a she-devil, maddened by who can say what dark neurotic compulsion, dedicated to undermining the very foundations of stationery as we know it today?' "" Equally splendiferous: SJP's attempt to obtain a National Endowment grant for research on E. M. Forster's odd trouser length ("" 'A fine one you are to beg for a subsidy,' snarled the Award Committee for Literature in its letter. 'Investigate your own pants, you schnorrer. . . . A trolley car should grow in your stomach' ""); SJP's attempts to discover, in ragged shawl and gingham dress on 19th Street, ""The Joy of Mooching""; or SJP's visit to the offices of his publisher Diamond & Oyster, where he finds his editor working at a smithy (a moneymaking sideline that will fund non-commercial books. . . like Smokey and the Millionaire: The Saga of a Whitefish). There's also an atypically simple, nostalgically old-fashioned charmer--about 15-year-old SJP's ice-cream-parlor confrontation with his English teacher, who's dubious about young Sid's ""autobiographical"" essay (he has included adventures from every book he's ever read). And the snatches of straight autobiography offer clear-eyed glimpses of Dorothy Parker and Nathaniel West, along with SJP's adventures in Hollywood: reading his first script for cruel Groucho Marx aloud to 27 people (they were ""watching a man hang himself with a typewriter ribbon"") and getting advice from Herman Mankiewicz on the inner nature of the Marx Bros.: ""One of them is a guinea, another a mute who picks up spit, and the third an old Hebe with a cigar. Is that all clear, Beaumont and Fletcher?"" But best of all is one of those grand SJP playlets, this one featuring a Diane yon Furstenberg type who has decided to write her autobiography--""She Spins to Conquer, which, albeit unfinished, has already reduced Virginia Kirkus to superlatives and netted a tidy four hundred G's for the paperback rights."" Well, once again Perelman has indeed reduced Kirkus to superlatives: he was the best, a one-of-a-kind marvel, and it hurts--from laughing and otherwise--to say goodbye.

Pub Date: July 2nd, 1981
Publisher: Simon & Schuster