DVD Review: How To Be A Jewish Son

How To Be a Jewish SonSTUDIO: S’More Entertainment | PRODUCTION COMPANY: Pamandia | CAST: David Susskind, Mel Brooks, David Steinberg, George Segal, Stan Herman, Dan Greenburg, Larry Goldberg
DVD RELEASE DATE: 2/14/2012 | PRICE: DVD $19.98
SPECS: NR | 90 min. | Television show | 1.33:1 fullscreen | Dolby Digital stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  | Audio  | Video  | Overall


The most popular installment of The David Susskind Show during its 28 years on the air, November, 1970’s “How To Be a Jewish Son—or My Son, The Success!!” still has the ability to illicit a great, big smile, if not the power to have viewers doubling over with laughter. (It was never that remarkable, but the passage of time and growing lore has been fueling its legend as a classic for more than 40 years.)

How To Be A Jewish Son scene

Mel Brooks makes his point on The David Susskind Show's "How To Be A Jewish Son" installment.

The talk show episode set out to offer a twist on Dan Greenburg’s 1964 best-selling novelty book How To Be A Jewish Mother by featuring the viewpoint of the Jewish sons, the ones who had to live with the guilt, outbursts and food issues that were hoisted upon them by their mothers. Thus, Susskind (who had a Jewish mom himself) found himself moderating a panel that included the great writer/filmmaker Mel Brooks (High Anxiety) as his movie The Twelve Chairs was rolling out to theaters, rising comic David Steinberg (the son of a rabbi), then-hot actor George Segal (Love and Other Drugs), pizzeria chain mogul Larry Goldberg, swishy fashion designer Stan Herman and writer Greenburg.

There’s no denying that the air was electric and that the usually on-top-everything Susskind nearly loses control of his show as the panel talks and gestures and shouts. Led by the high-energy Brooks and the underhandedly snarky Steinberg, the show’s overall exuberance is what makes it all work, as opposed to any specific jokes or bits. The laughs are there, yes, but the idea of seven Jewish guys sitting around on a bare-bones set—smoking cigarettes and drinking water—and simply talking about being Jewish is what makes it so memorable and effective. Behind the giggly veneer are some serious thoughts (again, cloaked in laughter) on success, assimilation and Jewish identity. And who better to pontificate on those matters than Mel Brooks, who frequently lapses into the little old Jewish man voice of his “2,000 Year Old Man” character.

The program offers the secondary pleasure of watching relative unknowns Goldberg, Herman and Greenburg trying to keep up with Brooks and company. George Segal, in particularly, looks as if he’s running out of patience with Goldburg, whose attempts to make jokes at this expense are met with an icy stare and scrunched eyebrows from the actor.

Long available for viewing online at a zillion video sites, the How To Be a Jewish Son DVD doesn’t come with any extras (oy!), but it would still make a nice gift for any kvelling parent who wonders why their children don’t bring them a gift when they come over for a Friday night dinner.

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About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.