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Watch the movie and meet the director that created the film which explores the potential for humor and the Holocaust

The CMU Civic Forum, as part of the Twentieth Annual Holocaust Awareness Series, dares to pose the question: Is there space in culture for comedy to address the Holocaust? A common assumption would be that one of history’s most notorious and malevolent genocides would be off-limits for comedy and comedians. But Ferne Pearlstein, an American filmmaker, reminds in her film, The Last Laugh, that history reveals humor was a vehicle for survivors to maintain the human spirit during the Holocaust and to continue resistance during their persecution. 

“CMU is committed to being a convener of ideas and conversations that help us shape a better world,” said CMU President John Marshall. “We’re looking forward to welcoming Ferne to western Colorado and appreciate her participating in this important community discussion.”  

Marshall will introduce the film and help facilitate a conversation and Q&A session with the film’s director, Pearlstein.  

“It is a such a privilege and an honor to come to Colorado Mesa University and have this opportunity to share my film at this fraught time in our history when anti-Semitism and hate crimes are on the rise once again,” said Pearlstein.

The film poses important questions for our time. If the Holocaust is off limits for comedians and humorists, what other areas are also beyond the reach of comedy? Racism, sexism, global pandemics and famine, is there a role for humor within social commentary and in the way communities grapple with these issues? What is the price of freedom of speech in relation to these questions?        

The Last Laugh offers reflections and clarity around the nexus between humor and tragedy, and free speech and responsibility. Auschwitz survivor Renee Firestone is featured in the film whose contributors includes comedians and cultural critics like Mel Brooks, Jeff Ross and Sarah Silverman. Comedians and actors including Jeff Ross, Larry Charles, Borat and Gilbert Gottfried are featured as is Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League.  

The film will be screened at the Avalon Theatre on Tuesday, April 4, in partnership with the City of Grand Junction who has partnered with CMU Civic Forum events in the past like the annual MLK Day festivities that begin in Downtown Grand Junction and end at CMU. Following the screening, the event will include a panel discussion that features CMU Trustee David Foster, Marshall and Pearlstein.  

Foster devotes much of his life to charitable and civic causes and learned during his childhood the value of Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”). He believes that throughout history humankind has used humor to traverse tragedy and difficulty. 

“The CMU Civic Form continues to demonstrate the university’s commitment to serving a leading role in western Colorado and our state when it comes to shaping a future that advances the foundational values of democracy and strengthens the institution that keeps human malevolence and atrocity at bay,” said Foster. “Humor is a powerful tool that when appropriately deployed can help communities heal.” 

One example of humor used during the Holocaust includes footage and images of plays and cabarets inside concentration camps showing that prisoners maintain the ability to exercise irony, self-deprecation and highlight absurdist and paradox amidst their sufferings. 

Screening the film inside the City of Grand Junction’s historical Avalon Theatre coincides with the twentieth anniversary of the university’s annual Holocaust Awareness Series. Vincent Patarino, PhD, has been a key organizer of the event since its inception.

"Our goal is still the same as it was in 2004: to offer interdisciplinary sessions by scholars and community members of all stripes; to support discussion and discourse on all aspects of modern genocide; to provide an opportunity to educate and bring awareness to the CMU campus and local community about the dangers of hate speech and disparaging of 'the other,' and to act decisively to embrace the call, 'never again.'  Twenty years later, the Series is my gift to the campus community that I love, a continuing effort to effect positive change in our world.” 

The event is free and open to the public. Doors open at 5pm with the show starting at 6pm and the discussion to follow. Tickets are free but seats needs to be reserved on the Avalon website.


Written by David Ludlam