What happens to Borscht Belt comedians when they get old?
That melancholy question is the subject of the 1992 comedy film Mr. Saturday Night. Starring Billy Crystal (it was also his directorial debut) as Buddy Young, an aged Jewish comic who’s struggling to find work, the film flashes back to events throughout his life, growing up in New York during World War II and working as a comedian in Catskills resorts through the 1950s.
Buddy’s comedy is a particular brand–that acerbic, pessimistic, depressing-and-funny-at-once worldview of Jewish immigrants and their children. “My family was like ‘Dances With Jews’,” he tells a reporter. “We had names for our relatives like they had in that movie. We had ‘Eats With His Hands,’ ‘Makes Noise When He Bends,’ ‘Never Buys Retail.'”
Ultimately, the movie suggests a tragic irony: Buddy’s sense of humor helped him to survive his poverty and made him a star, but it also isolated him from the people he loved.