A failed standup comic has his wish to make people laugh at everything he says granted to less than satisfying results—for him and for us viewers. Review of the Night Gallery story “Make Me Laugh” is here.
Season 1 Episode 4—aired 1/6/71
“Make Me Laugh” *1/2
Written by Rod Serling
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Godfrey Cambridge as Jackie Slater
Jackie Vernon as Chatterje
Tom Bosley as Jules Kettleman
Al Lewis as Myron Mishkin
Sidney Clute as David Garrick (Theater Producer)
John J. Fox as the Heckler
Gene R. Kearney as the Second Bartender
Tony Russel as the Theater Director
Sonny Klein as the First Bartender
Michael Hart as Miss Wilson
Georgia Schmidt as the Flower Lady
Jackie Slater (Godfrey Cambridge) bombs onstage at a seedy nightclub. Club owner Al Lewis (best known as Grandpa Munster) cuts short his planned engagement there and Slater’s longtime agent (Tom Bosley) dumps him as a client.
Drowning his sorrows in a bar, a man in a turban appears and introduces himself saying “Chatterje’s the name. Miracles by profession.” Jackie Vernon (the voice of Frosty the Snowman in the classic Rankin/Bass specials) is for some reason cast as a South Asian although no attempt is made to make him look Indian. I found this to be confusing and actually quite distracting during his scenes.
Chatterje tells Slater that he must perform a miracle by midnight or he will lose his powers. Slater asks the swami to make is so that people laugh at everything he says. Chatterje makes it so but warns that his miracles have “small imperfections.” That’s what’s known in the business as foreshadowing.
Initially, things go spectacularly for Jackie S. He becomes a huge star and his manager reunites with him, knowing a meal ticket when he sees one.
Eventually, Slater tires of people laughing at his every utterance and longs to be taken seriously. An audition for a dramatic role is predictably disastrous as the producer, director, a fellow actor and everyone in the theatre guffaws uproariously at his words. He is literally laughed right out of the theatre.
Later, on the street, he runs into Chatterje and tells him he no longer wants to make people laugh; he wants to make them cry. Slater then begins to cross the street to tell a joke to a flower vendor but before he can make it to her, he is run over by a car. The flower vendor approaches his lifeless body and, yes, cries. Wish granted.
The script for this tale, an original Serling, is not all bad, and in fact, I think a decent episode could have been made out of this “be careful what you wish for” story. But the casting of not just Jackie Vernon, but more importantly, Godfrey Cambridge, is all wrong. In order for “Make Me Laugh” to work, we have to feel some compassion, some empathy, for what Jackie Slater is going through. He starts off at rock bottom, in desperation gets a wish granted, rises to the top, yet still feels unfulfilled. Unfortunately, Cambridge mostly comes off as annoying and irritating throughout so we never really hope things get better for him and at the end we can’t share a tear with the flower vendor over his pedestrian death on the dangerous streets of 1970 New York City.
I haven’t even mentioned that Steven Spielberg directed this mess and he’d probably prefer this flop be erased from his list of directorial credits forever.