It is not every day you see Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds and legend Abe Vigoda in the same place (as seen on Reynolds’ FB page.). But it happened last night at the Society of Illustrators opening for Drew Friedman’s Old Jewish Comedians show. Also in attendance: Gilbert Gottfried, Paul Shaffer, Robert Klein and JAY EFF Joe Franklin. And from the arty/comicksy crew many people, including Mark Newgarden, Bob Sikoryak, Stephen DeStefano, Karen Green, Cliff Galbraith, J. David Spurlock, Jim Salicrup, Charles Brownstein, Anne Bernstein, Kriota Wilberg, Scott Eder and many people I’m forgetting. It was one of those “only in New York” times. Sadly, I arrived too late to catch Mr. Vigoda, whose existence I recently celebrated here.
Friedman’s painstaking, eerie and unforgettable portraits of the vast world of old Jewish comedians have been collected in three books, all from Fantagraphics, available as one rib tickling compilation. The exhibit includes some items—presumably from Friedman’s own collection— of books, puppets, and other tchatkes of the Vaudevile-to-Catskills world, now long vanished. However, I did learn from the biographical cards accompanying each art piece that Jack Carter and Marty Allen are still alive, both in their early 90s! VERY old Jewish comedians.
The work itself is a monument to this world so far behind us in the rearview mirror, disturbing yet familiar, creepy yet humane. Friedman’s originals are tiny, they are actually blown up to be reproduced, but his level of detail survives in such a scale, and somehow gain a patina of memory. From Jerry Lewis to Buddy Hackett to Sophie Tucker, it’s a twilight world of schtick, and we’re fortunate that Friedman has captured it for posterity.
Also up at the Society — a huge display of the art of Jeffrey Catherine Jones, including Idyll and most of his most famous works. It’s probably the biggest display of his work ever mounted, and perhaps the only one. There will be a big event for this show in the 21st, including a showing of Better Things, the documentary of Jones’ life, directed by Maria Paz Cabardo. That will doubtless be another only in New York evening.
After quizzing a cross section of the attendees I came to the conclusion that the fanbases for Jones and Friedman don’t overlap too much. Perhaps the Venn diagram includes only Heidi MacDonald. But both are well worth seeing, as is the MoCCA gallery show of Charles Rodriguez.
I’ve been going to SoI events for a while, but I have to say since director Anelle Miller started expanding the membership and the events calendar, it has once again become a true clubhouse as it was in the great days of illustration—and last night’s vastly entertaining event was just one example.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.