A Documentary Shout-Out to Making Trouble


Gail Reimer, executive producer of the documentary Making Trouble, shares her insights on this eye-opening film about Jewish women comedians who pushed the boundaries.

If the 2007 feature-length documentary Making Trouble proves anything, it’s that there were wild, bawdy Jewish comedians way before Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler. The film, executive produced by Gail Reimer (the founding director of the Jewish Women’s Archive) and directed by Rachel Talbot, is a tribute to Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein. Throughout the film, we learn how the unique style of each of these women kicked open a door for the next generation of Jewish comedians. Below, Gail Reimer shares some of her insights on the making of the film.

Did you have a comedian who you connected to most in doing the research,
and why?

Not one comedian&#8212but six. I was blown away by Sophie Tucker’s daring and sexual honesty; in love with the cross dressing, somersaulting Molly Picon; inspired by Fanny Brice’s determination to succeed; fascinated by Joan Rivers’ brash and unapologetic humor; moved by Gilda Radner’s vulnerability; and entranced by Wendy’s humor and intelligence.

What one thing would you say that the comedians featured in the film most had in common?

Making Trouble&#8212defying conventions.

What was the biggest surprise for you while making this film?

I was surprised by how much I enjoy Joan Rivers. Prior to the film and the exquisite way in which Joan’s longtime friend and colleague Treva brings out the person Joan, the harsh, often vulgar edges of both Joan’s comedy and her plastic face got in the way of my seeing the incredibly smart, funny, passionate, and pioneering woman and comedian she is.

What was the most difficult/challenging aspect of making this film?

Choosing just a handful of comedians was difficult.

When most people think about Jewish women comedians, what do you think
they picture? Is it accurate?

These days they tend to picture Sarah Silverman who, though conventionally “pretty” in a way that Sophie Tucker and Joan Rivers are not, also speaks through her female sensibilities, often in outrageous ways.

I thought it was interesting that Gilda is highlighted as the first Jewish
woman to avoid making jokes about her looks on stage. What can you say
about this?

To my mind, Sophie and Joan are poking fun at social conventions, at audience expectations about how a woman on stage should look or speak. It may seem like they are making jokes about their looks&#8212but what they are really doing is making trouble.

Were there comedians that audiences said you should have included?

The ones we were asked about most often were Gertrude Berg, Totie Fields, and Sarah Silverman.

Who is your favorite Jewish woman comedian today?

My favorite living Jewish woman comedian who does not appear in the film is Wendy Liebman [who has been doing stand-up for the past 20 years].

About the Author

author_reimerGail Reimer
Gail Reimer is the founding director of The Jewish Women’s Archive and executive producer of Making Trouble. To learn more about the film or to purchase a copy, visit www.makingtrouble.com.

One Comment

  1. Shirley Friend January 11, 2015 Reply

    Today, I saw the documentary and loved it. Will it ever be shown
    on TV? It is worthy of PBS showing.
    Thank you,
    Shirley Friend

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