The Greatest Joke Ever Told With Lewis Black



9 p.m. Monday, Feb. 18
History Channel

If you liked " The Aristocrats" and believe in the artistry of comedians, you're going to love "The Greatest Joke Ever Told."

Over the course of two hours, host Lewis Black, with the help of a few dozen fellow comedians, analyzes what makes jokes funny and looks at the conventional wisdom of stand-up comedy.

Let's stipulate that you can no more dissect jokes to see why they are funny than you can cut up butterfly wings to understand the beauty of their flight. But that doesn't mean this two-hour program on the History Channel is for naught. By listening to Black and his colleagues, you can learn a lot about the time-tested tools that enhance jokes. Plus, you'll hear several dozen very funny gags.

Writer-director Dave Greene divides the show into classroom-style topics, such as physical comedy, improv, dirty jokes, taboos and hecklers. He also asks if people are born funny or if they acquire comedic skill and explores, albeit briefly, gender differences in humor. He even starts the show with the British professor whose Internet research determined the world's funniest joke (though you might not agree.)

The wide range of comedians interviewed here is impressive. They include Robin Williams, George Carlin, Shelly Berman, Aisha Tyler, Kathy Griffin, Penn and Teller, George Wallace, Robert Klein and George Lopez. There are astute contributions from other comedians, as well, including especially Jimmy Carr, whose analysis of humor is particularly perceptive.