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Book Review: The Official Book of Mob Humor by Malcolm Kushner

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With a title like The Official Book of Mob Humor, how could a guy resist? The way the Mafia has been presented in the first two Godfather films, plus Goodfellas and The Sopranos — it seems like the ultimate “boys club.” For one thing, in all of these celluloid visions, the guys being “whacked” had it coming. For the most part, the Mafia “heroes” had our sympathy. This is sort of a weird way of looking at things. Does anyone remember the days of “The Teflon Don” (John Gotti) back in the mid-eighties? When Gotti beat Federal rap after rap, crowds cheered him. Not only that, but he was actually on the cover of Time magazine. And this was 25 years ago, when the cover of Time actually meant something.

There was a pretty good movie that came out in 1997 called Donnie Brasco, which was the undercover name of FBI agent Joe Pistone. Pistone is quoted on the cover with the words “A book for all Mafia lovers.” Mafia lovers? What is that supposed to mean? You love the fact that your neighborhood deli guy has to pay a percentage of his income to keep from being killed? And this from a former FBI agent.

Regardless of these disclaimers though, I have seen the films cited, and all episodes of The Soparanos probably 20 times apiece. So much of this type of humor was summed up in about 45 seconds of the very first Godfather flick. After the Don is shot, revenge is quietly taken out on the New Jersey turnpike. While Peter Clemenza takes a whiz, Paulie (the driver) is shot by Rocco from the backseat. As the two leave Clemenza says “Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”

The Official Book of Mob Humor is filled with classic dead-pan moments like those — and they are a big part of what make us “Mafia lovers.” Those quotes alone are worthwhile, but author Malcolm Kushner goes quite a bit deeper. One of the funnier chapters is “Headline Hits,” which shows how the New York papers vie to come up with the best Mob-pun headlines. A couple of examples are “Yule Be Sorry, Rat Squeals on Gotti Over $50 X-Mas Gift,” and “Meat Shop Mob Guy Will Never Loin.” Kushner even reproduces the little two or three paragraph articles that these witticisms were created for.

I liked the “Mob Q & A” sections a lot as well. There are both mobster and “mobster women” sections — and they have a bit of “old Vegas” to them. Here are a few examples:

Q: How many mobsters does it take to throw a man down the stairs?
A: None, he fell.

Q. How many mobsters does it take to open a beer?
A: None. It should be open when his wife brings it.

And now for a couple from the female perspective:

Q: Why do mistresses fake orgasms?
A: They think mobsters care.

Q: What’s a mobster’s idea of honesty in a relationship?
A: Telling you his real name.

Quite a bit of the book is taken up with little vignettes from the dozens of Mob movies made over the years. The chapter for me was the one titled “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up.” As the author puts it, “Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.”

There are quite a number of these, but one that made me laugh out loud was reported in the May 3, 1999 edition of the Palm Beach Post in Florida. The article reported that mobsters in Taiwan were offering to pay tuition for needy students who would agree to work for them after graduation. It seemed that they needed accountants, lawyers, and other professionals in their business.

The Official Book of Mob Humor is pretty funny, no question about it. The book even has a forward by a man who could only be called “The Teflon Rat,” Henry Hill. Geez, the guy even has a website. I don’t know. I always thought Tony Soprano was one of the most complex characters ever created on TV. But when you get right down to it, the real stuff with these guys isn’t funny at all. I have mixed feelings about this book.

But it definitely intrigued me, which is why I picked it up in the first place. I imagine there are quite a number of people out there who may have the same curiosity. The Official Book of Mob Humor is published by Robert D. Reed Publishers.

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