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.