Theme Song for ‘The Last Laugh’

By Laurie Baron

Laurie Baron

SAN DIEGO−While Michael Flynn frantically tried to destroy his DVD of From Russia with Love, the San Diego Jewish Film Festival is entertaining audiences day and night at a variety of venues in the city through February 19th.  I had the honor to introduce The Last Laugh, a documentary about comedians and survivors talking about whether it is appropriate to joke about the Holocaust.

In the beginning there was Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.  It was not the first film to satirize Hitler, but it was the first to recognize that anti-Semitism was at the core of his ideology.  Although the movie included music by Brahms and Wagner, it lacked a theme song.  It always seemed to me that Chaplin should have recycled the song “Smile” that he wrote for Modern Times for the opening of The Great Dictator.   I rewrote its lyrics as an overture to The Last Laugh and sang it before the film was shown.  I warned the audience that I had the same voice coach as Meryl Streep had for Florence Foster Jenkins.

“SMILE: (tune: “Smile” by Charlie Chaplin)

Smile during persecution
Laughter’s your elocution.
Mocking the tyrant, and being defiant.
Expose him to be a fool
Subject him to ridicule.
Topple the giant, reveal he’s small.

Make light of all the madness
That fills you with bitter sadness.
Although your fear is the source of your jeer.
That’s the time you must keep on trying
Even when faced with dying.
False hope is better than no hope at all.

It’s a sign that you kept persisting
Laughing was like resisting.
The last laugh was better than the rest of them all.
As so many years have passed   Can the taboo still last?
Fewer remain, who survived all that pain.
Can comedians be excused
When the Shoah is overused?
Mocking Hitler like Haman with witty catcalls.

It’s a sign that we’ve kept persisting.
The descendants have kept existing.
The last laugh is better than the rest of them all.

Just smile!


Baron is professor emeritus of history at San Diego State University. He may be contacted via [email protected]

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2 Responses to “Theme Song for ‘The Last Laugh’”

  1. Barbara Gold says:

    Hi Laur,
    Sorry I missed your song! I heard an interview on NPR with an historian (whose name escapes me).
    whose specialty is Hitler. He felt that The Great Dictator trivialized the Shoah. What are your thoughts?

    Best regards,

    • Laurie Baron says:

      Chaplin started production of the film in September of 1939 around the same time Germany invaded Poland. In other words before the Holocaust began. He later said he would not have made the same if he had known that Hitler would murder millions of Jews. When the film was released the next year, the United States still had not intervened in the war. The Jewish barber’s closing speech warned the free world about the dangers Nazism posed to the free world and drew special attention to Hitler’s hatred of the Jews.


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