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At Silverdocs, Proud of Their Laugh Lines

Radner was a standout cast member on
Radner was a standout cast member on "Saturday Night Live." The six women's stories are told by Rachel Talbot, left, through archival footage and interviews with experts. (Silverdocs Photos)

"They're uptight, all right / Jewess Jeans / She shops the sales for designer clothes / She's got designer nails and a designer nose."

"Making Trouble" marks Talbot's directorial debut. She got involved with the project when director Joan Micklin Silver ("Crossing Delancey") put her in contact with the Jewish Women's Archive, the organization that helped finance the film. Silver had assembled archival clips of female comics for the organization and thought it would make a good feature.

Talbot has produced five feature documentaries for television, including NBC's "The First Five Years of Saturday Night Live." She isn't Jewish, but that didn't diminish her interest in the subject, she says.

Poignant footage includes a 2005 interview with playwright Wasserstein, shortly before she died of lymphoma at 55, and a clip of Radner's 1988 appearance on Gary Shandling's sitcom, which she did during her treatment for ovarian cancer.

The story of Yiddish-speaking performer Picon is more uplifting. Picon got her start in vaudeville and was popular in the 1920s. Her presence in films and the New York theater scene served as a great comfort to new immigrants.

"These were people that were hungry to be entertained," Yiddish singer Adrienne Cooper says in the film. "People went to the theater needing to be communicated with. It wasn't just entertainment. And I think Molly really took that responsibility on. She knew them, she represented them really fully on screen."

"Making Trouble" establishes that although the comedian-as-prostitute stigma has faded, women in the arts still have barriers. Wasserstein was the first female playwright to win a Tony Award a mere 18 years ago.

"When you go to a comedy club and there's three men on the bill, it's a comedy show," Gold says. "When there's three women on the bill, it's a special night. It's 'Girls Night Out!' "

Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women screens tonight at 9:15 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring. $10. 301-495-6720.

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