Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Gresdna Doty


Larry Gelbart (1928-) has dominated the field of comedy writing in the latter half of the twentieth century the way George S. Kaufman (1889-1961) dominated the first half. Comedy, according to Gelbart, is a "tic--a way of making myself comfortable. I can't imagine not having comedy to lean on. I tend to write things with a circus-like atmosphere. In my mind, there's a circus--three rings--all the time.". The three comedy rings in his head may be classified according to the areas where his unique talents especially emerge: (1) talent to adapt comedy from one medium to another, or from one historical period to another; (2) talent with words, to use precise language to detail character, layer meaning, or simply get the biggest laugh; and (3) talent to satirize--to show the world what his eyes see and his ears heal, and invite the audience to become angry, too. The rings in Gelbart's head constantly rearrange themselves, for he has been an ardent student of comedy and the human condition throughout his career. Gelbart, although involved in some of the most historically important or successful projects in radio (Duffy's Tavern (1946), The Bob Hope Show (1948)), theatre (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Sly Fox (1976), City of Angels (1989), Mastergate (1989)), television (Caesar's Hour (1957), M*A*S*H (1972)), and film (Oh, God! (1976), Tootsie (1983)), prefers to stay out of the public eye. His work in radio, theatre, film, and television has paralleled the explosion of the entertainment industry in this century. Because of the large amount of collaboration and adaptation in his more than fifty-year career, it becomes a complicated subject for the scholar who endeavors to separate the material of a single voice in a writing room, or the contributions made to a comic masterpiece originally staged centuries before. The examination of his remarkable career confirms Gelbart to be what his colleague, the writer-director Mel Brooks, called, "One of the funniest comedy writers that has ever lived. One of the truly great comedy writers of our epoch.".