Dying is easy, and comedy is hard, but if you really want hard, try putting together a six-hour documentary about comedy in motion pictures and on television without having someone complain about what’s been left out. Can’t be done…and hasn’t been done, if I’m to be perfectly honest. There’s just too much comedy out there. But with that said, PBS’s effort, “Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of Comedy,” is a damned good attempt at accomplishing the feat, and more importantly, the show’s executive producer, Michael Kantor, is fully willing to concede the impossibility of covering everything.

“Max Welk, who was one of our consultants, is maybe 90 years old, kept saying the two funniest people he ever saw were Jack Benny, who could walk on stage and say nothing and an audience would laugh, and Wheeler and Woosley,” said Kantor. “Jeff Abraham lobbied for the Ritz Brothers. So it was very difficult. Rather than tell the kind of…not standard story, but natural story of, okay, here were the different studios that sprang up and we’ll march chronologically through the silent film era, we decided that a comedy series needs to be surprising and the audience, the viewer, would enjoy it more if they were a little taken aback by the next story, perhaps Paul Lynde following Redd Foxx. It’s surprising, ‘Well, where are we going?’ So we tried to hue to the framework that way rather than comparing, you know, Charley Chase with Harold Lloyd with Buster Keaton. I almost interviewed Rudy Ray Moore, who lived — just died, actually — lived in Vegas. He created Dolemite. And I kept thinking, ‘God, this is an amazing story. It deserves its own AMERICAN MASTER special.’ But it kind of didn’t fit into the six different episodes we created.”

As for the narrator of “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Amy Sedaris made a point of noting that Buddy Hackett didn’t end up making the final cut, either. (There is, however, a quick cut to a shot of Jerri Blank, from “Strangers with Candy,” which made her happy.) Kantor seemed apologetic about the omission, but he explained, “The goal was, once, with a team of consultants, we’d figured out that these six categories or archetypes or – call them what you want — genres that reflected different aspects of American culture were the ones we were sticking with, we wanted to tell the best story we could. And that’s why poor Buddy Hackett didn’t make it.”

Kantor said it was also an issue when it came to trying to figure out what classic clips would fit into the proceedings without feeling shoehorned in.

“There were a couple of sitcoms that we really wanted to include, but we just didn’t have time for,” he said. “One was ‘The Odd Couple.’ We reference it in passing. You see someone talk about it and yet it seemed to so clearly speak to a moment in time where divorces were happening in America and yet we couldn’t give it as much weight, as maybe if we had 72 minutes in an hour, we would have wanted. And Richard Pryor had the ill-fated ‘Richard Pryor Show,’ he only did four of five episodes, and he does this great speech where he’s a black President,” said Kantor. “And it felt like, ‘Boy, wouldn’t that be interesting to sneak in?’ Robin Williams is standing in the back. But that wasn’t for cost or any other reason. It was just the arc of the Richard Pryor story; it didn’t hold. My job as a documentary filmmaker is how to tell the best overall story. Maybe like a baseball manager: you might have a great hitter, but he doesn’t fit in perfectly, so you’ve got to trade him.”

Despite Buddy’s omission, Sedaris enjoyed working on the special and acknowledged that it proved to be an educational experience for her.

“I was never a big Charlie Chaplin fan – I liked Buster Keaton – and it made me appreciate him a little bit more,” she said. “Phyllis Diller, I loved. She made her own clothes, dragged her kids along with her. She really magnified the fact she was unattractive, and I love that. And Mae West. I was never a big fan of Mae West, but I didn’t realize she wrote all that stuff, and I didn’t know about all the problems that she had. And that made me appreciate her. And Jonathan Winters, I love that whole section because he…it seemed like he had a mental disorder and yet embraced it, because his humor came from his characters, and that’s what I always find funny: the characters.”

“Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America” begins airing on January 14th and continues on Jan. 21 and 28.