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Judaism and the Comedic Mind

November 29, 2012 – 6:42 pm8 Comments

Larry David

By Anthony Frosh
Jews have produced so many great comedians. I don’t dare rattle off a list for fear of missing someone out. The question is why?

The first half of this video might only appeal to Larry David fans, of which there are many. However, from about 1’35, the conversation turns to the question of why Jews are funny? Two very accomplished Jewish comedians, Susie Essman, best known for her role in Curb Your Enthusiasm, and David Steinberg, son of a Romanian-born rabbi, put forward the answer that “the nature of Judaism lends itself to what a comedic mind does.” Namely, studying the Torah, answering questions, and challenging everything.

Once you get over the shock of discovering that some Americans aren’t aware that there are Jewish communities in Canada, as well as the delight of learning the definitive difference between Italians and Jews, have a think about this:

· Do Jews, on average, tend to be funnier than other groups?
· Have generations of Torah study imbued the Jewish psych with the qualities required by the comedic mind?
· Or is Jewish comedic genius more derived from the perspective that comes from being the perennial outsider?
· Are challenging and asking questions as much a part of the nature of Judaism as it once was?

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8 Comments »

  • TheSadducee says:

    Are challenging and asking questions as much a part of the nature of Judaism as it once was?

    -Not with the ultra-orthodox unfortunately. They have steadily adopted a practice of obedience and conformity. This doesn’t necessarily impact on their sense of humour though.

  • letters in the age says:

    Howard Stern used to be a comic genius but sadly now past his use by date

    This article is hilarious

    Heard of a guy called Jonathan Swift??

  • frosh says:

    Sadducee,
    By “sense of humour”, do you just mean the ability to appreciate humour, or do you also include the creative process?

  • TheSadducee says:

    frosh

    I have seen ultra-orthodox Jews both appreciate and demonstrate the creative ability for humour. The humour often seems to be reflective and/or wry.

    However whether that humour could be expressed in a broader forum (i.e. are there any examples of ultra-orthodox Jews producing comedy material for an audience) is an interesting area for speculation.

  • frosh says:

    Sorry, the embeded youtube link to the video stopped working, as I guess it was pulled from Youtube.

    However, you can acces it at the link below. This link has also now been changed in the article above.

    http://current.com/shows/joy-behar/videos/david-steinberg-and-susie-essman-on-larry-davids-stand-up-days-and-why-italians-are-happy-jews/

  • Shirlee says:

    The video worked fine for me by the way.

    Maybe the sense of humour comes from the need to relieve the tension of oppression.

    I find that that I make quips constantly. I can find something funny in just about everything, much to the bemusement of most people.

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Great points to follow.

    The complexity of the Jewish idiom, its presence in a variety of vernaculars such as family – the mix of wit and affection in Mamelushen -, para-religous palaver in the shul, both downstairs and – gewalt !!- how much upstairs, in business dealings where satirical comments come with the price – especially if buying “job-lots” and even in the Judaic judicial, where harsh decisions need be softened by that cohesive communal warmth found only in selfdeprecation.
    Humor kept the mishpuha together. In my family dinner never lasted less than four hours and we, the kids, put through the ringer of laughter even the comatose friends and relatives. Later I learnt that the Marx family trouppe performedd daily to their beloved parents, Millie and Frenchie.
    Every description of a character, not to mention every quip in Shalom Alechem’s books is dipped in the funniest neshama, the kind that does not make you always laugh ,but also cry with affection for the entire shtetl of Kasrilifka.

    Mal Brooks’ greatest, ” The Producers”, is the quintesential Jewish commedy, but, unlike the pedestrian ones, it has not ONE Yidish expression in it and we are talking Manhatan, most protagonists Jewish characters and actors, and show biz subject !!!
    Yet, Zero Mostel speaks impecabble Mamelushen ( mind you his father was a Rabbi !!) with his eyes and the intonation on each pure English word – sorry, “woyd” -. That, to me, is pure 24 carrat Yidishe humor gold.

    etc. etc. etc.

  • Jonny Schauder says:

    Hasn’t been enough humour this week… must get on to that! Good reminder Frosh about a critical Jewish responsibility and talent.

    Tragically I think there is a bit of “if you don’t laugh… you might cry” in the Jewish experience…oy vey… there I go again. Way too heavy… Sorry.

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