Jewish Humor: A History
And yet, from Joey Adams to Jon Stewart, with hundreds of comedians in between, Jews continually dominated the comedy business in every area of media, from stand-up to television to literature to film. Jews cultivated the mainstream forms of cultural satire (think Lenny Bruce and Jon Stewart), self-flagellation (think Woody Allen), and audience flagellation (Jackie Mason, Don Rickles); nurtured American literary humor (Philip Roth, Jonathan Safran Foer); invented and sustained television comedy (Milton Berle, Roseanne Barr, Larry David); dominated stand-up comedy (Rodney Dangerfield, Jerry Seinfeld), and on and on.
Some wonder whether Jewish humor will continue to flourish in the years ahead: Will the Jewish funny bone calcify with assimilation? Will the old Jewish comic themes--biting social commentary discomfiting satire, the undermining of the high and mighty, arguments with everyone, including God, the sheer cleverness--continue to drive the Jewish jest?
The traditional answer to all these questions is, "Who knows?" Better we should go directly to the business at hand: Two Jews walk into a shul.... ah, but you heard that one already, no?
Did you like this article? MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.