Jewish Humor of the 1970s & 80s

The 1970s: Archie Bunker, National Lampoon, Mel Brooks, Woody Allen, and Animal House

Print this page Print this page

A scene from Woody Allen's Annie Hall

A Slob Scorned

"We're in trouble. I just checked with the guys at the Jewish house and they said that every one of our answers on the Psych test was wrong." --Robert Hoover (James Widdoes), Animal House

Meanwhile, the National Lampoon alumni and friends focused on primal revenge. Their raunchy, teen-oriented 1978 comedy hit National Lampoon's Animal House featured Tom Hulce as Larry "Pinto" Kroger, a freshman at the fictitious Faber College.

Shunned by the WASPy Omega fraternity, Larry conspires with fellow outcasts in the lowly Delta frat to lay siege to Omega House. It is no coincidence that the film--co-written, produced, and directed by Jews--would array a band of shunned outcasts against the entrenched establishment. An early scene foreshadows the inevitable confrontation. As Larry and his roommate Kent "Flounder" Dorfman (Stephen Furst) are escorted into Omega House during pledge week, it's all too obvious that our gawky hero and his pudgy pal have nary a chance of fitting in with the blonde, blue-eyed, upper-class specimens who populate Omega House.

Omega membership chair Douglas C. Neidermeyer (Mark Metcalf), a neo-fascist army brat, puts the two candidates "in their place":

Neidermeyer: "I'd like you to meet Mohammed, Jugdish, Sidney and Clayton..."

(Neidermeyer points toward a row of students off to the side: a black Muslim student, a Middle Eastern student, a Jewish student, and a blind student in a wheelchair.)

Neidermeyer: "Now, just grab a seat, and don't be shy about helping yourselves to punch and cookies." (playfully hits Kent in stomach)

The film's non-Jewish co-writers Doug Kenney and Chris Miller created a scathing portrayal of Harvard-style WASPs. They knew firsthand what it was like to be in the company of elite snobs; indeed, the script is based in part on Miller's own experiences in the Ivy League world. At its core, National Lampoon's Animal House, like Blazing Saddles, delivered the message that all outsiders in the social hierarchy (in this case, nerds, intellectuals, and rebels) need to stick together against the cold-hearted establishment.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Arie Kaplan

Arie Kaplan is the author of the critically-acclaimed nonfiction book From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books (JPS). He's also a comic book writer and a screenwriter. Recently, Arie wrote the story and dialogue for the upcoming House M.D. videogame. Please check out his website, www.ariekaplan.com.