Jews and Humor
Edited by Leonard J. Greenspoon
Publication Year: 2007
Jews and humor is, for most people, a natural and felicitous collocation. In spite of, or perhaps because of, a history of crises and living on the edge, Jews have often created or resorted to humor. But what is “humor”? And what makes certain types, instances, or performances of humor “Jewish”? These are among the myriad queries addressed by the fourteen authors whose essays are collected in this volume. And, thankfully, their observations, always apt and often witty, are expressed with a lightness of style and a depth of analysis that are appropriate to the many topics they cover. The chronological range of these essays is vast: from the Hebrew Bible to the 2000s, with many stops in between for Talmudic texts, medieval parodies, eighteenth-century joke books, and twentieth-century popular entertainment. The subject matter is equally impressive. In addition to rounding up many of the “usual suspects,” such as Woody Allen, the Marx Brothers, and Gilda Radner, these authors also scout out some unlikely comic resources, like the author of the biblical book of Exodus, the rabbinic writer of Genesis Rabbah, and the party records star Belle Barth. Without forcing any of these characters into a preconstructed mold, the scholars who contributed to this collection allow readers both to discern the common features that make up “Jewish humor” and to delight in the individualism and eccentricities of the many figures whose lives and accomplishments are narrated here. Because these essays are written in a clear, jargon-free style, they will appeal to everyone—even those who don’t usually crack a smile!
Published by: Purdue University Press
Series: Studies in Jewish Civilization
Why Did the Widow Have a Goat in Her Bed? Jewish Humor and Its Roots in the Talmud and Midrash
But Is it Funny? Identifying Humor, Satire,and Parody in Rabbinic Literature
Jewish Humor as a Source of Research on Polish-Jewish Relations
Jewish Jokes, Yiddish Storytelling, and Sholem Aleichem: A Discursive Approach
Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Karl: Immigrant Humor and the Depression
Nuances and Subtleties in Jewish Film Humor
The Bad Girls of Jewish Comedy:Gender, Class, Assimilation,and Whiteness in Postwar America
One Clove Away From a Pomander Ball: The Subversive Tradition of Jewish Female Comedians
Heckling the Divine: Woody Allen, the Book of Job, and Jewish Theology after the Holocaust
Tragicomedy and Zikkaron in Mel Brooks’s To Be or Not To Be
“They Ain’t Makin’ Jews Like Jesus Anymore”:The Musical Humor of Kinky Friedman and The Texas Jewboys in Historical and Geographical Perspective
The New Jewish Blackface: African American Tropes in Contemporary Jewish Humor
Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2007
Series Title: Studies in Jewish Civilization
Series Editor Byline: Leonard J. Greenspoon See more Books in this Series
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Jews and Humor
My first exposure to the writing of David Sedaris came fifteen years ago, at a reading he gave in Seattle. I couldn't remember laughing at anything before quite so hard as I laughed at the stories of the author and his fellow French-learners struggling for a grasp on the language. I fought hardest for oxygen when he got to the part about his classmates, a veritable United Nations of a group, straining in this non-native language of theirs to discuss various holidays. One particular line has always stuck with me, after a Moroccan student demands an explanation of Easter:
The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. "It is," said one, "a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and... oh, shit."
She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
"He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two... morsels of... lumber."
The scene eventually ended up in print in "Jesus Shaves," a story in Sedaris' third collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day. You can read it free online in a selection of three of his pieces rounded up by Esquire. Sedaris' observational humor does tend to come out in full force on holidays (see also his reading of the Saint Nicholas-themed story "Six to Eight Black Men" on Dutch television above), and indeed the holidays provided him the material that first launched him into the mainstream.
When Ira Glass, the soon-to-be mastermind of This American Life, happened to hear him reading his diary aloud at a Chicago club, Glass knew he simply had to put this man on the radio. This led up to the big break of a National Public Radio broadcast of "The Santaland Diaries," Sedaris' rich account of a season spent as a Macy's elf. You can still hear This American Life's full broadcast of it on the show's site.
True Sedarians, of course, know him for not just his inimitably askew perspective on the holidays, but for his accounts of life in New York, Paris (the reason he enrolled in those French classes in the first place), Normandy, London, the English countryside, and growing up amid his large Greek-American family. Many of Sedaris' stories -- 20 in fact -- have been collected at the web site, The Electric Typewriter, giving you an overview of Sedaris' world: his time in the elfin trenches, his rare moments of ease among siblings and parents, his futile father-mandated guitar lessons, his less futile language lessons, his relinquishment of his signature smoking habit (the easy indulgence of which took him, so he'd said at that Seattle reading, to France in the first place). Among the collected stories, you will find:
For the complete list, visit: 20 Great Essays and Short Stories by David Sedaris. And, just to be clear, you can read these stories, for free, online.
Note: If you would like to download a free audiobook narrated by David Sedaris, you might want to check out Audible's 30 Day Free Trial. We have details on the program here. If you click this link, you will see the books narrated by Sedaris. If one intrigues, click on the "Learn how to get this Free" link next to each book.
Be His Guest: David Sedaris at Home in Rural West Sussex, England
David Sedaris Reads You a Story By Miranda July
David Sedaris and Ian Falconer Introduce “Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk”
David Sedaris Sings the Oscar Mayer Theme Song in the Voice of Billie Holiday
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.