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JEWISH HUMOR See also “American Pop Language,” “Ethnic Humor,” and “Movie Humor” PowerPoint PPT Presentation

JEWISH HUMOR See also “American Pop Language,” “Ethnic Humor,” and “Movie Humor” by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen Jewish Humor DISCUSSION QUESTIONS 1. Give three qualities of “Jewish” humor (6-8)? 2. Give three Jewish stereotypes (9). 3. Give two father & son comedians (12).

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Jewish humor see also american pop language ethnic humor and movie humor l.jpg

JEWISH HUMORSee also “American Pop Language,” “Ethnic Humor,” and “Movie Humor”

by Don L. F. Nilsen

and Alleen Pace Nilsen

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Jewish Humor

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DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • 1. Give three qualities of “Jewish” humor (6-8)?

  • 2. Give three Jewish stereotypes (9).

  • 3. Give two father & son comedians (12).

  • 4. Explain “Yiddish” and “New Yorkness,” and “Pilpul” (13-16 & 18).

  • 5. Explain “bobehla,” “chutzpah,” “ganeff,” “hazenfeffer,” “kibitz,” “kibutz, “mishmash,” “nosh,” “schmaltz,” “schmear,” “schmooz,” “shlemiel,” “shlep,” and “shlimazl” (19).

  • 6. Identify Leo Rosten (20), Elaine Boozler (21), Mel Brooks (22), Carl Reiner (23) The Marx Brothers (24-25) and Henny Youngman (26).

  • 7. Explain “fancy-schmancy,” “kvetch,” “maven,” “mazeltov,” “shnorrer,” “tanz,” and “Oy Vey!” (27

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INTRODUCTION

  • In 1978, psychologist Samuel Janus conducted a study which found that although Jews constituted only 3 percent of the U.S. population, 80 percent of the nation’s professional comedians were Jewish.

  • The percentage of comedians is less today not because there are fewer Jewish comedians, but because in response to ethnic and gender identity movements, many new comedians have come from groups that were previously under-represented.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 170)

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Borat

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Jerry Lewis

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Seinfeld

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THE BORSCHT BELT

  • Belle Barth, Danny Kaye, and other Jewish comedians substituted Yiddish for English when they wanted to fool English-speaking censors with risque jokes. See the slide on “Yiddish” for examples.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172)

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THE GOLDBERGS

  • Between 1929 and 1945 there was a popular Jewish radio program named “The Goldbergs.” The language of the show used Yiddish intonation, proverbs and sentence patterns like, “Better a crust of bread and enjoy it than a cake that gives you indigestion.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 102)

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HONEY-COATED BARBS

  • Henry Spalding says that much Jewish humor is in the form of honey-coated barbs at the people and things Jews love the most.

  • Jews verbally attack their loved ones and their religion, but with the grandest sense of affection.

  • Their jokes are “a kiss with salt on the lips, but a kiss nevertheless.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 173)

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HUMILITY AND PRIDE

  • Dolf Zillman says that Jewish humor exhibits two antithetical statures: disparagement and superiority.

  • This antithesis can be seen in the following joke:

  • The Israeli Knesset is lamenting all of the challenges that Israel faces.

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  • One member of the Knesset suggests that Israel go to war against the United States.

  • Other members say, “What?” “Such a war wouldn’t last 10 minutes.”

  • “I know. I know. But then we would be a conquered country and the Americans would send us aid. They would build roads and hospitals and send food and agricultural experts.”

  • “But,” said another member of the Knesset, “What if we win?”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 173)

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JEWISH STEREOTYPES

  • Jewish stereotypes include the shrewd businessman, the overbearing mother, the Jewish American Princess, and the persecuted Jew.

  • Arthur Naiman illustrates the stereotype of the overbearing Jewish mother with a story about a psychiatrist who tells a Jewish mother that her son has an Oedipus complex.

  • The mother responds, “Oedipus, schmoedipus, just so long as he loves his mother.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 173)

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MARGINALIZATION

  • Because Jews have a history of marginalization they view life from “the edge.”

  • Therefore, Jews have come up with fresh and funny observations.

  • Because of their marginalization they have also been attracted to professions that are not in the mainstream; the theater, popular music, vaudeville, and entertainment are also marginalized.

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  • Earlier immigrant groups such as the Irish worked in burlesque and early radio and films, but Jews were more successful and made room for each other.

  • In many cases, show business became a family affair.

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  • Thus comedian Albert Brooks grew up in Hollywood as the son of the famous radio comedian Harry Einstein (better known as Parkyarkarkus) and was a successful stand-up comedian by the time he was 21.

  • Actor and producer Rob Reiner is the son of writer and producer Carl Reiner.

  • Marlo Thomas is the daughter of Danny Thomas, who although not Jewish told many Yiddish stories.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 171)

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MULTILINGUALISM

  • For generations, Jews have been multilingual, speaking Yiddish at home, Hebrew at the synagogue, and the language of the surrounding community at work.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172)

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NEW YORKNESS

  • Joseph Boskin says that “Jews have wrought a distinctively hard-driving, spontaneous humor of concrete immediacy, one that bursts with retaliation.”

  • Its sarcastic rejoinders, rapid-fire jokes, and happy quips reflect the rhythms and pace of the city itself.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 171)

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PILPUL

  • In Jewish culture boys begin at age 4 to learn how to examine issues from all angles, to speculate and find contradictions, to shift back and forth between abstract and concrete thoughts, to ask all possible questions, to clarify various points, and to find subtle and simple answers to highly complex problems.

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  • This way of thinking, in which endless argumentation, sometimes for its own sake, that could lead anywhere is called “pilpul” and it is highly valued.

  • Besides being good practice for Talmudic scholars, pilpul correlates with the intellectual processes of creating successful humor, including the practice of answering a question with a question, piling one question after another or asking rhetorical questions:

  • “What do I look like? A dictionary?”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172)

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THE PURIM

  • During the annual Purim, there is rejoicing over the hanging of the wicked Haman on the gallows he had prepared for the execution of Persian Jews.

  • To this day, Jewish children are given hand-held greggars or noise makers to drown out the name of Haman as the story of Esther is recited.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172)

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YIDDISH

  • Richar Fein’s experiences were typical:

  • “Yiddish was in my bones, but hidden from my tongue. I did know Yiddish as a language, but I felt reared in its resonance, pitch, and tone. I recognized a few words uttered in isolation, grasped nothing of its structure, but felt washed in its rhythms. Although I could not speak Yiddish, it was not a foreign language. I never possessed it, but sensed it possessing me.”

  • (Fein 317)

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  • Bobehla: “little grandmother” term of endearment

  • Chutzpah: gall or incredible nerve

  • Ganeff: a thief or mischievous prankster

  • Kibitz: kidding around

  • Mishmash: flagrant disorder or confusion

  • Nebish: a loser or sad sack

  • Nosh: a snack

  • Schmaltz: “chicken fat” sentimentality

  • Schmear: bribing or greasing the palm

  • Schmooz: a heartfelt visit

  • Shlemiel: clumsy or inept person

  • Shlep: carrying things (including oneself) in an undignified way

  • Shlimazl: fall guy or luckless oaf

  • Shnorrer: a beggar

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172-173)

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  • In The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten says that Yiddish syntax also enters the English Language:

  • “Get lost.”

  • “You should live so long!”

  • “Who needs it?”

  • “He should excuse the expression.”

  • “It shouldn’t happen to a dog.”

  • “On him it looks good.”

  • Other Yiddish patterns include “virus schmirus,” and “a real no-goodnik.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 173)

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ELAINE BOOSLER

  • Elaine Boosler gives a new twist to an old Jewish stereotype when she jokes:

  • “My brother’s gay. My parents don’t mind as long as he marries a doctor.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 171)

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MEL BROOKS

  • In Mel Brooks’ The Producers there is a play within the play called “Springtime for Hitler.”

  • Dozens of dancers, singers, actors and pantomimists of every race and shape audition for the role of Hitler.

  • The show’s opening production number culminates in the formation of a slowly turning swastika and in the pillars at the back of the set being lowered to a horizontal position and transformed into canons.

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172)

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MEL BROOKS AND CARL REINER

  • After seeing a bizarre interview on TV, Reiner turned to Brooks and said,

  • “I understand you were actually at the scene of the Crucifixion.” Brooks responded,

  • “Ooooooh, boy!” and then continued in character saying that yes, he had known Christ.

  • “He was a thin lad, always wore sandals. Came into the store but never bought anything.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 171)

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!THE MARX BROTHERS

  • The Marx Brothers were named Chico, Harpo, Gummo, Zeppo, and Groucho.

  • Harpo had a number of demented faces and magical sight gags.

  • Groucho had his zany singing and dancing and his punchy one-liners.

  • Zeppo played the straight man to Groucho.

  • Chico had his amusing piano playing, his outrageous Italian accent, and his bad puns.

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  • !As immigrants come to the United States there are various stages that they go through to become “Americanized.”

  • Harpo is not able to speak English. He is in the first stage.

  • Chico’s English is very poor, and he is always confused by English. He is in the second stage.

  • Zeppo’s English is like general American. He has no accent.

  • Groucho uses the English of Brooklyn. Not only has he become Americanized, he has also become “Brooklynized.”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 86)

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!!HENNY YOUNGMAN

  • Henny Youngman had a rat-a-tat syle of humor that reflects the frustrations of urban life:

  • “Fellow walks up to me and says, ‘You see a cop around here?’ I say, ‘No,’ and he says, ‘Stick ‘em up!’”

  • (Nilsen & Nilsen 172)

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!!!Some Great Yiddish Words

  • fancy-schmancy

  • kvetch

  • maven

  • mazel tov

  • shnorrer

  • tanz

  • Oy Vey!

  • (Weiner and Davilman)

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References # 1:

Berger, Arthur Asa. The Genius of the Jewish Joke. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997.

Berstein, C. “More than just ‘yada yada yada’ (Jewish English).” in American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast Eds. W. Wolfram and B. Ward, Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006, 251-257.

Boskin, Joseph. Humor and Social Change in 20th Century America. Boston, MA: Boston Public Library, 1979.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. Comic Relief: Humor in Contemporary American Literature. Detroit, MI: Wayne State Univ Press, 1978.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. Cynthia Ozick’s Comic Art: From Levity to Liturgy. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ Press, 1994.

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References # 2:

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Jewish American Stage and Screen. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. Jewish Wry: Essays on Jewish Humor. Detroit, MI: Wayne State Univ Press, 1987.

Cohen, Sarah Blacher. Saul Bellow’s Enigmatic Laughter. Urbana, IL: Univ of Illinois Press, 1974.

Fine, Richard J. The Danced of Leah: Discovering Yiddish in America. 1986.

Kumove, Shirley. More Words More Arrows: A Further Collection of Yiddish Folk Sayings. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1999.

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References # 3:

Lyman, Darryl, The Jewish Comedy Catalog. New York, NY: Jonathan David, 1989.

Merson, Amanda. “Jewish Humor.” Unpublished ENG 414 Paper. Tempe, AZ: ASU, April, 2009.

Nachman, Gerald. Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950’s and 1960’s. New York, NY: Black Stage Books, 2004.

Nilsen, Alleen Pace, and Don L. F. Encyclopedia of 20th Century American Humor. Phoenix, AZ: Oryx, 2000.

Raskin, Richard. Life is Like a Glass of Tea: Studies of Classic Jewish Jokes. Aarhus, Denmark: Univ of Aarhus Press, 1992.

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References # 4:

Raskin, Victor. Semantic Mechanisms of Humor. Dordrecht, Netherlands: D. Reidel, 1985.

Safer, Elaine. The Contemporary American Comic Epic: The Novels of Barth, Pynchon, Gaddis, and Kesey. Detroit, MI: Wayne State Univ Press, 1988.

Spalding, Henry D. Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor: From Biblical Times to the Modern Age. New York, NY: Jonathan David, 1969.

Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1992.

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References # 5:

Washington, Thomas. “Jewish Humor.” Unpublished ENG 414 PowerPoint, Tempe, AZ: ASU, 2009.

Weiner, Ellis and Barbara Davilman. Yiddish with Dick and Jane. New York, NY: Little, Brown, 2004.

Zajdman, Anat. Humor. Tel Aviv, Israel: Papyrus Publishing House, 1994. IN HEBREW.

Ziv, Avner, ed. Jewish Humor. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1998.

Ziv, Avner, and Anat Zajdman, eds. Semite and Stereotypes: Charasterics of Jewish Humor. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1993.

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