Category Archives: Jewish Humor

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Kent_Brockman

I have a friend who takes Saint Patrick’s Day very seriously. His extended family gathers on the weekend nearest March 17 to trade sarcasms and drink alcohol. They boil meat on the Massachusetts shoreline, and balance small talk with cruel reminders of past grievances until whiskey favors one end of the scales. Still, the older members of the clan can cover up scandal, debating sports while training the next generation in table games using root beer instead of the hopped variety for everyone under age. But what is under age? It’s up to them. Pretty standard for Jews.

Not really. They’re Irish. Of course they’re Irish. I’m Irish too, but not that Irish. None of us are Jewish, but the contradiction in ethnic stereotypes makes it funny, and necessary to present my title here instead of above: The Jewish Comic and the Irish Muse. Anything sooner would’ve altered the chemistry of the anecdote, and like a good bartender, a storyteller must know the order of ingredients to deliver their greatest effect, and repeat when necessary. Make it a double.

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The Case for Kinky Friedman

It has been said if Kinky Friedman didn’t exist, someone would have to invent him. I’m just not sure who – other than The Kinkster himself – is capable. Richard “Kinky”
Friedman, who is currently engaged in his June “Bi-Polar Tour,” is a man who has worn a lot of ten-gallon hats in his varied career: humorist, songwriter, country music outsider, bestselling mystery writer, columnist, failed gubernatorial candidate, animal rights activist and, most recently, tequila mogul. Just behind the surface of his irreverent outward persona – a sort of hillbilly-Groucho hybrid – lies the heart and soul of a true poet, thinker and humanitarian. As The Kinkster himself has said, “I like to be as misunderstood as the next guy.”

In the great tradition of American humorists like Will Rogers or Mark Twain, Kinky’s trademark one-liners can be equally funny, abrasive and genuinely thoughtful. Continue reading →

REMEMBERING DICK GREGORY

Sam Sackett

I saw Dick Gregory once, and I want to commemorate that occasion while he is still alive.  I hope he reads this.

Before I enter upon my narration, let me introduce myself and set the stage.Dick Gregory young

My mother did not tell me I was Jewish until I was 46 years old.  I was not raised Jewish in any way.  We ate pork and ham at home.  I had never been inside a temple or synagogue.  And yet I was thoroughly familiar with Jewish family life because I listened to the radio, especially the Jewish comedians like George Jessel (“Hello, Mama, this is Georgy”), Eddy Cantor, and Minerva Pius, who was Mrs. Nussbaum in Fred Allen’s Alley (“You were expecting maybe Greta Garfinkel?”).  I don’t count Jack Benny; he was a comedian who happened to be Jewish, not a Jewish comedian. Gertrude Berg was not a comedian, but her portrayal of Jewish life in the soap opera The Goldbergs certainly had its effect.  There were others whose names I have forgotten, but because of radio comedians I became thoroughly familiar with what English sounded like with a Yiddish accent.  And long before I was 46 I was keenly aware both of antisemitism among the kids I went to school with and of the way in which Jewish comedians were gradually making Jews more familiar and hence more acceptable to goyim.

Now that I’ve introduced myself, let me set the stage.  After the Civil War, the United States Army set up military installations throughout the western U.S. with the purpose of protecting settlers moving west from what we now know are Native Americans but were then called Indians.  Many of the troops assigned to these forts were what were known as “buffalo soldiers” – freed slaves.  After all, during the war the Union army had made use of “colored” troops – not, of course, integrated into white units, but as separate but equal units – and these soldiers had acquitted themselves well in battle.  Around the outposts towns grew up, and as time went on some of them became almost civilized.  The state college where I was teaching was located in such a town, and buffalo soldiers had served in the adjacent fort.

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Sunday Stand-Up: Don Rickles

Tracy Wuster

As a break from grading a wonderful set of student projects (and remember, if you have a class on humor that you want to coordinate with this site, let me know), I watched “The Comedy Awards,” which are precisely what they sound like.  Best award show ever.  Not that such praise qualifies as high, or even moderate.  But funny.

The highlight was clearly the presentation of “The Johnny Carson Award” to Don Rickles.  The introduction of Rickles by Robert Dinero and Jon Stewart was excellent, and Rickles’s speech, although a little uncomfortable at times, was surprisingly heartfelt.  But what made me think of putting the below clip up was the clip package of Rickles performing, which included a brief moment of his performance at Reagan’s 1985 inauguration.  While the whole thing is fascinating to watch, I was especially interested in Rickles’s greeting of the President, which begins at the 1:30 mark.

A lifelong Democrat, Rickles performed at the event because his friend–a singer named Sinatra–requested.  I would imagine that there were many nervous people in the audience, although Reagan seems to be laughing.

Rickles’ Book
by Don Rickles
Powells.com

Sunday Stand-Up: Jerry Seinfeld

Happy 57th Birthday to Jerry Seinfeld.  Enjoy this clip from his debut on HBO in 1981, introduced by the Smothers Brothers.

Do you have a favorite Seinfeld clip?  Please post a link in the comments below.

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Stand-up Sunday: Woody Allen

It so happens that I wear glasses. You know, to see better. This is much to the chagrin of my mother, who assures me that because I was not born with them, these glasses therefore obscure what she has non-ironically referred to as my “good looks.” It also so happens that I have the thick plastic frames that are currently favored among hipsters, art students, and the similarly fashion-forward. To wit, art openings in my town basically look like somebody brought a case of PBR to a Lenscrafters showroom.  If anything, though, my own choice in eyewear is decidedly fashion-backward in an obvious homage to – if not outright emulation of – one of my most enduring idols: Woody Allen. (I learned last night that a friend of mine had a similar experience with black framed glasses when, in 8th grade, he walked into an eyeglass shop with a picture of Isaac Asimov and said “I want to look like this.”)

To my students, these glasses probably just seem like a consequence or corollary of being an English professor – a standard issue accessory – but that might all change when we get back from spring break, when the first thing that we’ll watch in my Introduction to Film class is Annie Hall. 

In the film, Woody famously plays Alvy Singer, a semi-autobiographical comedian and writer who performs some of the material originally found on Woody’s album The Nightclub Years: 1964-1968, which – like so much of his work – has taught me to diffuse my own insecurities in public by making myself seem like I’m the single most important person in the world.

The Nightclub Years is something that I have come to more-or-less memorize since I first picked it up as a used double-LP in my college years, and it remains today the primary channel through which most of us know the most famous bits of Woody’s stand-up: the moose, being kidnapped, his science-fiction film about aliens and dry-cleaning, and so on. It’s quite interesting, then, to note the minute differences that emerge between this album and the other various recordings that have surfaced in the forty years since its initial release in 1972. From a more elaborate description of the “Neanderthal” who robbed him in his own apartment lobby to a significant bit of clarification about American ethnic politics for his British audience, the so-subtly altered rhythms of these clips are at once a testament to the practiced precision of Woody’s stand-up and a welcome riff on jokes that have seemed to have the same timing for the last four decades.

More after the break!

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XMas Envy or The Plight of the Jews

Available at Christmas Tree Shops - $3.99 ea.

This year, I finally did it. I caved. I welcomed Christmas into my home. Despite that I am Jewish and my wife claims to be “opposed to all forms of organized religion,” our house is now also home to a 1/4-sized Xmas tree — illuminated, ornamented, and tinseled to the hilt. Two enormous stockings, appropriately stuffed and festooned, hang from our gas-fireplace mantle, atop which sit boughs of holly and fake hemlock, intertwined with more twinkling lights. Lastly, an elf-on-the-shelf sits (where else?) on the bookshelf beside the TV, just below the Buddha, a gift from my adorable sister-in-law.

Now, before you go congratulating me on a successful assimilation, consider this. I had to do it. I had no choice in the matter. The reason? You guessed it. The kids, of course. Because let’s face it, when it comes to winter-solstice holidays, us pathetic meddling Jews got nothing on you kitschy, ubiquitous Christians.

Sure, you guys got the Son of God and the whole Wise Men spiel and the beatific Virgin Mother but as you and I well know that’s not what sells it. It’s all about the fat guy with the hippie beard who breaks into your house, eats your cookies, and leaves behind everything you ever wanted, all your hopes and dreams.

For Christ’s sake, your holiday literally boosts the entire US economy! Anti-Christmas is anti-American! It’s no wonder everyone got so pissed when Walmart decided to start going with “Happy Holidays.” They had every right to be upset. I mean, those fat-cats put the entire country in jeopardy! The ruination of Christmas is one of every sensible American’s greatest fears, right up there with public speaking and public nudity. Christmas goes down, the almighty dollar goes down with it. Thank God Walmart recognized the error of its ways. Thank God it overcame its “fear” (Walmart’s word, not mine) of the rest of us and rescued the economy from certain collapse by definitively going back to their former, more correct, “Merry Christmas” greeting!

Now, if they could only stop killing babies with their Chinese formula, we’d really be onto something.

Just imagine what might have happened had they kept on with their left-wing “Happy Holidays” nonsense and all of us all of a sudden started forgetting about Christmas and just figured there was some unidentifiable holiday that happened about this time each year. Maybe it was meant for us, maybe not, nobody could really remember. Thanks a lot, Walmart!! Thanks for almost screwing it up for everybody!

Maybe you think I’m talking out of turn, this idea that we could all somehow forget about Christmas. Well, chew on this. The atheists are poised to strike! And Glory be to Fox News for keeping us abreast of the Godless menace that walks among us. For, just this year, in Los Angeles, we experienced a major “Christmas Controversy,” when atheist displays forced Nativity scenes out of Palisades Park. Santa Monica had allocated the spots via lottery. The Christians put in one bid and got two spots, the atheists, with 11 bids, got 18. And what did the atheists do with all that sacred space? Why, just what you’d expect them to do—nothing! In all of their 18 spots, the atheists have erected three potted plants, two paltry signs, and not a single partridge in a pear tree. As a result, well, let’s just say there’s not a lot of Santa in Santa Monica this year! Christmas-related purchasing in the city is down a full 75% and overall Church attendance has dropped by a depressing 98%. The local economy is in shambles. There is talk of shutting down the town entirely.

But I digress.

Jews and their Chanukah shopping, meanwhile, provide only the merest bump to the economy: specifically in the beeswax sector, along with an almost imperceptible rise in jelly donut profits. Our holidays, as a national budgetary concern, are inconsequential. Because what do we get on our beloved winter solstice celebration? If we’re lucky, we get 8 presents. Your people get about a thousand. I know how it works. I’ve seen what happens: gifts come in from all over the country and by the time Christmas Day rolls around it’s like the season finale of Hoarders.

And while you irradiate the cold night skies with the glow of countless twinkling lights, we strain our backs pulling out the family’s old cast iron candleholder, all just to celebrate the fact that four thousand years ago some guy scored a week’s-worth of free oil. And, lo, what a bargain it was! And to make matters worse, we don’t have twelve kinds of dessert, either! Figgy pudding? We got chocolate money and a four-sided top—a gambling toy. Why? So you can win more chocolate money!

What I’m saying is this: given a choice, what kid in his right mind would choose it?
Choosing to be Jewish?? Why, it’s unheard of! That’s like choosing to be gay!

Neil DiamondBut don’t get me wrong. My beef is not with Jews adopting Christmas. The best among us have done it. My Christmas Spotify playlist is composed entirely of songs by Irving Berlin, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, the Beastie Boys, Barry Manilow, Bob Dylan, and one of the Ramones. I’m not a monster. I like to make my kids happy. I don’t want them to run around all day wondering why our house isn’t lit up all crazy like the neighbors..or why Santa doesn’t like to give presents to the Hebrews..or why we haven’t gone out and killed a tree for Jesus like everyone else.

I got nothing against Christmas. Hell, I don’t even mind the month-long pummeling of well-wishes and good-cheer tidings. My problem is simply that Christians haven’t met us half-way on this one. They haven’t co-opted any of our Chanukah stuff. Because if what my wife tells me is true—that the Christmas Tree and all its accoutrements are originally Pagan traditions—then what’s the big deal with stealing one more?

So I appeal to you now, Ye Merry Christians of America!! Please. Why not celebrate our common roots, this year, and incorporate a little Judaica into your Christmas Season? This year, why not go ahead and spin a dreidel? Eat a latka. Put on an old Woody Allen record.

What could it hurt, right?

Chappy Cholidays, everyone!!!

The Time I Had Them Mutilate My Son’s Genitals

Let me begin with a word of warning to those of you whose shiksa wives have just given birth at home, in a tub, to a beautiful baby boy, whose penis you now want to ritually scarify in order to satisfy a supposed covenant with God. Don’t wait until the last minute to spring the news! And don’t do this either: don’t act like it’s all taken for granted, like it’s all been decided upon. Don’t play dumb, is what I’m saying.

I can’t explain why I hadn’t mentioned it. I guess I had either assumed everything would be cool when it came to circumcising our boy Guthrie (Gus for short), or else I was in denial and knew all along she’d have a kanipshin, which ironically is a Yiddish word, as far as I’m aware. It sounds like one anyway, so I’m going to go ahead and say it is.

I never understood why us Jews are so all about getting rid of the foreskins in the first place. We must’ve thought it was a pretty big deal at some point since we went and came up with this whole Covenant spiel. I’m assuming there was some sort of a growth involved.

To put it bluntly, I’m guessing the guy that invented circumcision must’ve had one nasty, stinky, irritating crotch. I mean, to even think of cutting off a piece! Imagine, being the first one to think of it. There must have been an assload of bullshit going on with this guy’s dick. The thing must have been literally dripping with a disgusting, fetid mold. Lichen may have played a part. Or maybe it was fuzzy like those poisonous caterpillars, like an old loaf of bread. With hyphae shooting out all over the place.

Had to be, right? Because you’d think most people—back then especially—would look at a penis and go, Hey, nice looking penis. Let’s not fuck with it! I mean, consider this: back then, even if you got a little cut on your hand or whatever there was a petty decent chance you were going to die. That you would just get an infection and die. They didn’t have Neosporins back then. They couldn’t just go to CVS.

Okay. Now I’m starting to see a theory forming. I’m beginning to feel my way around the makings of a theory. So here’s what happened: so this one guy gets infected with this crazy fungus, like maybe at some point he gets real horny and he fucks a mushroom or whatever and wham. And then the guy goes home and screws his wife and then she goes and screws some other guy and now he’s got the fungus-dick! Or else maybe it wasn’t even that. I hate to pin this one on the ladies. So let’s say maybe the guy just jerked-off and then shook the other guy’s hand and then the other guy jerked-off, and there you go. Or maybe the first guy jerked-off the second guy. Maybe the first guy was secretly in the closet. Maybe he’d been stuck in an unhappy marriage all these years and his only remaining pleasure in life was to go out and jerk dudes off in a mushroom patch. Fine by me. Who am I to judge?

Anyway, what I’m saying is it spread. That’s the main thing. Like something out of a horror movie. Until before you know it everybody’s going around scratching his balls all the time and it’s literally driving them crazy. They don’t know what to do.

CUT IT OFF!!!!

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Happy Halloween!

While watching scary movies this weekend, I noticed the similarities between horror and humor: suspense released through an emotional response, expectations build up and often end in surprise, and lots and lots of blood…

*Seven Graveyard Smashes…our own music editor, Matt Powell, on Halloween music.

*Michael Collier’s “All Souls”

*Will Rogers in “The Headless Horsemen

*Halloween on Parks & Rec

*Comic Pumpkins

*Vincent Price and Muppets!

*Halloween music, via Nine Kinds of Pie

*the origin of Halloween traditions

*Werewolf Bar Mitzvah, spooky scary….

*A great version of Poe’s “The Raven” mixing humor and horror.

*Congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals San Francisco Giants …via funny baseball quotes.

*Finally, some political cartoons  from the past few years, as Halloween tropes are recycled to address new fears and old.

2014

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2011

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The Time I Performed Standup Comedy Naked

For some reason, everybody wants to know about the time(s) I performed standup comedy naked. Forget about getting thrown out of the 2000 DNC. We want to know about the nudity! They think it’s, like, a big deal or something. That I’m naked. That I’m not wearing any clothes and that a lot of people are seeing me that way. Maybe  because it’s the unification of two things people fear most of all: public speaking and public nudity, joined into one terrifying whole. The funny thing is, when I perform standup comedy, the clothes I’m wearing are the last thing on my mind. After a minute or so, I literally forget I’m naked. The pressure is on. I’ve got work to do. Got to score some laughs. So from a performative perspective (phew) being naked makes the whole thing easier, getting laughs, that is, which is after all the main point of the thing. Particularly in my case, being as short and yet as hairy as I am.

First off, I should get this out of the way. The show I do is billed as “The Naked Comedy Showcase.” It’s not like I just walk out there and tear my clothes off and everybody’s like, “Woah, What the fuck?!” Not at all. Anybody who buys a ticket does so knowing they are going to see a show made up entirely of unclothed comedians, both male and female.

People who study comedy for a living might tell you something like: it doesn’t matter that a comedian is naked. Comedy is not down there, it’s up here, in the performer’s face. In their facial expressions. In fact, recent studies have shown that within moments of the opening joke, a majority of the audience will stop looking at a performer’s genitals and will focus their gaze on the comedian’s face, where the jokes are coming from. And once that happens, once attention is removed from the groinal region, it makes little difference what the comic is wearing or whether he or she is wearing anything at all.

But here’s the thing. Even if they’re all looking at your face, making good eye contact and whatnot, you know it’s always at the back of their mind, gnawing-away: Don’t look at the junk. Don’t look at the junk. Eyes off the — oh, God, I just saw the junk again. And this tension, this inner conflict, ups the laugh-factor ten-fold.

For this reason, performing standup comedy naked almost feels like cheating. Because here I am, taking these things the audience can’t help but laugh at—nervously or not—and literally shoving them in their collective face. I’m like carrot top. If I slip-up a punchline or two, no biggie. I’ve got great props to fall back on. Besides which, the crowds are always sympathetic: Of course the dude forgot his jokes, they’re thinking, the poor fool’s naked. Cut him some slack!

Here are the rules, (at least for the Cambridge, MA stage):

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