Tag Archives: Jewish Humor

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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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Hello, I Must Be Going: The Musicianship of the Marx Brothers

Marx Brothers (A Day at the Races)_01Few artists create something so wholly original that they themselves become their own genre. This is certainly true of the Marx Brothers. The family of Jewish immigrant entertainers came from the vaudeville stage tradition – which included sight gags, one-liners, and musical and dance numbers – yet the brothers remain utterly unique, even among the vast variety inherent in vaudeville. There is a certain serendipity in these geniuses developing their craft at a pivotal moment in emerging media. The Marx Brothers were able to perfectly bridge an old-fashioned stage routine with the relatively newer medium of talking film, bringing an otherwise antiquated form of entertainment into the modern age seamlessly.

Part of their genius lies in their audacity, and it is the manic chaos they created that keeps their work from becoming dated. The films were made mostly in the 1930’s and 1940’s although, other than the occasional plot device, the gags are almost sui generis, entirely detached from any current outside events or influences. By creating these exaggerated characters, and playing them consistently in each film, they create their own world, which can be picked up and dropped into any time and any place. This creates a timelessness to their work and is the reason the films still play just as well today as ever. Part of this success was the fortuitous timing of talking films, but only these four brothers possessed the right kind of mad genius and grounded talent to have seized upon it so well.

The brothers were essentially born into show business, and were each musical from the start. In fact, their original act (including brother Gummo, who soon quit to fight in World War I) was primarily a musical one. Billed, in various incarnations, as The Four Nightingales or The Six Mascots, they played theaters, concert halls and other venues throughout the country as a vocal group. In response to audience behavior and events outside one particular venue Groucho began to incorporate off the cuff one-liners into their act, which immediately became more popular with audiences than the act itself. Eventually, the brothers morphed from a musical act with occasional comedy into a comedy act with occasional music. The Marx Brothers formula as we now know it was born, as was the classic line-up of Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo.

Musical numbers remained a constant element of the formula. Groucho was an accomplished guitarist, studying the instrument for most of his life. But Groucho’s contribution to the musical numbers in the films was mostly as a comedic vocalist. He did not demonstrate the flashy virtuosity of Chico’s piano or Harpo’s harp, but his numbers became centerpieces of the films and some of the most memorable moments.

Two of his best-known numbers appear as a medley in 1930’s Animal Crackers, where Groucho plays the famed Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding.

One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don’t know.

“Hello, I Must Be Going” and “Hooray For Captain Spaulding” create a mock grand musical number complete with company chorus that heralds the arrival and celebrates the exploits of the famed African explorer. As always, Groucho’s unique dance moves are as graceful as they are ridiculous.

This fact I emphasize with stress,

I never take a drink unless –

Somebody’s buying…

I hate a dirty joke I do

Unless it’s told by someone who –

Knows how to tell it.

The Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg penned “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady” from 1939’s At the Circus became one of Groucho’s signature songs, and one which he continued to sing for the remainder of his life at appearances. (The occasional songwriting team of Arlen and Harburg wrote several songs together, most notably “Over the Rainbow.”) Continue reading →

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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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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