Jewish Comedy: Why Are We So Funny? Recap

On Saturday, March 2, a large group of comedy-lovers, approximately 75 people, including congregants, neighbors, guests from a nearby senior residence, and friends from the Arlington Moishe House, went on a virtual two-hour journey across the map of Jewish comedy in the US, including discussions of Groucho Marx, Gertrude Berg, Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, and more. Our hosts, Adam and Ron, provided historical context, showed film clips, and engaged the audience in an interactive quiz (complete with Groucho Marx glasses as prizes).

From vaudeville to the Catskills to radio shows to movies to television shows, we discussed what makes Jewish comedy unique and different. Audience members shared their memories (including a story about how the Marx brothers used to climb back into their apartment late at night) and were transported back to shows and places in their memories. Many of the comedy moments including a healthy dose of Yiddish which added to the general meshugas (craziness)!

We also had a rich discussion about what comedy offers society and whether or not there are limits to humor. Can Jews make jokes about Jews? Can non-Jews make the same jokes? And how have jokes evolved over time?

I’ll end this review with the joke that started this fabulous evening:

“A shul had a problem with squirrels in the attic. The exterminator couldn’t get them out. The rabbi said, I know how to take care of this. I’ll make them bar mitzvahs and they’ll never return to the building!” Oy vey!

Todah Raba to Adam Cohen and Ron Rosenberg who prepared and presented the evening’s content, to Jerry Jacobs who sponsored the refreshments and to Rabbi Bass who helped with shopping.

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