Press-Republican

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November 2, 2012

Insider illuminates Jewish humor

PLATTSBURGH — Andrew Silow-Carroll examines “What’s So Funny? New Trends in Jewish Humor” at Sunday’s breakfast lecture hosted by Temple Beth Israel and its Men’s Club.

Silow-Carroll, editor in chief and CEO of the New Jersey Jewish News, is a popular lecturer on Jewish perspectives in journalism, humor, the arts and material culture.

Due to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, P-R Staff Writer Robin Caudell emailed interview questions to Silow-Carroll, who lives with his wife and three children in Teaneck, N.J.

RC: Could you elaborate on the evolution of Jewish humor in the 20th century?

AS-C: For much of the 20th century, Jewish humor was unmistakably “ethnic,” as opposed to religious. Even Jewish comedians told jokes about Jewish ethnic stereotypes — for instance, Jews drive a hard bargain or Jewish mothers are smothering. In the 1950s, bandleader Mickey Katz (who is Joel Gray’s father) made a career out of recording parody songs that combined popular tunes with “Yiddish” lyrics, like “The Ballad of Duvid Crockett” (“the king of Delancy Street”). Allan Sherman did something similar in the 1960s, with songs like “Shine On, Harvey Bloom” (a takeoff on “Shine on Harvest Moon”). And when Lenny Bruce described the differences between Jews and gentiles (“Count Basie’s Jewish. Ray Charles is Jewish. Eddie Cantor’s goyish”), he wasn’t talking about religion — he was talking about ethnic sensibilities.

I like to argue that kind of “bagels and lox” humor is exhausted. You can still find a lot of folks trafficking in Jewish ethnic stereotypes — Adam Sandler and Jerry Seinfeld come to mind — but I see more and more comedians who are also familiar with Jewish religious differences. My favorite example is from an old episode of “The Simpsons” in which Bart and Lisa argue at length with a rabbi about the Talmud. It’s clear from the script whoever wrote that episode was comfortable with Jewish religious behavior — and felt the audience would “get it” also.

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