SIW e-mails me about a quiz show he’s doing with some other folks and he’s looking for the looking for the funniest Jewish jokes.
You read that right – someone is actually asking me for jokes.
Of course, this meant I drew blanks. While I may contribute to Purim shticks or throw in a few lines in situations, I was never good at coming up with jokes on the fly nor have I memorized the collected works of Henny Youngman. But while I couldn’t help Steven out directly I did start thinking about what constitutes “Jewish” humor.
The obivous angle is that the comedian is Jewish – which seemed to the the basic theme of a Comedy Central special on the new Jewish comedians. This connection isn’t surprising considering that “Jewish” jokes are cultural if not stereotypical and as Sienfeld has taught us, only Jews can get away with these jokes without being considered anti-semetic.
The problem is that as cultures change, the stereotypical references become less significant. The classic Jewish jokes from the Borscht Belt were mostly based on a European “old country” mentality of Jewish culture and Jewish history. But as Jewish life moved out of the shtetle, so too must the humor.
One option is to identify and contemprize the familar themes. For example, topics such as mothers, guilt, and anxiety are are still things relavant to most people. The persecution complex may have to be toned down a bit, but there’s plenty of paranoia to go around. Or you could turn the stereotype dial up to 11 like Hebrew Hammer, which in the style of blaxploitation provided a fresh take on old ideas. Of course, some things would work better than others and through differnt comedic formats.
The other direction would be to satarize the modern societies of Judaism. There are websites and plays dealing with the modern professional Jewish world, and of course, there is no shortage Yeshivish jokes out there. The problem is that while these jokes may reflect the current reality, most of these are far too specialized to be funny for outsiders.
At any rate I’m at a loss for now, but I’m sure some things will be percolating in the back of my head.