Michael Krasny on Jewish Humor
Is there a minion of young people here or seeing, a sea of gray hair I. I'm. Used to giving talks about Jewish humor and I wanted. This book to be educational, because I'm an educator and I had hoped that I would, bring in some of the young people who, shall. We say maybe at least in the demographic, or under the age of a half a century or so this. Does look like a PBS, crowd in some ways. Which. Is also a compliment, to how handsome this crowd looks that's how the old Jewish comics used to do it and win an audience over it's, also, edifying. For me too always to come back to Stanford and I have Charlie to thank for that I did a, something. For the teaching company many years ago I've always been a little alarmed at that name but, it. Sounds actually moronic, the. Program. That I did was DVD, and CD series, called masterpieces. Of short fiction and Charlie actually. Asked. Me based on seeing, those and or hearing them to, come here and teach a course in continuing education that's how things, started in terms of my connection, to Stanford, and continuing. Ed, when. You hear Charlie you think we should hire him for a pledge drive those are very nice remarks, about KQED, to which I appreciate it I am. Going to talk about my book and Jewish humor though I know that's what you're. Here to say to. Listen, to and hear me talk about but I have to say one other thing and. That is when I'm on the Stanford campus I always. Think of kind of a metaphor for Stanford in some ways because one of the first times I had taught a class here have. A friend some of you may know by the name of Tobias Wolff who was head of the creative writing Department and is a much, deservedly. Admired. Fiction. Writer and, I. Was, teaching his fiction in the course I thought and I said Toby would you come to a class and I'll, be teaching your fiction talk to the class and. He said sure every generous man, that he is and he. Said let's meet by the Rodin statues, and, so. I went over by the museum, where I thought from my map the Rodin statues, were and Toby. Wasn't there and then he showed up in the class and we, figured out that he. Meant the other Rodin, statues, and I realized at, that moment just, how wealthy this campus is.
You. Have more Rodin statues, here than you do at the Rodin Museum, Paris. But. I am going to talk about Jewish humor today and let me speak, first about the, genesis, of this book to some degree I just, recently ran into another famous. Fiction, writer who said oh I loved your joke book and I felt myself recoiling. A little bit this, it's not really a joke book there are a lot of jokes in this book and I'm glad to say that I share. The bounty of jokes that have been around for, a long time and, jokes that perhaps, some of you know. A lot of jokes like I did have, not heard I think I've. Seen it Charlie there's an old Talmudic saying make me more than I am you make me less than I am and they're as. Part of the hype of this book as he knows more Jewish jokes than anybody alive that's something that empirically, can never be proven but. I do know and didn't know a lot of Jewish jokes and what I thought would, be interesting would be to try to do what I do with literature that. Is analyze, them talk about them in a cultural, and anthropological, way, and talk about their meaning and subtextual, meaning, and really, get at because jokes are really narratives, and jokes are narratives that sometimes. Disclose, what's in the unconscious as. I've gotten older I become shall we say less. Enthusiastic. About Freud that may be putting it mildly. Just, gave a talk to the psychoanalytic, Institute at night felt, they maybe wanted to tar and feather me after the talk was over there, are still things though that we need to value in Freud and, one of them I think is a book he did called jokes, in the unconscious or depending, on the German translation. Within the unconscious, and, he talks about jokes as outlets, of aggression, and outlets of repression, obviously, often sexual repression but also of. Concealed. Meanings, and and the like and often fantasies, too so, there's so much to really kind. Of unpack in looking. At jokes and I found myself wanting, to do that but getting into. Other areas as well getting into film and getting into, television. And, anecdotes. And many of the interviews I did because the reality is the. Jewish humor has been an extraordinary. Part. Of American humor and it's really in many ways a hybridized, form of Jewish, American humor but it has had a preeminent. Role in terms of the history of humor not only because of all the comedians but also because, of all the comedy writers, and all the people, who have been in the comedy business the. Actor. Some of you may know Peter Coyote once said to me I was a business for we Jews you know it's lesser like you, know some people I mean Koreans, have grocery stores and Chinese. People have laundries, and Italians. Have pizzerias, we, have humor we have other things as well perhaps him speaking of the we but, certainly humor was a mainstay, for, long period. Of time and, when I finished. This book one. Of the hardest things I had to do the book came out actually fairly easily in, some ways I mean you write a book it does take you through. Research and through time spend, on the writing and the rewriting and redacting but, one of the things that I was amazed at was the, fact that in, writing. This book I began, to realize things and, have, insights about Jewish. Humor and especially the role that is played in American humor that I hadn't even imagined, I would find that's one of the exciting things about writing a book frankly and as. I said one of my original, intentions was to educate but, it was also to make people laugh this. Book could have been an elegy because a lot of this Jewish humor is gone and a lot of people don't tell jokes anymore in, fact a lot of comedians, don't even do shtick anymore because they go on college campuses, and they feel and I've been told this by a number of comedians I've interviewed that, they feel, that they can't let, loose of certain kinds of humorous. Stories. Because of what they've experienced, in terms of disdain, and anger, and just. Disapproval, most recently John Cleese of all people you think of him Monty.
Python As being one of the most innocuous kind, of humorous, but he had problems with some of his humor in terms of we're, in a stage and this is not a I hope sound like an editorial but we're in a stage of a kind of strong, and sometimes understandable. Political correctness so. I tried, to write a book that was certainly. Politically. Correct to the best senses of how I understand, that and it was a difficult struggle because. Sometimes, the most verboten jokes are the ones that reveal the most and they tell the, greatest stories that need to be told or the most high charge radioactive. Jokes are those jokes that tell, us things that perhaps we. Don't want to be told but need to be told and I, had to make a real distinction between Jewishness. And Judaism, and Philip Roth originally, made this distinction but it's an important one Judaism, obviously is a religion, there's, a lot of humor that's tied to that but, Jewishness, is an identity. It's a consciousness. It's a way, of life in many respects. I'm glad, to say that for those of you who observe the Sabbath I'm here on the Christian Sabbath today which, doesn't necessarily mean not doing anything like you know Orthodox, use won't even push an elevator on the day. Because it's a day supposedly, to rest go. Figure that one out. So. I had, a book but what I was struggling with was a title, believe it or not and. There's. A guy who just put out a book of Columbia University, professor. And. His. Book is called Jewish comedy, but originally I was told it was a Norton Norton publication, a book well worth reading a good scholarly work I was, told the original title, was two. Rabbis walk into a bar and. I thought that's a great title and. Here, it's been taken away from me and then it turned out he didn't even use that title, so. I had. A number of titles in mind and actually one, of the titles that I was coming close to using was, the title of a joke that leads off the book that's the first joke in the book but, before I get to that I thought. Let, there be laughter because, you know it had almost a mosaic sound to it and it was something that I really wanted to encourage, and, it. Was amazing to some extent when this book came out in September of last year, two, months before the election of Donald Trump how many people were looking for and seeking. Ardently some sense of laughter after the election. It. Became a book that was really, highlighted. A lot and I was able to write in the Jewish newspaper, the foreword about Jewish. Humor in the age of Trump and all sorts of things along those lines largely, from the touring that I did but. I had I thought a cornerstone, on almost every major Jewish, joke and then. Two jokes would say they happen to be both about rabbis to jokes we told to me before the book went to press and I, thought these have to be included and I called the editor and a couple, of editors and I, said you know we have to hold back I'll, just tell you these jokes and then I'll. Tell you why, they didn't play, into the title and what the title became but. They're splendid. Jokes because they're about word playing. On the one hand which is very much a part of traditional Jewish humor and also. About. Marriage which is again. As an institution, something that's very much a part of Jewish humor so. The. First joke which, is one of wordplay. To do and. It's always a privilege to be with Charlie junkman, because he is indeed, what I would call a mensch and many, of you who don't know that word it simply, means somebody who is a real person and a and, a fine person and somebody who admired for being honorable, and being sincere.
So. The joke goes that, a guy, goes. To a rabbi and as I said both these jokes involve rabbis goes, to the rabbi he says, as. You know rabbi my brother died and you're gonna be doing a funeral, aren't you and the rabbi says yes I am he. Says well I'd like you to say my brother was a mensch and I. Know you've got a capital, campaign and I will give a million dollars to the capital campaign if you only say my brother was a mensch and. The rabbi is tormented, because, he. Was not a mentioned and he, goes home and he says to his wife we've, got this capital campaign I'm, so desperate to reach our capital goal. He. Offered me a million, dollars to say that, his brother was a mensch how can I say that in good conscience, and good clear conscience and his, wife said sweetie, you're gonna have to worry about, that yourself work it through I don't know what to tell you so, next day the rabbi gets up at the funeral he says, some. Words about, the man, passing. On and then he says look. You're. My spiritual, community, I have to be completely honest with you this. Was an awful man he was mean to his employees, he was mean to his neighbors he was even mean to his friends and his family but compared to his brother he was a mensch. So. You see why I wanted to include that. But. Then I came across you, know I had this, sort. Of challenge to friends and family you've come up with a Jewish joke I haven't heard there, will be a reward and, I, got this joke and it was about a rabbi. Who was giving a sermon and, in the another rabbi Geoghan and in the middle of his sermon. He. Sees a young man who's in the congregation, who looks, I'll. Use a big word lugubrious, he, looks very sad doleful, and unhappy, and so, when the sermon is over the rabbi goes up to Minnie says I'm sorry I don't mean to invade your space or, anything but you look terribly unhappy I'm. A rabbi I'm a teacher and I'm a spiritual leader and maybe you can tell me what's on your mind and possibly quite, possibly, if I can I'd, love to be able to be of some help to you and. Man said rabbi, you have a very, good, detector, there I have been unhappy for quite some time and I'll tell you why, said. I have. Gone. Online to, try to find a wife and I've, been, successively. Struck. By a number of women who I knew I could love and marry they. Were really great matches, and in, every single case I took them home and my, mother didn't like them and. It says you know an element of Jewish, mother jokes too. So. The, rabbi says well. There's a new online dating. Service and it has a great deal to do with specific. Personality, traits, let. Me give you a suggestion I'll give you the dating, site and, why don't you find someone who has some things in common with your mother. Likes. The same kind of things she likes and has a number of things perhaps of interest, and vocations, and hobbies, that's. A wonderful idea rabbi I'm gonna do that it's. Good I'll see you and please keep me in the loop and tell me what happens three weeks later a young man appears back in the synagogue and he's in the congregation.
And. He looks even more unhappy. And, so, when the rabbi is done with his sermon he walks up to me says tell. Me what happened you look even more unhappy than you did when I told you I gave you I think good advice didn't, yes, rabbi it was good advice so what happened I found. A young woman just like, you were suggesting who. Had so much in my common, with my mother was extraordinary, she. Not only had common interests with my mother she, talked, like my mother and she looked like my mother and she. Cooked like my mother. Remember. I said well what was the problem 'yes I took her home my father hated her alright. It's. A great joke especially for long married couples and. And. One for the ages, so. I had. To add those two jokes but I still didn't have a title and, there's. This wonderful joke let me take you for a moment to New York City where I had, the. Actually, first in San Francisco many of you were probably your New Yorker writer readers. Figures. Most, of you. Before. I. Went, to New York to the Senate 92nd, Street Y to do an event with Calvin. Trillin also, known as blood drilling I didn't. Event with him here at the North theatre and we just, had a really, wonderful time telling, Jewish jokes and exchanging them and. Sidney. Goldstein who runs the City Arts & Lectures program, said you guys should do that in New York and I said let, me tell the publisher and they arranged it and I asked. Adam Gopnik and he went and, was. On the panel I did an event with Jeff Toobin and he said I'd like to do this with you guys but I'd like to be the interlocutor. So. He had these big names from The New Yorker we didn't have a woman and, we. Went to The New Yorker and they suggested, Patti marks batricia mark so it was a great panel and. You. Know all, mavens. When it comes to Jewish humor and Jewish jokes and. Budd. Trillin loves to tell this joke that turns out to be the first joke in my book and let me tell the joke and then, I'll talk about title, and then I'll talk a little bit about what happened so. The joke is in some of you MIT is a Jewish mother a grandmother joke, I tell it as a grandmother joke first, chapter of my book is Jewish mothers and grandmothers. So. This. Grandmother is at the. Beach with, her grandson and he's taking, sand out with a shovel and putting it in a pail and playing and suddenly a wave comes and picks, him up literally. Literally, picks him up and takes him out and she can't swim and. She's beside herself and. She's screaming and, howling and, yelling and please God save grandson, this is my analysis, my life is my I can't swim almost. Like a miracle, a young. Lifeguard. Appears and dives. In and, brings. The kid out and she's, praying, and she's going on and on and again importunate. God and the lifeguard, please save his life and so forth lifeguard. Says giving him out the mouth he's blue he looks terrible. Shape, found, water spurting, out in his nostrils, I was. Lifeguard. Turner he says it's. Okay he's, going to be okay. She. Gets. Out of the prayer position that, she's in puts. Her hands back and says he had a hat. Now, it's, an old joke it's a wonderful joke however I. Thought. For a while why not title. My book he had a hat because it's one of those jokes, that's, a classic joke that's been around for years and I, mentioned by drillin not so much to not drop a name Calvin, Trillin drop. A name my buddy bud. But. Because. He. Said this is one of the most our typical, quintessential. Jewish jokes made me that not a language he used as mine but. This is a joke that can't necessarily translate. Across any other borders or barriers. Well. He. Was wrong I. Got a letter after my book came out from someone who said to me that.
Joke. Was told in a different form by my, Norwegian grandmother. About region, size so you see what, you realized when you go into the depths of these jokes as many of them do cross over some of them are what we call Suey genera some of them are strictly, in, many ways only for Jews especially, ones that use Yiddish or a Yiddish guy but. A lot of them translate. Over and, let me give you one, example of, that before. I go on with my talk here. The. Other again. Sometimes. One, of my students recently said professor, Cressida he shouldn't be self-conscious about dropping names if you got names to drop drop them but, I'm. Not trying to drop a name here but a meet an the, Chinese American, author happens to be a friend and. She. And her husband Lou Diamond T had, my. Wife and me over there one night and she loves, jokes and she, was asking me to tell jokes and they says I have one for you now. What's interesting about this is I thought, she was gonna tell me a Jewish joke because. I knew well, it turned out I knew, the joke as a Jewish joke but. She told the exact same joke as a joke about Chinese, and. There are a lot of jokes that do this to cross over boundaries so, the joke is that, a barber opens the new barber shop and he's got a spiffy. New barber pole and a, priest. Comes in and he gives a priest a haircut and the priest goes to pay him and he says to the priest no you're. A man of God I don't accept money from men. Of the cloth or. Women of the cloth I cut. Women's hair too so I'd be sexist in these jokes. And you. Don't have to pay me this is for free he. Goes out the next morning to get his newspaper and there's a beautiful crucifix. Waiting for him with a thank-you note from the priest and. A minister comes, in he cuts the minister's hair and. The. Minister goes to pay him and the same exact thing happens it's replicated, he says Minister you, are a man of God. You're. A minister of God I do not take money from you next morning goes out to get his newspaper and there's a Bible inscribed, by the minister with this gratitude and thank you so, a rabbi comes in is. A rabbi a haircut, won't, let the rabbi pay and the next point he goes on their 12 rabbis they're now. Now. It's. A joke that makes us laugh that's a joke that Sal you know you could say well are Jews, they care about money they're too enterprising, may be borderline anti-semitic, jokes now because Amy tan tells me this joke without even hearing it about the Jewish rabbi. And tells. The same joke except it's a Frenchman, German. And a Chinese guy and the Chinese guy is out there with 12 a his buddy so a lot, of these jokes really do, have. Traveled. To them what. I found was so challenging and writing this book though was, not so much getting at the jokes but showing the whole trajectory of, jokes and. Because you, know it's almost like fiddler on the roof you're in a shtetl it's an impoverished, place you have nothing, really of, possessions.
Almost You're, living in cold, little dingy quarters, with it could be a pogrom at any time and then, suddenly you go over this ship, to. The the. World and you, find yourself in a world where you can actually succeed where you can make a life for yourself and eventually. More. And more success. And prosperity and. I'm it's an extraordinary, story in many ways but. There are jokes out of the shtetl that. I had that I was wrestling with because I was very interested in the folklore and the host dental history. I'll. Give you a classic example two Jews were in front of a firing squad which is not by the way all that anomalous, those. Jews. Who lived in the shtetl and one. Says to the other in, a last request time when I asked for a cigarette the other one says she want to get us in trouble. It's. A painful joke but it's also you, know funny in a way because it epitomizes a, lot of what Jews had to put up with in terms of their Stella now you have fast-forward, that joke to. The, joke and trust, me on this narrative it's a little bit windy, and labyrinthine, but the payoff is worth it. You. Know the name Bobby Slayton by the way, who. Used to come Soviet, vicious a stand-up, comic, who, was hurt, when I his, name wasn't listed in my book so, we did a event, at LA and he turned out to be. We. Had an interlocutor, who, used to be the book editor of the, San Francisco Chronicle talking, to both of us about Jewish humor was a real kick with, Slayton Slayton, told me in his show and he. Told, it on the air when I was at ABC and, it had had to be bleeped. Do I have to bleep myself, no. Nobody's. Gonna be offended we. Don't have any FCC regulators, here do we or anything okay so, here's the way the joke goes there's. And so many jokes begin obviously with you have a Frenchman German, and a Jew in this one people through different nationalities, or whatever and, but, in this joke it's a tough New York Jew okay. Contemporary. Present-day and they're. Travelling have. To accept. The Danai of this joke that given their traveling together in the Amazon okay, why. They be doing that I don't even know but that's how the joke begins right so, they. Get captured by a. Tribe. Of cannibals and. They. Take them into the cannibal village and there's a huge pot that's boiling over with vegetables, and all kinds of things and a guy steps forward, with a loincloth, on, and, he says I'm the head of this tribe, and obviously we're a cannibal tribe Amazon. And. We're. Cannibal so we're gonna kill you and eat you but I want to tell you first of all that, we're gonna strip. Your skin off first and use. It for a canoe and it'll be in our, tribe. For generations, so you'll. Have an ongoing posterity. And purpose obviously. I've been educated in the West cuz I use words like posterity, but. Aside from that I want you to know something else we're gonna let you choose the way you want to die because we're enlightened, cannibals. So. He says to the Frenchman how do you want to die and the Frenchman figuring, they're cannibals huh guillotine. He says. Out. Of his loin cloth he pulls out an axe and chops off the Frenchman's head it's that simple it's. The German how do you want to die so the Luger figuring, again they don't possibly, have a Luger. Takes. Out a little pistol and shoots the German to death it says to the tough New York to how, do you want to die he, says I want a fork. Cáñamo. Says a fork yeah. Give me a fork. He. Says I have some utensils here in my loincloth takes. Out a fork gives it to him start stabbing himself with the fork insist here's your, canoe ok. So. I had to work through a lot of these jokes in terms of their meaning but. I had to go through a lot of the sub themes in the and the central motifs and the whole trajectory from the old world to the new world and all the rest of that and the. Reality is that there are a lot of subgenres. There's, a lot of. Well. Look, most. People for a long time thought Jewish, humor is about suffering because. It was identified. With suffering Jews thousands, of years they've been around they had to have humor to provide. Some kind of antidote, to. Or, analgesic. To the suffering that they've been through well.
There's. A whole array in, panoply of Jewish humor and some. Of it is suffering some. Of it has to do with. Assimilation. Some of it has to do with, other. Patterns even celebration. When we think about assimilation, for example. And. Assimilation. Let, me give you a sampling of just, how far, jews. Have recognized they've come from that shtetl where you know. The. Last. Request could get us in trouble I'm. Going to read this the way I wrote this in the book I was, very keen. On getting these narratives, right and writing them in a way that would translate into. Appropriate. Narrative, prose, so. Here we have two Texans, sitting. On a plane they're going to Dallas with, an old Jewish man sitting, between them first. Texas says my. Name is Roger I own. 250,000. Acres I have a thousand, head of cattle and they, call my place the. Jolly Roger. Second. Texas says my. Name is John I, own. 350,000. Acres I have, five thousand, head of cattle and they call my place Big. John's they. Both look. Down at the, little old Jewish man who says my. Name is Lennie Leibovitz and I, own only, 300 acres Roger. Looks, down at him and says 300. Acres what. Do you raise, nothing. Says. Lennie well, then what do you call it ask John downtown. Dallas. I. See. A gentleman here with a. Somewhat. Indignant look on his face these, jokes. Do sometimes, border. What. Jews used to be afraid of I mean. During a period of Philo semitism, and Philo semitism, I call it a period because look I had all these famous celebrities, who were marrying Jews on the one hand Marilyn Monroe Elizabeth, Taylor. You. Had conversions, in both case you had a conversion of Sammy Davis and you know the old joke about which. A lot of Jews loved at the time Sammy, Davis gets on a bus in the south it's Jim Crow they say get to the back of the bus he says but I'm Jewish get off the bus. But. The 50s. Was. A decade, of of real Philo Samantha's now I'm, sorry to cast, a, shadow over all this recent. Report by. The. B'nai. B'rith and the Jewish telegraphic, Institute, and others says that anti-semitism, since. Trump, became president, has spiked. And spiked to higher. Than it's been in many. Years and when you think of Charlottesville and all the rest blood and soil and all the rest of that that's understandable. I don't want to cast, a pall over this this, morning's lecture but. Even, anti-semitism. Became. A source of humor for. Many and when I started out in radio there, was a joke that was going around somebody, said yeah you heard about the guy who tried out for a job as a radio announcer he didn't get the announcer job. And his friend said why do you think he didn't get the job is anti-semitism. Are it's not. And. Those those. Are the kind of jokes by the way which don't. Lend themselves to the politically correct world, that we live in you know it. Sounds like it's really killing, people. Who have a stammer or something of that sort but these. Jokes. Definitely. Had a place historically and, and anthropologic, I'll give you a classic example I did not include in the book as I thought.
It. Really is somewhat politically, incorrect but it's a funny joke and it was a funny joke at the time. In. That period of the 50s of Philo Semitism, so, the joke is that a young, woman joins a Peace Corps so this is actually even later than because Peace Corps was John F Kennedy is you member and sargent shriver the. Early 60s, but, she joins the Peace Corps and, she. Comes. Back with a husband, who was essentially, a Watusi. He's about you. Know six foot eight and he's got a bone in his nose and the mother comes running out and she's I said rich doctor. Let. Me go to a, different. Kind of classic joke. That's been around for a long time a. Couple. Of unspin fellows shoes see. A sign offering, $100, to any Jew who will convert one. Of the two Jews Murray decides, to investigate and asks his friend Harry to wait for him Murray. Has gone a long time and when he finally returns here he asked well did you get the money Murray, says why is that the first thing you people think about. This. Joke has gone through a kind of morphing and and, evolved, a rabbi. Up in Sonoma told me the same joke he said to took place on Wilshire. Boulevard in, a window and it. Was thousands, of dollars and you know things inflate, and they do go through different kinds of changes but, that's a classic, kind of joke and when. Calvin. Trillin said that. The, real archetype and classic joke is he had a hat he, realized there are a lot of jokes that pretty, much fit that bill and. That as I said I'll, tell you one in fact that. I think has, a similar, kind of motif to it it's the depression and there's, a sign in a window that says we convert use a hundred. Dollars each and. Man. Says to his wife look, you, know we're almost starving, we have no money. Let's. Do this I mean. The Talmud teaches as we owin legions, to ourselves in our own life in our existence and survival, first of all primarily, so let's. Do it so. They go in and they, go through a conversion holy, water and they they, their vows to Jesus, and all the rest of it and the, next morning the, man gets up and he, starts to put on the phylacteries, you know it's filling which religious, Jews put, on when, they go to prayer and. His wife system what are you doing don't you remember we went through this conversion yesterday, says oh yeah already I got a glacier cup. For. Those things you don't know Yiddish glacier got means like a Gentile brain it's a it's.
An Insulting, joke, to Gentiles, but it's a way of kind of propping up Jews and giving them a kind of chauvinistic feeling, and there's many, like the Dallas joke that, do this in a kind of celebrative, way and there, are so many jokes that bring in Yiddish is almost a call to memory remember when, I saw a love and death movie. Of Woody Allen. To, become part of the me to movement now but that's another story. Suddenly. And. And you know again, this is borderline politically, incorrect by today's standards, there's, a woman who has clearly cast, for her not fetching looks I almost out of a Fellini movie and he. Takes her hand he's supposed to be going to Russia and he says it's such a pleasure to meet, the countess miss kite and suddenly. Amis. Kite is a Yiddish word but it has that great onomatopoetic. Sound. To it nice kite it means you know a homely, looking woman and and, there. Are other words for men. Immunised. Is one of those languages that has more negative. And pejorative, words and problem and more curse words, than probably, any. Language, extant in fact, you know there's also a joke about Yiddish convention. I, just. Blew the joke it's an Esperanto convention, everybody spoke Yiddish okay you get the joke so. I'm. Sitting in this theater in Novato and I'm here and I'm here. The word meeska it was what I call a call to memory it was kind of a communal. Call to memory just by the, sensibility. That one has growing up hearing it ish as I did and. Recognizing. The word and nobody, else in the theater of course recognized, the word but it was almost as a Vallon Woody. Allen that is wanted to make, this call to memory as yudish Othin does I mean you, just hear certain Yiddish words and it's not only their sound there's. Japanese. Man who, is told that his wife's having an affair with a Jewish man and he. Walks up to his wife and he says what's. This I hear about you. Having an affair with a Jewish man and the, wife says who told you this mishegoss all right. You. Know what I began to come down to. Realize, in, a, very significant, way was, there are threads and all. These motifs and even in a lot of the light motifs of Jewish humor a lot, of them have to do with separateness, a lot. Of them have to do with, difference. Which is similar of course in many ways. Chosen. As' and loss. And self. Denigration. Or self abasement, self flagellation, yes, a lot of them came out of suffering but these, themes are central and these themes are the ones that I really found myself working. With most of all. But. Like I said I let off with the Jewish mother joke because they're so dominant. We got helicopter, mothers now you know we've got. Tiger. Mothers but, really Jewish mothers in terms of that possessiveness, and that domineering. Quality, were right. There in the forefront I don't know if that's something to celebrate or not but there they were, pioneers. You could call them one. Of the most exemplary. And revelatory jokes is the one about. The man who's on his deathbed and his. Daughter his dutiful loving daughter is there at his bedside and, suddenly. He. Says I can. Barely even speak he says he smells kugel you know this wonderful, Jewish, noodle. Dish and. Starter. System mom's making a kugel he. Says just to, taste your mother's Cova once before I die I know I'm at the. Edge here and. She says of course daddy and she runs into the kitchen and he's. Barely, hanging, on by gossamer, threads and finally. She comes back and she folds her hands and he. Goes where's the, kugel she says mom, says it's for after. Now, another way of telling that is to say mom says it's for the Shiva but you know then it it, loses something. Of its like should. I realize something there. Are a lot of these jokes about Jewish mothers one of one, ones I kind of always favored was one about the Jewish woman who was really. Indigent, and had to pay for the obituary, of her husband by the word and when. She realized that she said okay she said more died Volvo, for sale. But. There's something about those jokes that really began to take me in a different level I began to realize that. There's. Something just, like the joke about the Hat there's. Something and I say this as a self-confessed, feminist, there's, something about those jokes that strangely, enough, has. A lot to do with the, practical, survival. Nature of Jewish women because in so many instances that's, what, they had to deal with.
They, Had husbands who spent a lot of time you know studying the Talmud and the Torah and who. Were pretty much. Not. Necessarily, good earners because they couldn't get jobs and they had women had taken a lot of sewing and baking and all kinds of things just to scrub through, a living, or the husband's were. Barely able to make. A living as rabbis and so forth and the reasoning, behind this is that, there's. A practical, minded nature to this that has to do with just, having to get by just having to survive and it. Seemed to me that that was a very serious side of a lot of these jokes. That I began to realize a lot of the jokes have yudish. Kite roots to them obviously it is culture roots but. People ask me about say Sephardic, jokes not a whole lot mostly they have to do with geography there, are a lot of Israeli, jokes but they're of a different. Different. Breed of joke if they're you've, read about joke a good. Example is the one some of you may know about there's. A Russian. There's. A pole an American, and an Israeli and, a. Guy watch something he's got a big clipboard he says excuse me gentlemen, I'm taking a survey I'd like to know your opinion of the meat shortage and. The. Polish guy says what's meat. And. The American says what's a shortage. And the. Russian says what's an opinion. And. The Israeli says what's excuse me. I mean, Israelis, themselves love these jokes because you know it's like New Yorker jokes, they. Have similar kind of translating, qualities. It's, a joke about you know woman. Who's on an ll airline and wait. Stewardess. Flight, attendant excuse me walks, up and says. Would. You like dinner she. Says what are my choices yes or no. Or, you know about the Israeli rowing team it's one. Guy rolling in seven or yelling. So. When. We go to Yiddish Kato where which is really the root of so much of this humor we. Go to a humor that's vested in a remarkable, language which. Is not. A dead language yet but in fact there were one things I find heartening is there young, people who are trying to give new life to get ish and Yiddish. Speaking. Groups and all the rest of that sort of thing what, you find in Yiddish is preservation, of, heritage of, lineage of Cadence's. Of words of just, the. Kind of not. Only the use of the Yiddish words but just the, beat. Of those words I. Had. The privilege of interviewing the great Nobel prize-winning Yiddish writer Isaac. Bashevis singer and I, was actually very serious when I asked him if solemnly, I said mr. singer do you believe in free will he, said I have no choice. There's. There's, something unmistakable. About that that found. Its way into, what. We call the American humor, Canon and, it was mainly of course Jewish. Humors, he had the king of the one-liners Henny, Youngman, went, to the doctor the doctor said you're sick I said I want another opinion okay you're ugly. My. Wife divorced me for religious reasons she. Loved money worshiped it I didn't have any this. Is and the, king of the one-liners was, succeeded, by a guy named Jack Cohen who, took the name Rodney, Dangerfield, and Rodney. Dangerfield, all he simply said he wanted was respect, I mean he was right out of a folkloric, character. That we know many, of us is called the schlemiel. Camille. Came into kind of American lexical, use strangely. Enough when Sandy Koufax, one of my boyhood heroes, one. Of the greatest pitchers of all time who, happen to be Jewish. Was. Talking to Joe Garagiola who. Was a announcer. Than former catcher for the st. Louis Cardinals and. Sandy. Koufax out of respect and honor of his religion, which, thrilled, a lot of Jews said he was not going to pitch in the World Series on Yom. Kippur, which. Back. Where I come from a Cleveland was like a fish holiday we call the Yom Kippur I'm not sure why, move. West it became Yom Kippur so.
Joe. Carroll had no idea, what he was saying he said what he said he asked me so why aren't you pissant. Eco I guess you'd call me a schlemiel. Gary. What's. A schlemiel I don't know what that is and he gave the standard old definition, there Emil is a, guy. As. Opposed to the schlemazel which means bad luck these four muscles the one who walks in a restaurant by accident knocks over a. Pipe, of soup there's flu meals and when it spills on you know and. Sandy. Koufax is just saying you know just call me a schlemiel he was being humble and sweet which. Was a natural way for him but. Rodney Dangerfield, this, up and said you know we get I get no respect I'm basically a schlemiel what do young you. Know played. The schlemiel to the hilt and, so. Did many others, even. Somebody fast, forward somebody like Richard Lewis you know who was always going through pain and always doing this humor based on how, much he was suffering which was the kind of Neo American, sufferings. I mean to the point where he said that. He'd. Be in bed with his girlfriend, and he'd, be imagining, that. Not. That so much that she was somebody else but that he was somebody else's he does. So. But. You know you have Rodney dangerzone says I went up to this woman and I said, to her. I'd. Really like to go on a date with you I'd like to meet you I'd like to have dinner with you anything you say she said come, to my home tonight nobody, will be there I went nobody, was there. Well. This. Was the kind of magic that we had and. We've. Had it very much a part of, American. Jewish humor there's. Also, something. That ought to be said and, by the way sometimes, just the Yiddish Cadence's, they, go back to the shtetl there's the old one out of the shtetl, guy. Goes up to the rabbi and says rabbi why are so many people so ignorant and so apathetic in the rabbi says I don't know and I don't care. Or. I. Mean. That's dental humor but it translates into our own American, Republic, in so many ways you know there's a joke about the. Three older, Jewish women who are sitting, in. A restaurant. The waiter walks up and says anything, all right. Now. That these jokes make older Jewish women it catches. You know into complainers, of course they do but it's part of the humor and it's. When. You can't you know don rickles used to always say if can't laugh at ourselves what, can we laugh at you know and rickles susan was another kind of jewish humor it was a biting, humor it, was a humor that was sarcastic. Joan Rivers wound up using that humor to a great degree earlier, on Lenny Bruce did and. I came up with a theory I'll tell you it's it's a strange I want. To walk too far from the microphone too many people hard to hear anyway I. Was. At Esalen Institute you, know which is no enforce, for hot-tubbing, and all the rest I was teaching a class down there and. I. Did. A class years ago down there and you humor and it was it, was the most number, of people I ever do these things that I thought were so lofty and Noble on literature and. You. Know we get a small crowd but.
It. Was a huge crowd for for. The Jewish humor class I did and. Suddenly it dawned on me most of you know the story of the golem. It's. It's out of Prague originally, Michael. Che bonds. First. Novel which won the Pulitzer Prize the, Kavalier and clay is based on the Golem myth it's. About it's like a Mary Shelley Frankenstein, myth you know you take this creature and you make it out of clay and it defends you but it not only defends, you it, attacks your enemy so it's aggressive in passive. Or at least holding off those at bay who would come and torture or. Hurt. You kill. You and. Also able to be militant, enough to kill the enemies and I thought this is what so much of Jewish humor is it's tied in with defense. And attack. And. You, know Rickles is a splendid example of that but so was Jackie Leonard, so as Joan Rivers like I said in her later stage. Or, not so much a later stage and Joan Rivers used to start out with a lot of jokes about. Being. Essentially. A. Jewish. Mother and a Jewish woman and all these kinds of things and. And being a woman she picked up a lot on Phyllis Diller these, were the first to pioneer comedians. And if it hadn't been for Joan, Rivers and Phyllis, Diller it would probably have been no Sarah, Silverman, no Amy. Schumer I mean, they stand on the shoulders of giants, that sense but, Joan Rivers you know became more and more shall. We say blue as she got older. She, always wanted to be like Lenny Bruce there's a definite lineage there some, ways but. Some of that humor I was telling I was with some friends before I came here both, distinguished. Professors, here at Stanford, and I. Was. Talking about the time that I, made, a friend of mine there. He goes again dropping, a name I, won't, drop her name I'll just say she's a famous writer and she peed her pants when she heard this joke it's. A it's, a literally, she told me I wasn't. Necessarily. Observe, that but. The story, was when. The Joan Rivers told about starting to wear open-toed shoes to show off her breasts now. That's. A kind of you know self flat denigrating. Making, fun of myself to be human and there was a lot of that like using naked pictures of her with men on death row so they wouldn't get excited and sexually, sexually. Aroused at all but. Later on she, became, more you, know attacking, verbally. In ways that were funny and that sometimes. May, have been hurtful to some people but that was the nature of the humor and I I made. It part of my business I suppose you could say to trace. These lineages and to go as far back as I could even, to the. Yiddish stuff. There. Are all these wonderful classic, Yiddish jokes that probably don't even aren't, even told anymore Myron Cohen a name some of you may remember, was. On Ed Sullivan people, couldn't believe he had a guy who is doing you to stick on. Ed Sullivan Jackie. Mason was on two and then he had a feud with Sullivan who's never let, back on but. You. Would see Myron. Cohen come on talking this kind, of thick, you - accent and say Amen. And Miami Beach he. Fell over and somebody. Came and put him on an ambulance and put. A blanket on him and said are you comfortable I make a living you know. Or. Joyce. Is speaking Yiddish you had these stories like Leo Rosten tells in that wonderful book about. And. He was the one who wrote those Hyman Kaplan books about learning English as a second language among, the Irish only. Speakers who came here from the shtetl in Eastern Europe and the, story was for example by the man who goes out he's waiting at the bus and.
He. Goes to his class and, the. Teacher says to him let's. See how you know English words first of all I want you to spell the word, cultivate. And he spells it co, l TI va te that's. Wonderful, can you use it in a sentence he's thinking he says yeah, I was, waiting at the bus it was to cultivate so, I took the taxi. They. Still get a lot of mileage depending. On your age demographic, out of these but. That's a wonderful joke, because, it brings generations, together, and. In, fact I tell, the joke and. I and I and you always really, love this joke about the. Man is walking with his grandson and, they're going for a walk and they see a big sign and it says a huge, block letters no swimming allowed and, then. Underneath and even bigger letters it says no swimming a lot with many exclamation marks, and the, grandfather is 80 if you prefer would he be the idiot racist come on we're going to go for a swim as. Francis's but Zadie look, it, says up there it's just no swimming a lot it says it twice with exclamation, marks and grandfather. Says no, it says no, swimming a lot of no swimming allowed. You. Know I've been asked on a number of occasions. Again. How does Jewish. Humor translate, across the Atlantic across the pond and all that sort of thing and there, are these Jewish jokes that are Suey generis. For. Example it's a British joke it couldn't be told I don't believe. Under. Any other aegis. Or under any other rubric, so. It's a joke about a manís award-winning. Physicists British. Native he's going to be knighted by the Queen and. He's. There with a number of others who are about to be knighted and he's wearing a yarmulke a keeper a skullcap, right and the. Queen goes and she says why is this night different from all other nights, and. That's. There's. A laughter probably. Mainly among Jews who recognize that as the, first of four questions asked in the Passover Seder unless some of you have gone to Passover Seder -. Tania Hollow has that why is this night different from all other nights so. Does, that translate here well of course it does to some extent but it's more I think, a British joke by the way when I was doing research for this book I. Came. Across something that I just had to include cuz it was silly and, made. Me laugh out loud it was so silly I. Had. The privilege of interviewing Alan, King who was a great storyteller I wanted to do it joke off with him but he, said I'm. A storyteller I'm not a joke teller okay, so, the. Story though I found about Alan King and doing research about him was that he actually performed. In front of Prince. Philip and Queen Elizabeth and, afterward. After the performance, was over he was back behind, the curtains and the. Prince and the Queen went, back to visit him and. Tell. Him how much they enjoyed his performance but before. They even did this the, Queen said it's a pleasure to meet you mr. King and he said it's a pleasure to meet you mrs. Queen which is. It's. Silly but it's wonderful in cinema. It's. Like the the, old Jewish couple who go across to England then they want, to hire themselves, the. Best Butler they can possibly find where else to get the best Butler you can find but England and they, bring back this man named Edwin who is absolutely, on every single way, the, superb archetypal. Butler and they. Say there are med men were. Entertaining. Our friends the Rosenbergs, set up the table for four people we're going to go for a walk and they. Come back and everything, is set up beautifully except it's for eight people and. They say Edmund. Eight. People eight settings here why are there eight settings here he says your, friends the Rosenbergs, called I'm not doing a British accent your friends the Rosenbergs called and said they're bringing the bagels and the bialys.
Okay. Is. There a quintessential, Jewish show yeah. And I. Once. Interviewed. Harvard. Jewish, scholar. And Yiddish scholar Ruth Weiss was, a pleasure to talk to her and. She. Also wrote a book on Jewish humor there many of us who have and. This. Joke which. Is in my book and which is a well-known joke probably. Well. Let me tell the joke and then I'll get into a little bit of the conversation we had about it the, joke goes like this, there's, a Frenchman. A German, a Mexican. And a Jew and they all scale this very high mountain, and they get to the top and they're winded you know and they're really flagged, and. The. German says I'm tired I'm thirsty I must have beer and, the. Frenchman says I'm tired I'm thirsty I must have wine. And. The. Mexican says I'm tired I'm thirsty I must have tequila, and. The juices I'm tired and thirsty I must have diabetes. It's. Another one of those jokes you know some people feel somewhat uncomfortable with maybe and Ruth Weiss said she. Didn't understand why when. She first. Heard that joke the Jews seemed to really laugh a lot but some. Of the, Gentiles. Said Christian said aren't. You uncomfortable with that joke that doesn't seem anti-semitic, to you on some level and so forth this is the thing about a lot, of these jokes you know depends, who you tell them to how you tell them who hears them all those things are in the mix and they're all in the calculus, of of telling. The jokes and sorting them out so. I'm, not gonna out where am I welcome here and I know I'm. Supposed to talk for about an hour and then take some questions but let me just go cut, to the chase here a. Lot, of these jokes do push the envelope and one, of the things that's more comfortable about that is that they push the envelope more after. The Holocaust. After. A number of years of the Holocaust I mean Mel, works, the producers, when it came out you know springtime. For Hitler was a shocking thing to, many people including a lot of Jews now. You've got Seinfeld, with the. The. I'm. Sorry the. Nazi. Right. It, was one of those things you know I just told recently I got, a call from my doctor I had an MRI nurses I have to tell you first of all your brain is shrinking I so thanks a lot it's.
De Rigueur now that they tell you that if you're shrinkage the brain. So. And. And, you know and you have Larry David talking about. Bringing. Someone who. Is a survivor, to meet somebody who's from the TV show survivor, I mean it's as if the. Envelope, is being pushed and pushed and pushed and they're, in all that much necessarily. More you can push and a lot of people are still offended by things. Of this nature or. Things that even seem. To cross over the border, of what might be interpreted, is or, interpretable, is anti-semitism. You. Know the, criterion, for me is it funny. There. Are certain things you should avoid because, you don't want to hurt people's feelings I mean. Jackie Mason for example made a whole career out of a kind of chauvinism and stereotypes, and some, people are offended but the. It's his delivery because his deliveries like an old Yiddish delivery, you know I know a guy he. Said Jewish he says polish he's a custodian, but he owns the building you know I. Know. A guy he's half Italian he's half Jewish she can't get it wholesale he steals it you know no know. That many people are offended by those kind of stereotypes but you know if you put down the, sense of it's. All in good fun it's all for. The sake of humor we need laughs anything. That can make us laugh is worthwhile it. May have a different cast, to it, our. Jewish American princess jokes, offensive. Yeah probably, they are but. Strangely enough they also are, a way of saying look how much we've succeeded look. At how we can treat our daughters or our wives and so forth I did. A paper years ago with Alan Dundas some of you Cal graduates, may have known him or the most popular professors, of all time because he taught, a course, and jokes on the, on the Jewish American princess joke, and a. Lot of them are very funny you know a guy who wants to be. Cremated. Which is against a Jewish religion but he says I want my ashes to be put in Bloomingdale's because I know my wife will visit me at least once a week. The. Jewish American princess is holding. An. Invaluable, vaz, Tiffany. Vaz in Tiffany's and it, falls. Out of her hands and smashes. Into hundreds of pieces and, she says I'm all right. It's. Funny how some of these things have to do with places, like Bloomingdale's, and Tiffany's and then there's the three words of Jewish American princess will never hear attention. Kmart shoppers. So. You get the picture, are these jokes, to, feel uncomfortable, with well maybe on some level but as I said as I began to deconstruct, them and I'm a great one sometimes, for deconstruction I thought, to myself they are also a way of and. They're mostly made up let's face it by Jewish men and there are streaks of misogyny, and some of these jokes and I don't mean to speak lightly of that but. At the same time there are ways of giving tribute to look, we've made it in America and, we've been able to be prosperous, enough that we can make. Our wives, into Queens or our daughters into princesses. So. There. You have a lot of it and I know I've covered a lot of territory here, with history and identity and. Psychology. But there's a lot to cover in terms of the major themes let me just say some final things and. One. Thing that I want to say to. End here is that there are jokes too that are hopeful, in ways, that surprise, me and you'd, be a wonderful example, of that as you know the Jews named after the dead or, at least traditionally, have always named after the dead, I, just, have a surprise when I came to San Francisco which is so assimilated, that I said what. Are Jews doing with Roman numerals after their name but it was true and in San Francisco, and. Celebrating, Christmas and all kinds of things that you know I didn't, grow up with in Cleveland by a long stretch or those, of us in the Midwest. Or the eastern seaboard didn't grow up with but. This is one of the bay area for better or worse is what most assimilated, areas. Always has been they. Were mainly settled. By San Francisco itself by German Jews and they were of, a different turn a different tribe, in many ways. Bring, Amy Chows book I'll give it a plug now then we wrote the tiger, mom. Book about tribes. And it's very convincing. Book. About how important tribes are or, tribal identity, is at, any rate one, of the first radio interviews I had was the name many of you know Scott Simon, on. Weekend. Edition with this book I mean and, I. Went on the show and he said to me will, you please. Tell. You'll. Know why he asked me to tell this joke, tell. The joke about the. Couple.
That's Workable, the Maness, and his son were walking in the 21st, century. Some. Of you may know this show man. In his Senate walking in the, later part of the 21st century and. Man. Sees the Sun and the father and walks up to the mrs. -, the father your son is such a handsome young man the, father says thank you and the. Man who gives the compliment, says what's, his name, father. Says his name is Shlomo. It's. A Shlomo, is what, kind of name is Lomo he's. Well he's named after his dead grandfather his name was Scott. Now. Scott. Simon wanted me to tell the joke because. The. Name scott and, he explained it beautifully his. Father he, was a product, of an Irish mother and a Jewish. Comedian, or would-be comedian father I don't think his father ever went that far but. He said, the. Joke encapsulate. So much in it not only hopeful, of tradition, coming back and all that but also. The. Whole assimilation, process naming, kid Scott then maybe even going back to roots. Which. Is one of the hopes that I had. In writing this book that at least young people you know because I knew so many people who said my grandchildren, they know nothing about culture. You get a language. About. Any of the traditions, any of their heritage. You, know they got bar Mitzvahed so they could get a lot of gifts, it's. A wonderful joke about that some of you may know you know about the. The temple that's having problems over, run by mice and, they. Bring in a rabbi. Who's supposed to be a miracle worker and he comes in and, within 24 hours all the mice are gone they, said rabbi how did you do that he said just bar mitzvah them and they all left they'll never come back. So. It's. A kind of painful joke though in some ways you know it's. Again it's a double-edged, sword of, these jokes of Damocles Ian sometimes, at that. But. That's a hopeful joke and there are a number of them that certainly are and. You know something I realized when I said let there be laughter with this title it's, very healthy to laugh American. Scholar the last issue of it head I'm not sure that the research is all that up. On this I think, you know just laughter help our immune system a lot of people believe a lot of good scientists, believe even that it does I'm, not convinced, incontrovertibly. And I'm not a scientist, but you know I do dip. Into that world, but. Nevertheless this, article, took the position helps our endocrine system helps our circulatory system, in other words laughter, is good laughter can. Be healing I think we know that to some degree and can say that or attest to that personally, and let, me end with the story by. That. Was told to me soon after my book came out by. A personal, friend who for many years was a professor. Here at Stanford. Marilyn, Yellen who was married, to Erwin Yellen who is also a professor here and. She. Told me about a book that I wasn't, aware. Of that. Was. Discovered. Around. The time of the Holocaust or. After during, the liberation actually, and, the. Book was in one of these little closet, areas. Like. It was like an Anne Frank story and and unlike, Anne Frank. The. Woman who had been living there, with. Her son managed. To survive and. It. Turned out that they had so little room was like being in a broom closet but. One of the things that, they, treasured. And cherished enough to have with them was. A book of Jewish joke so Jewish humor and. I tell that because in. Some ways I mean. Not because of the pain in that story because there is a lot of pain in that story but. Because it does in a way tell us something hopeful it tells us that we. Need humor, and it, tells us that humor, can keep us, in. Many instances alive. And kicking we hope and, vital, and may. It do the same for. All of you in your lives and you, had good fortune it's been a real pleasure to be here I'm not cutting it off because I was asked to take you an a but. You. Know I would let me actually end like the Jewish comics - you've been a great audience.