Jewish-American comedy

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American-Jewish comedy is, in part, a continuation of the traditional role of humor in Jewish culture among historical and contemporary American performers. It has appealed to both Jewish and wider mainstream audiences.[1] At various times in American history, the field of comedy has been dominated by Jewish comedians.[2]


The Borscht Belt arose in the early 20th century out of the tradition of Yiddish theater, in Jewish resort areas in the Catskill Mountains in New York. Many of the most famous Jewish comedians of the twentieth century launched their careers there.[3] Many of the comedians gained a wider mainstream audience with the rise of Vaudeville.[4]

Until recent years, most Jewish comedians adopted stage names that did not sound ethnic, as a way of gaining wider acceptance.[3] Even among those who did not want to be considered Jewish comedians, their experiences as Jews were often included their humor, including their moral sensibility.[3]

Themes and styles[edit]

Some common themes among American Jewish comedians include their heritage as Jews,[1] experience of living between two worlds (ethnic and mainstream),[1] anxiety of living as a minority in America[1] and the foibles of American culture.[1] Jewish comedy has often featured ridicule and insult jokes, including insulting other minority groups.[2]

Characteristics of comedians include wit,[1] verbal skills,[1] self-mockery,[1] and a "critical edge".[1]

Women in Jewish-American humor[edit]

Whereas women had not been prominent in comedic roles in Europe, the changing roles of Jewish women in America allowed for the emergence of a class of female Jewish comedians, who have focused on their perspective as women, often adopting a feminist position.[1]

Representative examples[edit]

Following is a partial list of notable Americans for whom Jewishness is relevant to their role as comedians or humorists.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am Antler, Joyce. "The Gift of Jewish Women's Comedy". Jewish Women's Archive. 
  2. ^ a b Goldsmith, Aleza (December 21, 2001). "Prolific professor takes serious look at Jewish funny men in new book". Jewish Weekly Bulletin. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Yarrow, Allison Gaudet (June 7, 2010). "The Man Who Wanted To Be Woody Allen". Jewish Daily Forward. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Epstein, Lawrence J. (2002). The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1586481622. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Arthur Asa Berger (2001). Jewish Jesters. Hampton Press. 
  6. ^ Joost, Wesley (19 October 2002). "It's a MAD World". Retrieved 30 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Vincent, Stuart. (Oct. 5, 1992). "Mr. Thursday Night. The Comic’s Comic", Newsday, p. 48-49, 51.
  8. ^ Gluck, Robert (6 September 2014). "From ‘Star Trek’ to one-man show, William Shatner stays in the limelight". Retrieved 6 September 201.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)