There’s a bit in The Simpsons when Homer is confronted with the fact that, unknown to him, Crusty The Clown is Jewish. As if to illustrate the point that many famous American performers are also Jewish although not widely known by the public, the examples of ‘Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Mel Brooks’ are quoted. To this a flabergasted Homer replies ‘Mel Brooks is Jewish?’
Now that’s a Jewish joke! Ofcourse the world of comedy, like bespoke tailoring, corporate law and the diamond trade, is largely a Jewish ghetto. Therefore these gently self-mocking jokes at ideas of Jewishness is largely contained within a closed world of Yiddish humour. The joke in the Crusty episode, itself a skit on Neil Diamond’s film ‘The Jazz Singer’ was that Mel Brooks is so Jewish no-one could mistake him for anything else, whereas Kirk and Lauren hardly fitted the Nebbish stereotype.
It’s ofcourse OK to pinpoint these prejudices about ethnic and racial prejudices if, like Matt Groening or the South Park mob you belong to the ethnic group yourself. Chris Rock can crack ‘nigger’ jokes whereas Jim Davidson can’t. Jo Brand can crack ‘fatty’ gags and Frank Carson can crack ‘Paddy’ jokes. Likewise Jewish comedians like Jackie Mason can base their entire career around concepts of kosherness. In that he’s competing with the likes of Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor whose material rarely strayed very far from their experiences as members of an oppressed or atleast patronised racial minority within the WASP establishment of the US.
In the UK, Sacha Baron Cohen has made a fortune from provoking ideas of ethnic identity. Ali G was a ‘white’ Jewish comedian playing an Asian interviewer with afro-caribbean mannerisms and speech patterns. Although there have many competing ideas of Ali’s racial identity, to me it was obvious the character was Indo-Asian; his name’s Ali for a fucking start and he refers to ‘Pakis’ (‘what class is a Paki?’) and his (tri-sexual) Uncle Jamal (‘he’ll try anything sexual!’). Borat took it one stage further exposing the anti-semitism of rednecks by posing as an Eastern European pogrom enthusiast himself. Can a Yid crack Paki gags or is it best left to ‘Pakis’ themselves to do the Paki jokes?
Fellow Haberdasher Asker schoolmate, David Baddiel once wrote a Guardian article concerning racial stereotyping, stating that it wasn’t racist to say that black athletes were superior to white ones beause blacks were genetically pre-programmed to be good runners and jumpers and so forth. He also pointed out things Jews were genetically good at; lending money, patronising black folks etc. I wrote a letter to the Guardian reminding him of one traditonal Jewish quality his piece excluded; comedy. The genes must’ve skipped a generation in his case. Brrr-tish!
So can you tell if someone is Jewish just by looking at them? Is that not simply conforming the same crude stereotyping of Nazi propaganda or just stating the bleeding obvious as Baddiel did. There are some people who become the target of anti-semites even though they’re not Jewish. Media types such as Mark Lawson and Jeremy Paxman in particular get regular anti-semitic outbursts thrown at them. Lawson perhaps because of his name (he gets lumped in with those ‘other’ Lawsons, the Nigels and Nigellas) rather than any overtly ‘Jewish’ physical feature. Paxman because, well, Paxman sounds like a Jewish name (just as anything with the word Law is also typically Jewish) and Jezza’s haughty, sneering, domineering attitude are felt to be well, typically Jewish. Plus have you seen the size of his snoz?
Yes, this is all very stereotypical, insulting stuff but it works both ways. American comic Doug Stanhope’s routine ‘fuck the jews’ makes some pertinant points about the very concept of Jewish identity being as fanciful and abstract as any other bogus method of attaching meaning to our basic humanity. Thus typical ‘Jewish’ qualities such as ‘guilt’ are rendered as absurd as ‘Libra’ qualities….’here’s my Jewish guilt coming out’ or ‘that’s the Libra in me coming out.’ Stanhope reduces it all to Darwinian logic ‘here’s my ape coming out’ as he throws shit at people refuting any idea of genetic inheritance..’maybe you suffer from guilt because…..you’re guilty!’ He also points out that his brother had to convert to Judaism before being accepted by his wife’s family, making Jews y’know ‘racist.’
So, humour can’t be hardwired into a person’s DNA any more than neurosis but maybe there’s something in the nurture that breeds the Lenny Bruces and Woody Allens and er, Bernie Winters of this world. There’s no escaping the fact that someone like Sarah Silverman could only be the product of a particular strain of American Jewish comedy. Do any other racial/ethnic group provide as many funny female comedians or performers as American Jews? Joan Rivers ofcourse perfected that tough, smart sassy delivery over the past 30 years and it’s a style very much in keeping with the aggressive intellectualism and wise-ass bitchiness of Jewish humour. There’s a lot of paranoid introspection going on in keeping with the Freudian/Jungian school of Jewish psychoanalysis. Woody Allen to woman in art gallery
‘What are you doing Saturday night?’
‘What about Friday?’
Sarah Silverman is the latest self-absorbed young princess to establish herself as a Jewish woman with moxy. She mocks Martin Luther King and says she too has had a dream but in her dream a shark with braces on its teeth attacks her in a swimming pool….see Dr King you’re not that fucking special! She can’t believe she’s shitting on MLK but there again ‘they only tell you the good stuff, they never mention he was a litter bug.’ Pure Jew gag and as a gentile, I feel no shame or guilt in cracking that line. Lenny Bruce I feel would love Stanhope’s routine for its confrontational approach just as Tommy Tiernan’s digs would also amuse him. ‘The Jews killed Jesus? Well it wasn’t the fucking Mexicans!’ is only a version of Bruce’s ‘We killed Jesus and when he comes back we’re going kill the shmuck again’ although Tommy’s holocaust rant ‘I would’ve got 12 million in, two by two leave your teeth and glasses at the door’ was pushing the envelope a little too far in the direction of denial territory. When does Ricky Gervais’s skit on Hitler using Neitzsche as a scapegoat for the holocaust (beyond good and evil, man and superman, kill the jews, love all that!) become a more sinister statement of personal prejudices? Gervais ofcourse uses so-called ‘politically incorrectness’ as his main recurring theme; cripples, spastics, Jews, Pakis, they’re all used even if its behind a thin veneer of irony. ‘I wouldn’t say these words but my ‘character’ might’ is a get out of jail card that can only be used so many times.
I’m with Stanhope in that I believe in the myth of racial origin; go far enough back in time and the Semites and the Aryans and the Nubians and the Mayans are all the offspring of some wandering band of semi-neanderthal minstrels grunting along the coastline in their mammoth skin espadrilles. Yet over the 10,000 years of recorded history certain offshoots of that travelling circus have evolved to be faster and stronger and smarter than others. Like it or not the Jews or whatever the descendants of Shem may wish to call themselves, may not win many gold medals in track and field but they know how to get a laugh with a wise ass gag.