Jewish Humor: What’s So Funny?

When we set out looking for funny Jewish short stories to feature as part of the Opening Night of the Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, we ran into a problem– most of the stories we found funny, were really quite dark. In fact, while they had humorous moments, there was underlying the humor a kind of existential anxiety for which humor was the only suitable survival tactic. Jewish comedians are legendary and legion but there is a real difference between the stand-up tradition most popularly associated with the Catskills comics (along with their modern descendants Seinfeld, Stewart and Silverman) and the humor found in contemporary Jewish literature. The humor in this literature makes what would be depressingly tragic situations, like the Orthodox Jew playing Santa in Nathan Englander’s “Reb Kringle” or the malicious and all-too-present God in Shalom Auslander’s “Prophet’s Dilemma” bearable because in the midst of misery and crushed dreams, we laugh. It is this ability to be simultaneously funny and grim that is the keynote of some of the best Jewish fiction. We hope you’ll make it on Sunday, September 14 at 7:30pm to Laugh for God’s Sake: Humor in Jewish Literature an evening of dramatic readings of short stories by Nathan Englander, Shalom Auslander, Faye Moskowitz and Etgar Keret and performed by some of Washington’s best actors. For a fuller discussion of what we’re talking about, below is an interview Etgar Keret did on

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