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

Live Blogging: A Guide to Jewish References in the Oscars Broadcast

Translations for the Hebraically challenged appear in purple.

*8:36 pm–Jon Stewart “Atonement captures the raw sexuality of Yom Kippur.” Yom Kippur is translated as the “Day of Atonement.”

8:40 pm–Jon Stewart “Gaydolf Titlar” Adolf Hitler was an infamous 1930s and 40s dictator with a bad mustache. Also a murderous antisemite.

8:47 pm–Bob Hope “Welcome to the Academy Awards, or as its called in my house Passover.” Passover seders tend to run a little long. Updated: Were told from the Washington Post live chat that this is actually a pun on the fact that Hope was perennially “passed-over” for an Oscar. This disqualifies the reference from being Jewish as we just don’t think puns are all that funny.

10:00 pm–Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen as Dame Judy Dench and Halle Berry. Not technically a Jewish reference except that instead of being classy and sexy they are chunky and Jewish.

10:43 pm–The Counterfeiters wins Best Foreign Film. The story of the counterfeiting operation at the Ravensbruck concentration camp — I saw the film last year at the Berlin Film Festival and thought it was amazing. Sony Pictures Classics which opened it this weekend in NY and LA will probably do a bigger rollout very soon. Too bad that Beaufort, from Israel didn’t win. It would have been nice to have a Jewish film not about the Holocaust win the Oscar. I guess the Academy just isn’t ready for Jews as soldiers–flawed ones at that.

10:52 pm–Spielberg talks about winning the Oscar for Schindler’s List and we get the delicious juxtaposition of him (in flashback) dedicating the award to the six million, and then declaring (in 2008) “It was the best night of my life.” Interesting editing choice.

10:56 pm–Most Menchlik Moment (M3) – Jon Stewart brings Markéta Irglová back onstage to say her brief thank you’s. Jon, your mother should be so proud.

11:01 pm–Kaddish

11:43 pm–The Coen Brothers win Best Director and Best Picture for No Country For Old Men (they picked up Best Adapted Screenplay earlier). They’ve recently signed-on to adapt Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union (see Shabbat Surfing).

11:48 pm–Roll credits. The show ends before midnight. We can all go to bed.

*All times Eastern

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