Jewish Comedy: A Serious History

Jeremy Dauber. Norton, $28.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-24787-9
Yiddish expert Dauber pulls off the impressive feat of discussing humor without sucking the life out of it in this insightful and funny analysis of Jewish humor. He identifies seven strands of Jewish humor: responses to persecution, satires of Jewish norms, intellectual wordplay, vulgar and raunchy humor, ironic and metaphysical humor, folksy and quotidian humor, and humor about “the blurred and ambiguous nature of Jewishness itself.” He devotes a chapter to each, making clear the significance of their differences, and using many examples to demonstrate his points. Nothing is off-limits, and Dauber is a fine guide to laughter in the face of mortal threats, such as Israeli high school students joking that they will meet again on a memorial plaque or Holocaust victims discussing a reunion as soap in a shop window. In his section on parody, Dauber discusses how the Book of Jonah anticipates The Producers in its plot of “someone who tried to make a failure by doing everything wrong” but ended up succeeding. From the Book of Esther to Seinfeld and Rachel Bloom, Dauber has provided a comprehensive examination of his subject that could well be the gold standard for undertanding what people of any ethnicity, nationality, or political persuasion find funny, and why. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/14/2017
Release date: 10/31/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
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