Jewish Comedy, Then and Now
Cranky essayist prefers the early, funny stuff
They’re both opening this Friday, but, otherwise, Aviva Kempner’s documentary Yoo Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg and Sacha Baron Cohen’s mockumentary Brüno have little in common. One’s a reverent tribute to Gertrude Berg, who the filmmaker argues was the inventor of the sitcom; the other is—well, you know. But an essay in the New York Press contends that, viewed side by side, the two films trace the decline of American Jewish comedy from the “time-honored humanity” of Berg to Baron Cohen’s “familiar snark.” Writer Armond White is right to note that Berg’s comedy was warm and empathic while Baron Cohen’s is spiky and sometimes cruel, but is this really, as he would have it, because of “contemporary Jewish comedy’s lack of ethnic confidence”? If anything, American comedy became so confidently Jewish so long ago that characters like Berg’s Molly Goldberg, a loud, proud Jewish mother, have been reheated ad infinitum. A cover story in New York magazine several weeks ago went so far as to say that, in the Forward’s paraphrase, Jews have in fact become “too secure” to be funny. Just like Berg in her day, Baron Cohen and prickly Jewish contemporaries like Sarah Silverman are pushing the envelope of Jewish representations beyond what’s already been done.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at email@example.com. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.