Jeremy grew up about ten minutes away from the George Washington Bridge, in a modern Orthodox Jewish community in New Jersey; went to Harvard, where, upbringing notwithstanding, read authors like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Philip Roth for the first time and got hooked; went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship and wrote about Hebrew and Yiddish literature – and while there, wrote the libretto for an opera that played in Boston and a movie that screened at the Cannes market (you can still find it bouncing around the lower cable channels late at night); came back to America and took a job at Columbia, where he now teaches about, among other things, Dostoevsky, Mel Brooks, graphic novels, and Sholem Aleichem. He used to write a column for the Christian Science Monitor on TV and movies that was recognized, a few years back, by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.
Jewish Comedy: A Serious History
A rich account of Jewish humor: its nature, its development, and its vital role throughout Jewish history.
In a major work of scholarship both erudite and very funny, Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber traces the origins of Jewish comedy and its development from biblical times to the age of Twitter. Organizing the product of Jews’ comic imagination over continents and centuries into what he calls the seven strands of Jewish comedy―including the satirical, the witty, and the vulgar―he traces the ways Jewish comedy has mirrored, and sometimes even shaped, the course of Jewish history. Persecution, cultural assimilation, religious revival, diaspora, Zionism―all of these, and more, were grist for the Jewish comic mill; and Dauber’s book takes readers on the tour of the funny side of some very serious business. (And vice versa.)
In a work of dazzling scope, readers will encounter comic masterpieces here that range from Talmudic rabbi jokes to medieval skits, Yiddish satires and Borscht Belt routines to scenes from Seinfeld and Broad City, and the book of Esther to Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song.” Dauber also explores the rise and fall of popular comic archetypes such as the Jewish mother, the Jewish American Princess, and the schlemiel, the schlimazel, and the schmuck, and the classic works of such masters of Jewish comedy as Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, Franz Kafka, the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, Philip Roth, Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, and Larry David, among many others.
Jewish comedy, as Dauber writes, is serious business. And precisely what it is, how it developed, and how its various strands weave together and in conversation with the Jewish story: that’s Jewish Comedy.