Just in time for Chanukah or if you’re that way inclined, Christmas.
THE JEWISH JOKE: AN ESSAY WITH EXAMPLES (LESS ESSAY, MORE EXAMPLES) gives us historical and cultural essay exemplified by hysterical cultural examples. I’ve been working non start all day to come up with that tautology.
Author Devorah Baum tells us, if Jews love anything, it’s telling the difference. How do you tell the difference is the Jewish question par excellence and the standard question of any number of classical jokes.
So each of her twenty-four chapters, including introduction, begin with the words, How do you tell the difference between….
The commentary is interesting but the examples are what make this compendium of comedy, this gaggle of gags, this journal of jokes so compulsively readable.
Baum leads with Woody Allen segues into Jerry Seinfeld and burrows into Lenny Bruce, concentrating mostly on post Holocaust humour.
She quotes the holocaust survivor and novelist Aharon Appelfeld who has written of how immediately after the war the victims of the camps were unable to talk about their experiences with each other directly other than through grotesque comic performances, possibly because it was the only genre that acknowledged the sheer impossibility of representing what the victims had lived through……
Example: Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel gets up to heaven, meets God. He tells God a holocaust joke. God doesn’t laugh. Wiesel shrugs: I guess you had to be there!
Of course, it’s not just the Holocaust that has shaped Jewish humour, as God’s victims have a history of eternal diaspora, matriarchal and mercantile issues, superstition and tradition.
Start worrying. Details to follow.
Devorah Baum seeks to put the joke on the couch but Sigmund Freud she is not.
Better to buy this book for the jokes, not the analyses, the examples not the essays.
Best read backwards, THE JEWISH JOKE by Devorah Baum is published by Profile Books.