Kvetching and Shpritzing

Jewish Humor in American Popular Culture

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About the Book

Jewish humor, with its rational skepticism and cutting social criticism, permeates American popular culture. Scholars of humor—from Sigmund Freud to Woody Allen—have studied the essence of the Jewish joke, at once a defense mechanism against a hostile world and a means of cultural affirmation.
Where did this wit originate? Why do Jewish humorists work at the margins of so many diverse cultures? What accounts for the longevity of the Jewish joke? Do oppressed people, as African American author Ralph Ellison suggested, slip their yoke when they change the joke? Citing examples from prominent humorists and stand-up comics, this book examines the phenomenon of Jewish humor from its biblical origins to its prevalence in the modern diaspora, revealing a mother lode of wit in language, literature, folklore, music and history.

About the Author(s)

Joseph Dorinson, a professor of history, teaches at Long Island University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Joseph Dorinson
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: 9 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2015
pISBN: 978-0-7864-9482-8
eISBN: 978-1-4766-2056-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments vii

Foreword by Joseph Boskin 1

Preface 3

Introduction—Jewish Humor: Mechanism for Defense, Weapon for Cultural Affirmation 7

One. God, Jokes and Money: A Subversive Look at Jewish Humor 19

Two. Jewish Men and Women in Vaudeville 29

Three. Yiddish 47

Four. Funny Jews: Up from the Catskills—Danny Kaye and Sid Caesar 62

Five. Catskill Alumni from Brooklyn 86

Six. A Sacred Monster in Lamb’s Clothing: Jerry Lewis 99

Seven. Comedy’s Changing Landscape: Two Jews and a Black Crossover Artist 109

Eight. Jewish Humor in Literature 117

Nine. Dialectical Jewish Humor: Mickey Katz, Sam Levenson and Jackie Mason 132

Ten. Up from the Bronx: Red Buttons, Billy Crystal and Robert Klein 144

Eleven. Sitcoms from Benny to Seinfeld 156

Twelve. Shpritzing and Jiving: Jews and Blacks 170

Thirteen. Yip’s Rainbow: Songs of Social Significance 190

Fourteen. Coda: Around the World in Eighty Jokes Plus 201

Chapter Notes 213

Bibliography 230

Index 235


Book Reviews & Awards

“Jewish humor has remained alive and well in the United States, and Kvetcing and Shpritzing celebrates this phenomenon both thoroughly and enjoyably!”—Humor Journal Review; “fascinating work of history, scholarship, and philosophy”—Jewish Currents; “an invaluable history of important Jewish humorists in America that is at once enlightening and enjoyable. And it’s pretty funny, too”—Studies in American Humor; “Kvetching and Shpritzing is thought-provoking, meticulously researched, and by the way, funny as hell. I envy readers about to turn to page one.”—Lawrence Richards, Writer-Producer, When Comedy Went to School.