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Michael Krasny digs into Jewish humor

What does Jewish humor tell us about Jews now and in generations past? If you’re Michael Krasny, host of KQED-FM Radio’s “Forum,” author, professor of literature at SF State University and Sherith Israel congregant, a lot!

Michael will speak at Sherith Israel on Saturday, March 4 at 7 pm. He’ll regale us with wit and wisdom from his new book, Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means. 

A native of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Michael has been telling Jewish jokes since his bar mitzvah. It’s been said he knows more of them than anyone on the planet. He certainly states his case in his enlightening and hilarious book that collects the best of Jewish humor passed down from generation to generation and explains the cultural expressions and anxieties behind the laughs. 

“What’s Jewish Alzheimer’s?” “You forget everything but the grudges.”

In Let There Be Laughter, Michael delves deeply into the themes, topics and form of Jewish humor: chauvinism undercut by irony and self-mockery, the fear of losing cultural identity through assimilation, the importance of vocal inflection in joke-telling, and calls to communal memory, including the use of Yiddish.

A lot of Jewish humor comes out of suffering, Michael pointed out to Scott Simon on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday.” As Jews became more prosperous and secular, as they became more assimilated, the nature of Jewish humor changed. “And it changed to the point where you see almost the alternative of suffering.”

American humor has been greatly influenced by Jewish humor, Michael says. “You think about all of the extraordinary number of Jewish stand-up comics that have been dominant in terms of American comedy, you think of shows like ‘Seinfeld.’ And it almost stands to reason that American humor would, in some ways, take on so much of the nuances and coloration of Jewish humor. You take a Woody Allen and Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar and so forth. That’s the American locus, often, for humor.”

At a time when many Americans see troubling uncertainty in the future, Jewish humor reminds us of our priorities. 

“You must be so proud. Your daughter is the President of the United States!” “Yes. But her brother is a doctor!”

Sat, December 16 2017 28 Kislev 5778