This and That
Issue: 2.06  
June-01-01
Who is a Comedian?

Jackie Mason says: "A normal person wouldn't become a comedian. The egomania, the neurosis, the need to overcompensate, the feeling that life is meaningless without stardom - it's too much suffering."

So who becomes a comedian? Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Lenny Bruce, Jerry Seinfeld, the list goes on and on. There must be a reason here as well to explain not only why there are so many Jewish comedians today, but also why Jews throughout the ages have been known for their humor.

Maybe Mel Brooks understood it best: "I may be angry at G-d or at the world, and I'm sure that a lot of my comedy is based on anger and hostility...It comes from a feeling that as a Jew and as a person, I don't fit into the mainstream of American society."

Feeling different, feeling alienated, feeling persecuted, feeling that the only way you can deal with the world is to laugh - because if you don't laugh you're going to cry and never stop crying - that's probably what's responsible for the Jews having developed such a great sense of humor. The people who had the greatest reason to weep, learned more than anyone else how to laugh. With that said, here is just a taste of some of the many great Jewish comedians of our time:

  Bud Abbott (mother was Jewish, Abbott & Costello)
Woody Allen (Born Konigsberg)
Marty Allen
Jason Alexander (Greenspan)
Tom Arnold (converted to Judaism, has some Jewish lineage)
Joey Adams (born Abramowitz, converted to Christian Science)
Bea Arthur (born Bernice Frankel, Golden Girls, Maud)
Ed Asner (Lou Grant, Bronx Zoo)
Hank Azaria
Roseanne Barr
Richard Belzer
Richard Benjamin
Jack Benny (Benjamin Kubelsky)
Milton "Uncle Miltie" Berle (Berlinger)
Sandra Bernhard
Joey Bishop (the only living member of the "Rat Pack")
Elayne Boosler
Victor Borge (Danish Jew, Rosenbaum)
David Brenner
Fanny Brice (Borach)
Matthew Broderick (mother is Jewish, same as wife, Sarah Jessica Parker)
Albert Brooks (Einstein)
Mel Brooks (Kaminsky)
George Burns (Nathan Birnbaum)
Red Buttons (Aaron Chwatt)
Lenny Bruce (Born Leonard Alfred Schneider)
Eddie Cantor (Iskowitch)
Andrew Dice Clay (Silverstein)
Sid Ceasar
Billy Crystal
Rodney Dangerfield (Jacob Cohen, later changed it to Jack)
Larry David (seinfeld creator/producer, star of "Curb your enthusiasm")
Fran Drescher
Marty "googly eyes" Feldman
Fyvush Finkel
Al Franken
Mitchell Friedman (Voted #1 Jewish Comic by the Young Jewish Alliance in 1999)
Jackie Gayle
Brad Garrott (Gerstenfeld, "Everybody Loves Raymond")
Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H)
Gilbert Gottfried
Elliott Gould
Ellen Greene (Little Shop Of Horrors)
Shecky Greene
Steve Guttenberg
Buddy Hackett
Goldie Hawn
Buck Henry (Zuckerman)
Michael J. Herman ("The Next Big Thing" according to the LA Times)
Danny Hoch
Gabriel Kaplan
Jonathan Katz (Dr. Katz, comedy central)
Andy Kaufman
Danny Kaye (Kaminsky)
Richard Kind
Andy Kindler
Alan King
Robert Klein
Jack Klugman (Odd Couple)
Lisa Kudrow
Carol Liefer
Jerry Lewis (Jerome Levitch)
Richard Lewis
Shari Lewis (Hurwitz, "Lambchops")
Hal Linden (Barney Miller)
Jon Lovitz
Mal Z. Lawrence
Norman Lear (creator of The Jeffersons, All In The Family, Good Times)
Bill Maher (mother is Jewish)
Howie Mandel
  Sally Marr (Lenny Bruce's mother, Joan Rivers portrayed her on Broadway)
Marc Marron
The Marx Brothers
Jackie Mason (Maza)
Walter Matthau (Matuschanskayasky)
Elaine May (May/Nichols)
Anne Meara (Stiller/Meara, converted to Judaism)
Lorne Michaels (Lipowitz)
Marilyn Michaels
Larry Miller
Rick Moranis (Ghostbusters, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, Little Shop of Horrors)
Zero Mostel
Taylor Negron (mother is Jewish)
Mike Nichols (filmmaker, The Graduate, The Bird Cage, born Peschwosky)
Super Dave Osbourne (brother of Albert Brooks, born Einstein)
Kevin Pollak
Sarah Jessica Parker (mother is Jewish, same as hubby, Matthew Broderick)
Rhea Pearlman
Freddie Prinze Sr. (father was Hungarian Jew)
Freddie Prinze Jr.
Gilda Radner
Harold Ramis (actor/director, Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Groundhog Day)
Tony Randall (Rosenberg)
Carl Reiner
Rob Reiner
Paul Reiser
Paul Reubens (born Rubenfeld, aka Pee Wee Herman)
Don Rickles
The Ritz Brothers
Joan Rivers (Molinsky)
Freddy Roman
Rita Rudner
Bob Saget
Mort Sahl
Soupy Sales (Supman)
Adam Sandler
Rob Schneider (half-Jew)
Sherwood Schwartz (Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch)
Robert Schimmel
David Schwimmer
George Segal
Jerry Seinfeld
Harry Shearer
Sarah Silverman
Mitzi Shore (owner of The Comedy Store)
Pauly Shore (son of Sammy & Mitzi)
Sammy Shore
Gary Shandling
Bobby Slayton (father is Jewish)
Barry Sobel
David Steinberg
Matt Stone (Southpark)
Yakoff Smirnoff ("What a Country!")
Jerry Stiller (Stiller/Meara)
Ben Stiller
Peter Sellers (mother was Jewish)
Howard Stern (contrary to his popular "half-Jew" shtick, Howie is a full blooded Jew)
Jon Stewart (Leibowitz)
Teller ("Penn & Teller, born Raymond Teller, father is Jewish)
Brother Theodore (Born Gottlieb, frequent favorite of David Letterman)
The Three Stooges (Horowitz)
Bruce Vilanch
Gene Wilder (Jerome Silberman)
Billy Wilder (Some Like It Hot)
Henry Winkler ("The Fonz" on Happy Days)
Robert Wuhl
Henny Youngman

Based on the accomplishments of individual Jews, Nobel Prize winners and heroes of modern culture, as well as the amount of attention Jews get in the media, you'd never believe the correct answers: There are little more than 13 million Jews in the world, comprising less than 1/4 of 1% of the world's population!!!!

Do you think it's just a coincidence? Twenty-one percent of Nobel Prize winners have been Jews, even though Jews comprise less than one-quarter of one percent of the world's population. Choose any field, and you will find that Jews have excelled in it.

Think of the names of many modern-day figures most responsible for the intellectual turning points in history - MARX, FREUD, EINSTEIN - and you will find proof of the Biblical verdict: "Surely this is...a wise and understanding people." There simply is no way to deny it.
Jews really are smart. There must be a reason - and I can give you three:

HEREDITY, ENVIRONMENT and A UNIQUE VALUE SYSTEM:

HEREDITY - Historians have pointed out a fascinating difference between Jews and Christians. In Christianity, as well as in many other religions, holiness was identified with asceticism, great spirituality with the practice of celibacy. For centuries the finest minds among Christians were urged to join the church and become priests. That effectively condemned their genetic pool of intelligence to an untimely end. Jews, on the other hand, took quite seriously the first commandment to mankind - to be fruitful and multiply. Sex was never seen as sinful, but rather as one of those things created by God that he surely must have had in mind when he declared, in reviewing his work, that "Behold everything was very good."

Among Jews, the most intelligent were encouraged to become religious leaders. As rabbis, they had to serve as role models for their congregants as procreators and "fathers of their countries." Brains got passed on from generation to generation, and Jews today are still reaping the benefits of the frequent sexual activities of their ancestors.

ENVIRONMENT - If challenge and response are the keys to creativity and achievement, it's no surprise that Jews are smart; they've been challenged more than anyone else on earth. The school of hard knocks is a wonderful teacher. Jews had no choice but to learn to be better than anyone else since the odds were always so very much stacked against them. When you're born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you tend to get fat and lazy. When you're born with the lash of a whip on your back, you quickly learn to become crafty, street smart, and knowledgeable in everything that will help you make it through life.

A UNIQUE VALUE SYSTEM - We still haven't touched on the most important reason of all. Jews are smart because they have been raised in a tradition that treasures education above everything else, that considers study the highest obligation of mankind, and that identifies the intellect as part of us created in "the image of God." To be illiterate was unheard of in the Jewish world, not only because it was a sign of stupidity, but, more significantly, because it was a sin.

Jews are obligated by law to review the Bible in its entirety every year, dividing it into manageable weekly sections. The widespread custom when a child turned three years old was to write the letter of the Hebrew alphabet on a board in honey and have the child learn them as he licked them off, equating their meaning with the taste of sweetness. Jews studied the Midrash, and it taught them: The Sword and the Book came from Heaven together, and the Holy One said: "Keep what is written in this Book or be destroyed by the other."

Jews studied the Mishra and it taught them, "Say not when I have leisure I will study; you may not have leisure." The Jews absorbed the teachings of the Ethics of The fathers, and they understood its insight, "If you have acquired knowledge, what do you lack? If you lack knowledge, what have you acquired?"

Philosophical Tevye, that delightful creation of the Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem and the star of Fiddler On The Roof, explained that Jews always wear hats because they never know when they will be forced to travel. What he didn't say, which is probably more important, is that they always made sure to have something under their hats and inside of their heads - because physical possessions could be taken from them, but what they accumulated in their minds would always remain the greatest "merchandise" a Jew possesses.

   
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