Oy Meets World
A new documentary takes on Jewish humor
The history of Jewish comedy is one rich with satire, self-deprecation and no shortage of loudmouthed/bad cook/sexually frigid wife jokes. But what you might not realize is how dependent all comedians--Jewish and Gentile--are on the humor of the Borscht Belt (those old-school Catskills summer resorts).
A new documentary, opening tomorrow, brings light to this golden era of stand-up--and the legacy it left behind.
When Comedy Went to School begins with a discussion of Jewish humor’s ancient roots. (Apparently the name Isaac means “he shall laugh.”) But it doesn’t linger long in Biblical times before moving on to Yiddish Vaudeville and, of course, those iconic vacation hubs.
Through fantastic archival footage and interviews with folks like Jerry Stiller, Sid Caesar and Jackie Mason, When Comedy Went to School brings to life a bygone era of herring buffets, mischievous tummlers and fleeting summer romance. It’s also entirely worth watching for Larry King’s kind of unbelievable loss-of-virginity tale.
But more than anything, this is a film about funny--why having a shtick can make or break a comedian and how kvetching-as-theater entered the mainstream. Even when the times changed, and resorts like Kutsher’s and Grossinger’s went out of vogue, the traditions of Jewish humor soldiered on.