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amid thunder versus the university of texas at austin this season inquiring mind produced by public station in association with a news and information service at ut austin these discussions examining ideas and activities of a major university community yes over jewish comedy is no laughing matter that's when dr ester feed says about the subject and she should know better fix an assistant professor of oriental and african languages and literature at the university of texas at austin is teaching a course on jewish comic literature with me as nancy nash of the ut austin news service and dr peake says our guest what led you to make a statement like that that jewish common comedy is no laughing matter several reasons one major reason is that many
jokes and the funniest jokes actually attack problems that are extremely painful in terms of jewish history and jewish culture there are many jokes about anti semitism jokes about said the economic situation of that the jew was a pariah and into his outsider arm and the tension between jewish theory or tradition and the actual are historical predicaments of the jews all these things are being are used as subjects for jokes and these are extremely painful subjects it sounds like the jokes than preferred even though they are told by jews are often about jews and that the jews are the brunt of the jokes right and that's one of the major characteristics of jewish jokes is the air you can call it self deprecation or self criticism i many of the jokes so rebound there are no fire back at that getting porn percentages
within the jewish community such as rabbis and the ritual slaughter is a sharp turns and cell phones are matchmakers i'm ann and other important personalities and also many jokes and center on cultural quote unquote weaknesses as such as a guinea depends on the historical period at a certain set in the nineteenth century and the nineteenth century there were many jokes about jewish parochialism and gays they're the jewish ghetto in the end they were confined existence of the jewish state or in the twentieth century we get the opposite jokes against jewish assimilation as them and against the attempt to mimic the outside world in order to be successful and accepted so on it's really fascinating to to follow the the historical relationship
between jokes and the scenes they're attacking but you're writing very dr self critical that's one of the major characteristics what is there a cultural barrier and use humor do non jews on it you might well it's interesting that of course jewish comic schumer and jewish jokes in an comic tales like they found tales arm we're involved with indigenous community or not exposed to a larger non jewish community identity of the greats whiskey mind united states in the thirties and forties and it became especially popular in the sixties you can now any any list of comedians wood and clothes the fact that there are that to be eighty percent if not more of the comedians writers producers a tv personalities and so forth are jewish so that that indicates that it was except that the jewish arab good trance and a
barrier of course dr jokes they are an art to two specifically related to subject matter for instance sad and that fighting kurds say it is saying that you know may umma a child be called after you pay most a non jewish people would not understand that the major champion named for you named after you and the point is that it basically saying drop dead because su can only name a child after a father a father is dead now non jewish people would not think that out because it's a matter of you know culture its a different custom but most of the jokes to transcend the barriers and the fact of the matter is that many comedians don't necessarily even news particularly jewish subject matter is these structures they don't necessarily use themes like did i did i'd say woody allen first served as defender of the slimy only woody allen you know the constant failure failure after
success and an uneven success failure i bet i've seen the crops up in so many of his stance and in movies so no you see in this is you know one example give me an example is that mel brooks france and sat and as their routines of the funny man and the straight man ok so karl carl reiner would be the straight man and now works with the fannie mae know this i can see here i'm very characteristic structure of thesis antithesis in jewish jokes which dates back to tom you dick argumentation see no use a cell on the other hand we can look at this way on the other hand look at that what all these things are you know structures so maybe the themes don't touch and judaism anymore that much but the structures of the air the receiver will you just get two examples of movies and i'm wondering intercourse then you must not just told to i'm classic written works the lookout comics and films and other types of media as well yeah well thirteen thirteen that core of the
course that most of the material consists of literature and the fact is that we read dear five novels by jewish comic writers and dead and dead yet we have sessions joke sessions on but and we always supplements at the sessions on literature with fans and some live video tape take what are these jokes sessions like i won't walk when we do i pet salons sheets of of jokes at the students to read them and i am make myself little notes says to their response you know fifty foot get a good response are using next semester if not a lot and then i ask them why they find funny about that and that forces them to think we think the joke and see that in most of the cases it's not at all funny and a few we structured the joke can be pretty painful comment on life into his life
this is mostly what the joke sessions consistent actually now i would assume these are mainly american indian american and they found was that it was mostly mostly yes in fact i'm some jokes did not goldfarb i had to explain certain jokes especially a culturally and historically and i explain why they actually had to laugh but then that i don't normally have to do that normally be had the ones with the big d burst out laughing then they stop listen and ask them why they left so it's really more of a black humor many of the jokes are not all of them but that many are doing that again another characteristic is their tickets sam it's a tragic comedy mostly jokes or tragic comedies and most of the walks and that we examined class are at reagan in a comic fashioned but the are really tragedies that we we
do it mandela most else falling out the travels of that benjamin the ferret which is about to die jewel tries to either escape began to leave me to get i'm going to be real world and find the ten lost tribes of the israelites ok now now he's very easy meal you know is these funny does the wrong thing the wrong time he has no conception of geography is no conception of politics it is no what is going on that you know you when you start a farm in and ask yourself you know what what especially towards the end of of the novel when they get abducted him and to military service and forced to the gays the will to not to do military service you realize their town it's really not that funny that epa does a picture of a jewish diaspora for thuan le hundreds of years and they are desperate attempt to be considered the equal to be accepted by an outside society and of being able to but being forced to do thanks again
so we'll sauce post the seriousness of it is one reason want to scalia's different from the others i guess yeah and this is the i would say this is what it means this is one of the major characteristics of the of the tragedy the undertone of of tragedy in most of these comedies and other one is what we already mentioned this self criticism there's also an aspect of intimacy and in many of these jokes it sounds as though there's an important quality of being able to laugh at yourself and your predicament i think this ability helped jews call a psychologically the way that many of the store go predicaments they had to live through i think the ability to look at oneself and say okay i know all this is what you think of me ok explain this we said the jews joke eh is similar to a person taking a dagger and sharpening it
and they are stabbing himself and taking out and give it to the non jew and saying ok try to make it better trying to do it better so i mean i think exaggerates a little bit it's not no it's not that masochistic but i think the ad they're ready to see yourself through somebody else's eyes to see itself through an outsider's eye eyes i held them cope because they've exercised their fears and their anxieties by joking about it actually made a statement saying that we are all we're of the situation and we can laugh it off he has some kind of them a literary definition of comedy hour and think that and i think it's the greek official term comedies really weren't necessarily funny they just had a happy ending or a good ending it was resolved without the protagonist dying that sort of thing do you you've told to err err classical term or as comedy
just reflecting human eye in my courses i in fact been faced on not defining add the structure of comedy according to all these rules and regulations of a happy ending and so forth just because it won't work for jewish comedy it won't work because that most happy endings are very bitter they seemed to be happy about one of the constant says the characteristics that we find is is what we talked about the ambivalence of the tragic comic lands and so i keep away from these definitions i do go into the finishers of laughter i why do we laugh we know the mechanisms that make us laugh and of course here i use of riding a few reasons books on and freud in and five on and so forth i do in baghdad that when he comes to actually the structure of the capitol see
comedy i'm being i'm doing exactly the opposite and asking them to look at it from a tragic point of view as well and you know i might veer fry math the close old definitions and allies asians as much as i can because it just does not fit this particular case you're listening to the inquiry mind our guest is dr ester fuchs assistant professor of oriental and african languages and literature is that ut austin speaking about our course on jewish humor i like to read a few examples i think it's a good way to get into it how one of the first things says no you have to spend many hours in a soft chair at your dentist why is it that we would certainly there isn't a tragedy in that and yet it sounds like that of humorous thing to say to someone aha well of course you know when we did the destruction consists of the conflict you know you tell someone to rest on a soft jeremy been
excepted as a blessing or you know i'm an expression of goodwill and the ending in the end bear act and the dentist grows reverses this whole thing this is a universal pattern of joke i'd say in august the internal contradiction but there was something about the jewish kurds that makes it i'm funny and just because of this structure i am just because of the sudden reversal the personal here is that the kurds lutz is not is not offended you just makes him laugh out many of the of the jokes are so extra i'm sorry the crisis to extract again and so few radical that you can't tell but laughing be you can you can see through the job and that the cursor doesn't really mean it will just want to express some mango so it's really more playful thing it's a playful courtesy apple watch curses anyone who hadn't curses company well i guess it's it's an expression of of aggression towards
an intimate relatives mostly better leave all this started with the mother telling her son you know i may such and such happened to you god forbid ok an aunt or already you know someone else within that within the family now that bed that evolved for from the very day intimate june eight years at another one to jews are sitting silently over a glass of tea you know us as the first man alive is like a glass of tea with sugar a glass it was sugar as his friend while you say that passion on our prize the first man one of my philosopher ok well this is said jokes that job belongs to the category i that i call logic jewish logic and it said fed arises a tendency to philosopher eyes and to be over least sophisticated about certain arguments that matters and that goes back a long way to it tom new data
argumentation zahn damn good day and joking aspect of it goes to it goes back to the eighteenth century wearing these argumentation is out and the discusses the dumb ruediger discusses there were big discussions were gone when each shield for the ear aches fan fave light it for four the logic was saul conflict eighty eight they've you know it ended up being and turn into a butt of a joke so here someone tries to add that digital office in territory our life is such and such and when he's actually defied asked to define our weighty what he means by that it we can't do it so you know it is it's an offshoot it's not the real thing they're there's some really inviting example virtually at work out what about this one a pool may is absurd staying in admiration at the large and ornate tombstone of the riches maintain he shakes his head slowly in matters now that's what i call a living in
a war that day well at my and of course any way i categorize it as it as the economic jokes there there's a welter of material on their own that's an especially addressing the gap between rich people and poor people in the community and offended the vast majority of the jewish community traditionally historically especially in europe were paupers beggars and job that many jokes with flat the gap between the classes and also reflect the way in which these poppers manage to cope with the situation this is actually a self derision you know we're a poor man saying be at the absurdity of being jealous arc a rich man really the bottom line as always get exactly the bottom line of the joke is that there's nothing to be jealous of you know you both demand up in the same place or you know even the witch
man is standing underneath your feet in the moment so that interest and that's me though because of the phrase that's really living thing that's a phrase so sarah mean he's talking a largely aren't nice to stand now and then there's a sort of a pun apply or were exactly there is that of course you know the fact that the guy's not living a player i mean he's talking about it meant that day and they're really ridiculous is the mindset of these self pitying poor man feels they're all jia now look at me and look again they've begun they are those two who guided that's what i call a living and it was the joke was versus the situation and tourism into the butt of the joke there's one on religion says a man was boasting about the piety of his rabbi my rabbi may you live to be a hundred twenty is so pious a fast every day except of course for saturday's holiday is how can that be true asked his friend why just this morning i saw your rabbi eating breakfast that shows you how much you know upon the first man you see my rabbis very modest about his piety if he eats it's only the hyper
mothers the fact that he's fast in a song then goes back to the historical phenomena and get them started pretty much at the end of the seventeenth century and to the head rise of coffee days i'm in judaism and be competitive in as the competition that arose between different coffee the group's different groups of jews that followed difference and became leaders i everyone boasted about his own leader and everyone tried to outdo this is sarah palin on the other that group and dad this joke in fact barrett reflects the absurdity of all of this competition and also the yawn didn't did the gullibility of the followers the subject of surprises me and then i would think brandeis would be so venerated and you know that that it's a thriller they too sacred to the job to that but obviously we see him here is nothing to say definitively joked about in jewish jokes and drew him into a
metaphor i mean nothing is outside of the confines of jokes including an anti semitism a mandate and and rabbis or even the torah in even got hanged back down one of the jokes that goes dear god you've you've chosen as from all the people and this is a quotation from the bible and then it continues why did you have to choose that's ok there are many jokes francis about they even get the israeli another country the holy land i'll wear it divide within as moses which country would you like to pick and moses said that a modern typical mo and moses going to say can add any significant well he was a stutterer you know according to the texas a kkk can you didn't finish in the nightlife and he meant can and then died less interested and gave him kamen instead right so i had the
and there's no limit to really everything is exposed widely exposed to two joking i think it's it's an indication of of strength isn't the ones that we've got over we had daily things like eating and drinking and sending a sample of ice t and then we got a life in death than religion and everything mothers about how jewish humor historically a dog did it change it shorted the holocaust it's amazing in fact i'm working now on a mini anthology of holocaust jokes jokes they'd just told themselves in concentration camps and in the ghettos and andy's exist exist believe it or not there was many jokes on now on nazis in the nazi period that you have several examples vieira man daddy are these aren't just offshoots of the anti semitic category of the jokes but they are
also specifically caucus jokes that are a pretty gruesome you know you wouldn't think it would be every possible to crack jokes and says circumstances by joan rivers said and one and in interviews she gave that that if she were to walk through the chambers she would crack jokes all the way john anderson air and selling haiti can i've been one example an elderly due in berlin find himself surrounded by a group of raucous nazis not into the ground and asked derisively you know who was responsible for the war will do is no fool the jews he replies and the bicycle riders why the bicycle riders as the nazis by the jews cameras the homeland like that's that's one from that period that is pretty much in an offshoot of a whole category of the jokes to deal with the anti semitic phenomena in general why is the jewish culture susceptible to human is it something that is unique in some fashion that they can take all those important aspects of their culture and their wife and make light of a ha it's it's an interesting
question several scholars of been working on and given us different pieces and different interpretations of this phenomena ernest simone francis feels that it has a lot to do with their language with a hebrew language internet i translate to human translates to english and it's ripe it's see that's right right that's now his thesis anyway is linguistic and then the beginnings and know the beginnings of the phenomenon goes back to the hebrew language that has nouns and verbs which mean opposite thanks our guest conductor esther fuchs assistant professor of oriental and african languages and literature is at ut austin speaking on jewish comedy and catchy clever for an inquiring mind now that you've been listening to the inquiry line a series of programs about the members of the major university community their ideas and opinions
expressed in this programme and not necessarily reflect the views of the university of texas at austin inquiring mind is produced by public station them in association with the news and information service and distributed by the center for telecommunication services all at the university of texas at austin pat do with disease the longhorn radio network ms
The Inquiring Mind
Jewish Humor
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KUT Longhorn Radio Network
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KUT Radio (Austin, Texas)
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Host Kathy Glover talks with Dr. Esther Fuchs, Asst. Prof. of Oriental and African Languages and Literature at UT Austin. They speak about the structure and history of Jewish humor, and exemplify different types of jokes.
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Jewish Humor
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Copyright Holder: KUT
Guest: Dr. Esther Fuchs
Moderator: Kathy Glover
Producing Organization: KUT Longhorn Radio Network
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KUT Radio
Identifier: KUT_001296 (KUT Radio)
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Duration: 00:25:00
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Chicago: “The Inquiring Mind; Jewish Humor,” 1982-10-26, KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 21, 2024,
MLA: “The Inquiring Mind; Jewish Humor.” 1982-10-26. KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 21, 2024. <>.
APA: The Inquiring Mind; Jewish Humor. Boston, MA: KUT Radio, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from