Laughter and Trembling: Jewish Humor in the 20th and 21st Centuries
Monica Osborne, Ph.D.
A close inspection of stand-up comedy and comedic shows from the past decade suggests that there has been an increase in the use of Holocaust humor in the world of American comedy—especially Jewish-American comedy. But how did we get here? This talk examines the movement of Jewish comedy in America from early-twentieth-century Borscht Belt humor to the rise of comedians like Mel Brooks, Larry David, Woody Allen, Gilbert Gottfried, Roseanne Barr, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Ross, and others. Many of the comics we will explore are immigrants or children/grandchildren of immigrants. We will consider the degree to which this impacts Jewish comedy in America, and we will explore the potential reasons behind the sudden rise in jokes about the Holocaust, as well as differentiate Holocaust humor that works and Holocaust humor that crosses the line. Where does the ethical line fall? Can Holocaust humor ever be funny or is it always inappropriate? What does the prevalence of this kind of humor suggest about American society over the past decade? These are some of the questions that this presentation will explore.
Monica Osborne is a writer and scholar of Jewish literature and culture. Her book, The Midrashic Impulse and the Contemporary Literary Response to Trauma, will be published later this year.
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