Submitted by Joe Dorinson Brooklyn produced a bumper crop of comic artists. Many of the nation’s premier humorists–Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Buddy Hackett, Jack Carter, Joan Rivers, Fanny Brice (and her avatar, Barbra Streisand), Alan King, Lenny Bruce, Danny Kaye, Abe Burrows, Phil Silvers, Phil Foster, and Henny Youngman–mined their Brooklyn past and Jewish roots for comedic nuggets. Starting in local candy stores, they honed their… Read More »Are We Funny or What?
by Joe Dorinson
“My father took me on his knee and said: ‘Kolya, my little gypsy. It is time you vent out into the verid and learen the facts of life.’ So, I packed my little karzink, wandered over hill and dale, small villages and pretty cities. Then I saw her–my first womansk. She was gorgeous and sassionately beautifuly. And her voice–was the voice of angel. SOFT AND MELLOW! Deenah! Is there anyone feener in the state of Caroleena? If there is and you know her, please show her to me! Kack de byerna sertzer”
Nestled in the hallways of our low-income housing project, my friends and I slid up and down the scat scale in emulation of our idol. Danny Kaye. We loved the slow build-up, oozing shmaltz, the mad riffs and the blast off into stratospheric heights. Kaye represented the triumph of energy over matter–the fantasy triumph of every spirited kid. It is hard to believe that this elemental comic force no longer graces our world. To be sure, Kaye aficionados have various films to sustain them–but these Hollywood vehicles do not convey Danny Kaye at his best.
Read More »Danny Kaye, A Mentsh for All Seasons
The ‘mouth that roared’ is silent, but in her life Rivers gave voice to outsiders and women.by Joseph Dorinson, published in The Jewish Week, Fri, 09/05/2014 Born in Brooklyn in 1933 to Russian immigrant parents, Dr. Meyer and Beatrice Molinsky, Joan grew up in the shadow of an older sister and with many complexes. “I was so fat; I was my own buddy in camp.” Despite her carefully crafted comic persona, she actually was a brilliant student, a graduate of Barnard College with high honors in 1954. Ignoring her parents’ pleas, Joan pursued a career as an actress, dancer, and singer. But comedy provided a better fit. A long apprenticeship that included performing in the Catskill hotels (because she had a car and agreed to drive her male peers there and back), a stint with Chicago’s Second City ensemble, many night clubs, and some “toilets” ultimately led to success capped by a brilliant ten minutes on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in 1965. Billed as a writer, Rivers, who changed her last name at her agent’s suggestion when she entered show business, was 32 when she vaulted into stardom. Her early shtick, with shades of traditional Jewish humor, featured self-deprecation, especially about her allegedly “ugly duckling” appearance. In fact, before multiple cosmetic surgeries, she was actually quite pretty if not drop-dead gorgeous. For example (from critic Sarah Blacher Cohen’s essay “Unkosher Comediennes”):
“On our wedding night, my husband said: ‘Can I help with the buttons?’ I was naked at the time.” “You’ve heard of A Cup, B Cup and C Cup. Well, you’re looking at demitasse.” “Dress by Oscar de la Rental; body by Oscar Meyer.”
By Joe Dorinson
“Today I am a fountain pen!” This mantra for Bar-Mitzvah boys in the 1940s, embedded in a mandatory speech thanking parents, relatives, and friends, was coined by teacher/humorist Sam Levenson. Before affluence enveloped our country, a fountain pen proved to be a welcome gift to eager students from frugal parents. Teacher turned comedian, Mr. Levenson captured that transformative moment with a funny observation or pun as in punim.
Today, comedians sling four letter words like old-time short order cooks used to do with hash, the kind you ate, not smoked. They hyphenate mother with a sexual act and offer little or nothing about social concerns. Don Imus, a “shock jock” trying to emulate Lenny Bruce, resorted to racist and sexist stereotypes and almost aborted a lucrative career. What a pleasure, therefore, for this writer to discover a mother-lode of wisdom and wit in the Sam Levenson archives housed in the library of his alma mater, Brooklyn College. What follows is drawn primarily from this archive.
Jewish Humor in American Popular Culture Joseph Dorinson Foreword by Joseph Boskin Print ISBN: 978-0-7864-9482-8Ebook ISBN: 978-1-4766-2056-5photos, notes, bibliography, indexsoftcover (6 x 9) 2015 Buy From McFarland Books Or Buy On Amazon Price: $40.00 About the BookJewish humor, with its rational skepticism and cutting social criticism, permeates American popular culture. Scholars of humor—from Sigmund Freud to Woody Allen—have studied the essence of the Jewish joke, at once a defense mechanism against a… Read More »Kvetching and Shpritzing
BJHI celebrates the life of Fyvush Finkel. We are honored we could induct him into the Class of 2015 Brooklyn Jewish Hall of Fame. A real Brooklynite, who was wise, entertaining and downright funny. We will always love him.