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  1. Book ImageJewish Comedy: A Serious History

    Jeremy Dauber

    Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award

    A rich account of Jewish humor: its nature, its development, and its vital role throughout history.

Discussion Questions

  1. What, to you, is the essence of Jewish comedy? In what ways is it different from the comedy of other peoples or groups?
  2. Is Jewish humor good for the Jews? What might that mean?
  3. Did any of the material in the book surprise you? If so, what and why?
  4. Jeremy Dauber suggests that, if the Bible is in essence “Not Funny,” it still has a great deal of humor in it. Do you agree?
  5. Language—the choice of which language to write in, the particular deployment of it—is a central theme in the book. In what ways does “speaking Jewish” feel funny to you, or, put another way, is there a particular way of speaking Jewishly that has comic potential?
  6. Think of your favorite Jewish joke. Why do you consider it Jewish, and how does it convey Jewishness?
  7. Were there people, movies, or television programs in the book that were particularly important to you growing up as representatives of Jewish comedy? Any that aren’t in the book? Why did those specific ones have an effect on you?
  8. As Dauber suggests at the end of the book, many American Jews―and others who are not Jewish―consider a sense of humor a central part of Jewish identity. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  9. The book doesn’t shy away from the cruder, uglier, or more vulgar sides of Jewish comedy. Should it have or do you think it was important to keep them in? Why?
  10. One of Dauber’s arguments is that, for many years, women were underrepresented in Jewish comedy―and in comedy more generally. Is there a particular “women’s Jewish comedy”? If so, what might it be?
  11. It’s a commonplace that comedy does not age well. Did you, however, find some of the pre-twentieth-century material funny? If so, why?

About Jeremy Dauber

Jeremy Dauber is the Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture at Columbia University. He is the author of several books on Jewish literature, including In the Demon’s Bedroom: Yiddish Literature and the Early Modern, Antonio’s Devils: Writers of the Jewish Enlightenment and the Birth of Modern Hebrew and Yiddish Literature, and The Worlds of Sholem Aleichem, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. He lives in New York City.

Books by Jeremy Dauber

  1. Book CoverJewish Comedy: A Serious History

    Finalist for the National Jewish Book Award

    “Dauber deftly surveys the whole recorded history of Jewish humour.” —EconomistMore