The rationale behind the use of Jewish humor to combat explicit anti-Semitism is to convey a powerful message, exposing “the hypocrisy, irrationality, prejudice, and misinformation surrounding the current wave of antisemitism” and aims to “provide a roadmap toward a brighter future” in the words of the producer of “The Roast of Anti-Semitism”. Yet with anti-Semitism spiraling out of control in America, fighting anti-Semitism with Jewish humor by America’s top Jewish standup comedians seems to be an idea that only Hollywood could come up with. This past week, at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, a packed house roared with laughter as “The Roast of Anti-Semitism” dealt with the world’s oldest hatred. The promoters of the show evidently believe that Jewish humor will stop anti-Semites in their tracks. “There is a long, rich Jewish tradition of confronting anti-Semitism with direct humor and comedians have always been front-line fighters in the war against hatred,” and that “there are people that argue that making light of prejudice, or turning purveyors of it into absurdities, robs hatred of power. With today’s disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, comedians are ready to fight back.”
Now the stark reality; A recent American Jewish Committee survey found that more than a quarter of American Jews were a target of an anti-Semitic incident in 2022 and that not less than 38% changed their behavior out of fear of anti-Semitism. The Anti-Defamation League, in a study published in January of this year, found that 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Jewish trope, as opposed to 61% found in 2019. Yet at the Saban theatre, a top comedian took on white supremacists who commonly chant “Jews will not replace us,” and fought back with punch lines: “We don’t want to replace you, we want to represent you…. we just want to put braces on you … we just want to manage your portfolio … we want to place you in a 30-year fixed low interest mortgage … we want to fit you for glasses, heal you, teach you, inspire you, make you laugh, represent you in a divorce and she replaces you.” The only punch line he forgot was explaining to the crowd how to define today’s new anti-Semitism; “someone who hates Jews more than is necessary”.
The normalization and trivialization of the Holocaust and Jew hatred might be a good starting point when attempting to unravel the Jewish inclination to actually believe that Jewish humor will deter or discourage anti-Semites. Trivializing Jew hatred and anti-Semitism seems to be a Hollywood tradition going back many years, written by, produced by, and directed by Jews. Over the years Jewish comedians have used the Holocaust as a source of Jewish humor. Liberal Jewish organizations have for many years vilified Israel and compared the Jewish state with Hitler’s Germany. However the entertainment industry and specifically Jewish celebrities have contributed more than their share in diluting and trivializing the significance of the Holocaust and delegating Jew hatred to a punch line, thereby empowering anti-Semitism.
Seinfeld” had a major role in invoking the Holocaust as a source for Jewish humor. “The Soup Nazi” was the sixth episode of the seventh season of Seinfeld. It first aired November 2, 1995. A new soup kitchen opens, but the owner is extremely strict: so strict that he is nicknamed "The Soup Nazi". The term "Nazi" is used as an exaggeration of the excessively strict regimentation he constantly demands of his patrons; its owner is referred to as the "Soup Nazi" due to his temperament and insistence on strict rules of behavior while ordering. The Soup Nazi yells out, “NO SOUP FOR YOU!” The producer, script writers, and Seinfeld himself were all Jews.
The movie “The Producers”, a classic, was a musical with the music and lyrics written by Mel Brooks. The story concerns two theatrical producers who scheme to get rich by fraudulently overselling interests in a Broadway flop about Nazi Germany. Complications arise when the show unexpectedly turns out to be successful. The humor of the show draws on caricatures of Nazis. An example of the lyrics in the movie;
Springtime for Hitler and Germany
Deutschland is happy and gay
We're marching to a faster pace
Look out, here comes the master race
Larry David, a producer and writer for Seinfeld during its successful run as a sit-com, did a monologue on Saturday Night Live. David’s monologue resonated with a message that should be entitled; Why it’s time for Jews to Get Over the Holocaust, or even; Now is the time that Jews move on and stop making the Holocaust the most pivotal event in Jewish history.
In that Saturday Night Live monologue he quipped: “I’ve always been obsessed with women, and I’ve always wondered: If I’d grown up in Poland when Hitler came to power and was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women in the camp? I think I would." And continuing, he said: "Of course, the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp. ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK? You know, if we ever get out of here, I’d love to take you out for some latkes.’” I was surprised that he didn’t conclude his monologue with “The Shoah must go on.”
Jewish humor will not deter, persuade, or diminish the ever growing Jew hatred that is sweeping the streets of Main St in America. To think otherwise is simply to live within a worldview of Jewish denial and cultural encapsulation. The Holocaust was preceded by years of mounting anti-Semitic attacks and the demonization of Jews. It didn’t come out of nowhere. Jewish standup comedians will certainly not cause anti-Semites to question their hatred of Jews.
“Who has made us Jews different from all other people? Who has allowed us to suffer so terribly up until now? It is G-d who has made us as we are, but it will be God, too, who will raise us up again. Who knows it might even be our religion from which the world and all peoples learn good, and for that reason and only that reason do we suffer. We can never become just Netherlanders, or just English or representatives of any country for that matter. We will always remain Jews.” From the diary of Anne Frank, April 11, 1944.