Stand-Up Jesus

April 9th, 2008 | San Francisco Comedy

by DNA

I don’t see as many comics a month as most comedians, but more than some, and a lot more than the average Joe or Jane. And, from my perspective, comedy doesn’t seem to be making any strides, getting the human race beyond the same negative stereotypes that have been bantered about on stage since the 1950s.

I can go down the line and talk about how Mexicans, blacks, gays, Christians, and Muslims are routinely brought out as topics and then made fun of by today’s comedians. More often than not, a recent trend is for Mexicans to make fun of Mexicans, African-Americans to prey on their own stereotypes, and Muslims (or Muslim looking comics) to talk about being seen as terrorists. Gays still seem to be open targets for everyone with a microphone. This is my observation.

I’m not a prude, some stereotypes are funny. Sometimes, and this is the advantage of being a comedian, it’s only on the second (or third, or . . .) time you hear the bit, that the funny becomes apparent. A good case in point is a recent Justin McClure bit I heard about East-Coasters blaming whatever short comings they have on being because of the fact they are from the East Coast. Being born in Newark, NJ, I first thought that’s messed up and not true. Second time I thought, “Not only is McClure right, it’s freaking funny.” But it should be noted McClure is from Boston, MA. He is an East Coaster himself.

Why these recent tendencies for comedians to only attack their own?

Maybe it was the Michael Richards incident that has forced comics to stay within their own religion, race, coastal orientation and gender identity, for fear of being ostracized by their peers and audience. Maybe comics have no fear of the gay community and so continue with their lisping jokes. Maybe, a lot of things.

What I’ve noticed, with increasing alacrity is the comments, jokes and ramblings towards Jews. Out of the 75 comics I’ve seen in the last month or so, barbs about Jews are pretty common. Last night I heard (from an Asian comic), “Why does everyone hate Jews? Even Jews hate Jews. I don’t even know where they come from. Jewrusalem, maybe?”

On a side note, in repeating this joke to some non-Jew friends today, it killed, in a Guinness-World-Record-dumbest-racist-joke-on-a-Dixie-Cup manner.

The most prevalent comment/joke I hear revolves around, “Jews killed Jesus.”

When it comes to stereotypes, I’m not sure any other group even comes close to being slandered as much as the Jews do, with this much ballyhooed tremendous falsehood. Being stereotyped as lazy, cheap, a good dancer, stupid, fat, or even a terrorist (although that comes pretty close) is not as loaded a remark as being responsible for the death of America’s favorite messiah.

Other misconceptions (read: lies) are that Jews are this incredibly powerful, tremendously wealthy group of people. Truth is that Jews are a fragile small group of humans, that despite repeated efforts to obliterate from the planet, still survive.

Jews are one percent of the world’s population, and between 2 and 3 percent of the U.S. population. A minority much smaller than African Americans, Mexican Americans and Asian Americans. Various forms of Christians make up over 90% of America. Jews rate around the same as the number of Wiccans.

Being a Jew, I am always surrounded by Christians, Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Unitarians and all the other branches of the Jesus tree. Off the comedy stage, I constantly overhear in coffee shops devotees of Christ arguing about how they are the true believers and how other Christians are not as faithful. In Church last week, in Watsonville, the pastor kept trying to impress upon the congregation how Jesus fulfilled prophecy. Completely disregarding historical accuracy, the nefarious underpinnings of the Council of Nicaea, or any of the ancient texts found in the last 50 years (Dead Sea Scrolls, Essene Gospel, Nag Hammadi etc . . .), the pastor rummaged through Jesus’ Bible, the Old Testament, looking for “proof” of his divinity, much like Beatles fans interpreted the back of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band looking for “proof” that Paul was dead.

In the last 6 years, I have gone to various churches about 200 times. Without exception, during every service some mention of Jews comes up. Sometimes it is as blatant as “Jews killed Jesus,” sometimes it is more thoughtful as in, “Jews are not the only chosen people.” Theology seems to be a very malleable construct that pastors mold to their own desires, goals and prejudices.

bruce-standup.JPG

So, it is no wonder that when a percentage of comics hit the stage, products of their own religious upbringing, they come up with the good, “Jews killed Jesus,” joke. I thought Lenny Bruce settled this years ago when he said, night after night, “Alright, I’ll clear the air once and for all, and confess, Yes, we did it. I did it, my family. I found a note in my basement. It said: ‘We killed him, signed, Morty.’ ”

Apparently, today’s comics, while perhaps idolizing Lenny Bruce, have never taken the time or brain power to consider what the hell he was saying.

When Michael Richards went off on his tirade, it brought up deep feelings of racial divide, segregation, and hatred perpetrated on people of a different color that has lasted 400 years.

And perhaps people don’t know this, but through the 1950s and early 60s in America, there were many places that Jews were not allowed. The Ku Klux Klan hated Jews. My grandparents left Russia at the turn-of-last-century because the Russian soldiers were running their horses through Jewish villages crushing the heads of women, men and children. The Holocaust is still a joke for some comics, but if the Holocaust is funny, then why not Darfur? Wait for it…..wait for it……wait for it……..

Personally I just don’t get the continuation of the “Jews killed Jesus” funny business I hear on stage. And I for one will greet the next comic’s pronouncement of this 2000 year-old lie, that has been the basis for most of the world’s Antisemitism with a big “Fuck You.” I’m not trying to be like Lenny Bruce, it just bothers the hell out of me and it makes me think that the comic I’m watching is an idiot who has no idea what the words coming out of their mouth means.

Part Jew: The Bagelogue

There’s a small area of land outside New York City, in the Catskills Mountains, that had been referred to as the Borscht Belt in the 1950s. Named for the large amount of Jews who came there, presumably eating borscht, but mostly relaxing and getting entertained. My grandparents owned a hotel called The Anderson Hotel. My grandfather and his brothers worked every aspect of the joint including the entertainment. And it was at The Anderson that Sid Caesar had his first gig in comedy. Sid Caesar, the guy who took all the knowledge of the Jews who dominated the stage (vaudeville) and radio and brought it to a burgeoning new medium called television.

Sid Caesar, The Marx Brothers, George Burns, Milton Berle, Al Jolson, Mae West, The Three Stooges (and Shemp), Fannie Brice, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, Phil Silvers, Red Buttons, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Henny Youngman and Rodney Dangerfield, all Jews. The list of contemporary performers is even longer, much longer. Check the link. And if you want to argue the point, Bettie Boop, Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck are Jewish as well. And while not that funny, Batman, Superman, Spiderman, all Jewish. The one field in America that Jews have had the greatest impact is comedy (and comics)!

This legacy of outsiders bringing their neuroses to the stage, allowing any fool to come up and talk about how their wife doesn’t understand them, how hard it is to not fit in, how weird the world is and do it while making funny noises and faces and then, expecting people to laugh, owe their profession to Jews.

I would think that if anyone owes Jews a pinky of respect, it’s Stand-Up Comedians. It is only in a country as twisted and wonderful as America could the premise of stand-up arise. And it is only through the dedication, perseverance and hard-hardheadedness of, mostly, Jews has comedy become the popular scene it is here in the Bay Area and beyond.

So next time you hear a comic talk about how, “Jews killed Jesus,” remember that the only reason that Jesus killed delivering his quirky sermons on the mount (the first Catskills) was that he was Jewish.

DNA is a certified muckraker and diamontologist. His newest novel is about a Jewish Messiah running for President in 2008 and can be found at www.votedna.com

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12 Responses to “Stand-Up Jesus”

  1. Vlad Says:

    I agree with you, DNA, mostly..

    I am pretty liberal in my views that making fun of stereotypes serves the point of dismissing the stereotypes as real, but in some cases it can be taken too far. I tend to sense some anger in the Jew jokes that people tell me sometimes. Thank you for your article, it is pretty accurate.

    How do people feel about Borat?

  2. Marty Bringilerat Says:

    There is nothing recent about the tendency “for comedians to only attack their own”, nor vice versa. What you are doing in this article is stereotyping comedians based on your own recent perceptions, much the same way a newspaper headline might lump “Americans” together after the author interviews a few people.

    There are few better ways to ruin comedy than to analyze comedy.

  3. Matt Gubser Says:

    Sure, anti-semitism is bad, but how many millions of people injure themselves everyday cutting bagels? I say we call it even.

  4. John Ruth Miller Says:

    Isn’t Justin McClure from Georgia, and not Boston?

  5. Chad Says:

    I agree with you that most comics are now afraid to make fun of other groups. Political correctness (the comedian’s worst enemy) is what has caused comedians to only attack their own. One of my favorite comedy albums is Hello Dummy by Don Rickles, from 1968. He goes after every group in the audience pretty harshly, including blacks, gays, Mexicans, Jews, and Arabs. There is no way that album could come out today.

    That being said, comedians have always been self-deprecating and attacked their own.

  6. Matt Gubser Says:

    @Chad,
    Doesn’t Mencia pretty much do the same thing?

  7. DNA Says:

    A couple of things:

    If what Matt is saying is:

    There is nothing recent about the tendency “for comedians to only attack
    their own”, nor vice versa.

    Then racist comedy is as prevalent as it has always been.

    I know the Richards incident sparked a wide controversy on the SF Comedy
    Board and nationwide (Time Magazine, Rolling Stone etc . . .) So it’s not
    just me that feels it is time for comics to go beyond this dumbing-down of
    comedy.

    When you Matt says:

    What you are doing in this article is
    stereotyping comedians

    I think I was pretty clear that it’s only a percentage of comics, not all
    comics.

    And I didn’t analyze comedy. I gave a cultural basis, a short history. I
    said that perhaps it’s religious up bringing that creates these
    antisemitic jokes. And it’s not random, I have heard anti-Jew jokes my
    whole life.

    Also, McClures website http://www.myspace.com/jkmcclure says he’s a graduate of several Georgia schools. Guess I misheard. But thats still East Coast, as far as I’m concerned.

    AND YES, Carlos Mencia does ridicule every religion and group there is, but unlike Don “You Salami” Rickles, Mencia is not funny.

    Thanks for everyones comments…it makes my Jewey Sense tingle.

  8. DNA Says:

    I meant Marty, not Matt………friggin’ dyslexia!

  9. Dean Inouye Says:

    Thanks for the blog, DNA. Here’s my self-deprecating Shin Buddhist joke:

    “As Buddhists, we’re supposed to surround all sentient beings with love and compassion. Yeah… unless they taste good. Then we surround them with potato salad.”

    Thank you, thank you… I’m here till Tuesday… try the veal…

  10. Jason Says:

    You’re right DNA the Jews didn’t kill Jesus. They pointed him out, though.

  11. Santa Cruz Says:

    Good points on paragraph 2, D. I would like to add though, that the comedy scene seems to be confusing reverse racism with equality, and quite smugly too. Clubs seem more than happy to cash in on this: Bay Area BLACK Comedy Competition? (Tommy T’s). Can you imagine an advertised Bay Area WHITE Comedy Competition?…just saying… There are many more examples, but comedians segregate THEMSELVES by race, clubs follow, and really, that puts us all right back where we started. No one is oppressed anymore.

    Or, we all are…

  12. Josh Rangel Says:

    Ummm Gary Coleman reincarnated as a Jew?!! LOL I know this sounds nuts but you fellas really ought to see this video clip that was just uploaded onto youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qNy3k1MQzNk. I know this is slightly in bad taste due to his passing but I can’t believe this video is for real! LOL! Feelings?

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