No Joke, by Ruth R. Wisse

June 5, 2013

One cannot think of American comedy without mentioning Jewish contributions, from the Marx brothers to Mel Brooks. Jewish humor goes back as far as the Hebrew Bible, yet Jews did not become known for their humor until the Enlight­enment, says Ruth R. Wisse. Modern Jewish humor rose in response to oppressive conditions; even in repressive Russia and Hitler’s genocidal Ger­many humor thrived. It was often closely tied to the Yiddish dialect, sometimes making it difficult to translate jokes to another language and culture. Because Jewish humor arose in response to specific conditions of living, Wisse organizes chapters around locales and times: Germany, the Anglo­sphere, fascism (Hitler and Stalin) and modern Israel. Wisse calls humor the only folk art that isn’t copyrighted.