Spring 2024

CGIS K050

Tuesday, Thursday

1:30 pm - 2:45 pm

CompLit 166/YIDDISH 166: Jews, Humor, and the Politics of Laughter

Saul Zaritt

By mistake some thieves found their way into Hershele’s house late at night while he was sleeping. They searched and searched but found nothing. Meanwhile, Hershele heard their rummaging and slowly crept up behind one of the thieves. He grabbed him by the arm and the thief, naturally, tried to run away. Hershele held him close, whispering, “Be still. Maybe together we’ll actually find something.” Beginning with jokes like this one, this course will examine the question of Jewish humor, exploring the concept of therapeutic joking, the politics of self-deprecation, and strategies of masking social critique behind a well-timed joke. Rather than reach some essential definition, we will instead investigate literature, stand-up comedy, film, and television of the twentieth and twenty-first century in order to 1) think together about the theory, mechanics, and techniques of comedy and humor and 2) ask how and when a text or performance gets labeled Jewish, by whom and for what purposes. Texts, films, and performers include: Freud, Kafka, Sholem Aleichem, the Marx Brothers, Belle Barth, Mel Brooks, Joan Rivers, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Broad City, and Rachel Bloom.

Course presentation video

In Person