Review: When Jews Were Funny
Director Alan Zweig approaches legendary Jewish comedians to talk about the unique brilliance of Jewish humour and to ask if Jews are still in fact funny.
Director Alan Zweig as himself and many iconic Jewish comedians including, Howie Mandel, Gilbert Gottfried, Bob Einstein, Jack Carter and Shelly Berman amongst others.
If suffering is an art then Jewish comedians like Rodney Dangerfield and Alan King were Picaasso and Boticelli. With this documentary Zweig asks a lot of questions like, Why were so many comedians in the golden era of comedy Jewish? Are Jews still funny? Is there something about the Jewish experience that facilitates the creation of brilliant humour?
To do this he bravely questions these comedians who on the whole don’t agree with his thesis or are generally giving him a hard time (or maybe that’s just part of their shtick). Zweig keeps pushing and finds answers. The end result is a documentary that builds up slowly but leaves viewers satisfied. There is much talk of food in the film and how food and humour are both nourishing to the body and soul. Watching this will make you want to run down to Caplansky’s for a corned beef sandwich and some latkes.
Ultimately this is a film about how a race of people were nourished by their fierce intellect and unique brand of humour and in doing so invented stand-up comedy as we know it.
Should You See It?
The observations and conclusions drawn from them, although about the Jewish immigrant experience in North American specifically, are reminiscent of the assimilation and adjustment struggles of other groups as well. In short you don’t have to be Jewish to be able to relate to this film. Its universal appeal despite dealing with a very specific subject is the key to its brilliance.