Like most people after an audition, I was nervous and eager for feedback. I called my friend who knew the people involved in the casting of the comedy troupe and was told, “Oh they LOVED you. They said she’s really funny, she’s really Jewish funny.”
At the time, all I heard was the love part. I was 19 years old. But as time passed, I found myself coming back to that description of me from time to time. I was “Jewish funny.” Don’t get me wrong, I never would have described myself as “Catholic funny,” but it was the first time I realize how I was perceived as a comedian outside, well, the tribe.
I thought about the material I used in the audition, it was not specific to being Jewish. I had to wonder what it was— did I say “schvitzing?” Did I say “oy?” What was it? I was just being me: a Jewish Day School graduate, the granddaughter of a Rabbi. But really, I was just using my sense of humor and it turns out it’s a very Jewish one. My sense of humor has always been an inherent part of how I communicate, how I cope with life.
It turns out that “Jewish Funny” has become evidence-based. Results from the recent Pew Study “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” four in 10 of the 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews surveyed consider a sense of humor essential to Jewish identity. Having a sense of humor is part of our communications and value system. It’s as if we have a framework for which we see the world that lets us find and enjoy the irony of life’s complications. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the words “irony” and “oy” both have an “o” and a “y”.
Jewish comedians do share some interesting traits. We can be painfully self-deprecating and self-referential. One never really wonders if a comic is Jewish, it tends to come up in either a quip or story. My most recent stand up comedy routine was about those lengthy holiday letters people send in December. I specifically mention that these letters typically come from our non-Jewish friends because Jews will never wait 11 months to tell you anything.
I did end up getting cast in that comedy troupe by the way. It may have been because I was “Jewish Funny”, but I’ll take it, cause to me it’s all the same.