comedy, My favorites, race

I’m a Jewish?

This bout with unemployment has led to a surprisingly productive couple of days. I haven’t been writing very well, or applying to jobs, or doing things that are productive, but under an alternate definition of productive that just means “make things,” I’ve been mildly productive. And mildly is still surprising.

I built a shelf. It is partially held together by a piece of rope and a bent nail. It is awesome.

I made a piece of art in my room. By art, I mean I took my menorah and nailed it to the wall. Then I took this awkward bulb of plastic that I had laying around and nailed that over the menorah. It now looks like I’m making a statement about my Judaism. Somehow I’m trapped? But I can still see the relics? Light shines in? But not too much light? About 8 days of light?

Because of its placement across the room but still within my “incredibly visible” area, this piece of “art” has made me think about my relationship to my Jewishness.

Within these parenthesis is my entire set of thoughts on how I relate to my Judaism: ( )

I am ethnically a chosen person, and based on name and neurosis people know that about me. I was not barmitzvahed or circumcised or gone to temple except for other people’s barmitzvahs. I was raised without religion by a woman raised without religion and a man raised very Jewish, so Jewish is the closest I have to religion. But that is as relevant as saying I was raised in America and therefore I feel most in touch with American slavery. I am as close to religion as I am to slavery. Jewishness has formed what people say about me and has formed how people act around me and has formed how comfortable people are around me, and yet I am in now way Jewish. I am as Jewish as I am German. I am as Jewish as I am from Yonkers. I am Jewish as I am a basketball player.

Despite the fact that I have in no way identified with Judaism at any point in my life, and despite the fact that I haven’t aligned myself with Jews any more than any semitic Woody Allen fan, people’s perceptions of Judaism and me have changed because of each other.

One of the things I hate most in comedy is when people rely on Jewish words to get laughs. Saying Hanukkah is not funny. Discussing the fact that you ate Latkes is not exciting. In episode 2 of the best show of all time David Wain is eating dinner with a family that has been identified as Jewish. He begins by saying something to the effect of “This is some great Rugalach. These latkes are to die for. I guess what I’m trying to say, Mrs. Feldman is that this is the best Jew food I’ve ever had.” I think this line gets to the heart of my feelings about Judaism. Saying that you like cereal isn’t a funny thing to say, and therefore saying that you like Kugel shouldn’t be funny either. People have made it funny though by laughing inappropriately at it. Nobody laughs when you say “Burrito.” Nobody laughs when you say “Fettuccine Alfredo.” We should all learn how to make cottage cheese blintzes because they are delicious, not because it is funny to say you can make “cottage cheese blintzes.”

I am barely more Jewish than my mom – who is from Sweden, but if people keep referring to me as Jewish I have to refer to myself that way too, and it’s hard for me to turn down the laughter I get just by saying my last name is “Greenberg” – probably because I’m Jewish.

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5 thoughts on “I’m a Jewish?

  1. I am Jewish. I identify as Jewish and I was raised Jewish. It is not who I am but it is a part of me. The fact of the matter is, just because someone says you are Jewish doesn’t mean they are defining you, nor are you defining yourself.

    To the saying Jewish words are funny and what not, it is the Jewish humor. Every ethnicity, culture, religion has their own thing that people like to use for some laughs. Yeah we don’t laugh at alfredo, but we say all italians are in the mob, and now we have Jersey Shore ( I can go on about other cultures and ethnicities but it might come out wrong, so I will stop here). There are plenty of things, aside form our Yiddish words, that people make fun of; big noses, money, we own Hollywood. You take it for what it is.

    • h2money says:

      saying jewish words is not jewish humor. Though I have a number of problems with stereotyping humor, I think there is a way to do it correctly. Saying words that people are less familiar with for cheap laughs is not the correct.
      You can compare calling italians: jersey shore juiceheads is comparable to calling jews money-grubbing media owners – you are right, but it is not similar in any way to the fact that people try and succeed to get laughs by saying l’chaim or talking about the fact that they ate matzoh. I hope to g-d that Jewish humor is never defined this way because I will stop identifying in any way with Jewish humor.

  2. Paul Kangas says:

    I actually disagree with a lot of the assertions here about “funny” jewish words. A lot of wit and comedy derives from the melody and cadence of the spoken word.

    Examine the following two sentences:

    1. I ate way too much Mexican food and it gave me diarrhea.
    2. I ate way too much pico de gallo and it gave me the milk-shits.

    I would argue that the second sentence is much funnier, because it is specific and evokes a new image in the brain that probably hasn’t been thought of. Jewish food and Jewish references are familiar enough to a lot of audiences, but they help create new pictures because they are also somewhat foreign. I believe this is why I love hip-hop and rap so much…it’s because there is something familiar and tantalizingly new about the pictures they are creating.

    • h2money says:

      You are wrong because the second sentence is only funny because of the phrase milk-shits.

      Examine the following two double sentences:

      1. I was at my friend’s house when I dropped my knife. I bent down to grab it and accidentally plunged my head into my friend’s mom’s snatch.

      2. I went to my friend’s house for pesach and in the midst of eating matzoh with my manischewitz I dropped my knife. I bent down to grab it and accidentally plunged my head into my friend’s mom’s snatch.

      The second is annoying and would get more laughs, but shouldn’t. Really shouldn’t. People who laugh at the lead up are morons. You are a moron.

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