Reviewing a book filled with one-page cartoons about the peculiarities of Jewish life in America is no easy task. Humor is incredibly subjective and pinpointing exactly what makes a joke successful is to do. The Jewish experience as rendered through the cartoons in Have I Got a Cartoon For You, is at once a genial and genius subversion of day-to-day living. For readers, take heed: there are indeed many chuckles to be found here in this slim, but substantial, volume.
Have I Got a Cartoon For You is a compilation of Jewish-themed cartoons that first appeared in The New Yorker over the last twenty-five years or so. Edited by the veteran New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, the cartoons contained herein represent the finest commentary on the contemporary American Jewish condition. The list of contributors is stunning: Roz Chast, Mort Gerberg, Ben Schwartz, and Ken Krimstein to name but a few. The talent collected in this collectiondisplays the unique voice of Jewish humor and how it has found its place within the canon of American comedy.
There is no central story to speak of here. Rather, the book is demarcated by common tropes found within Jewish humor: there are gags about Jewish holidays, the “Jewish mother” makes numerous appearances, and the interdenominational rift is explored with a keen eye — to name a few topics. While it might have been helpful for the reader if there had been a delineation of sections, the natural means by which the subject matter flows is clear and understandable. In her hilarious introduction, Roz Chast posits the subtext of the book — and Jewish humor in general — as one fueled by anxiety. It becomes apparent quite quickly how true this theory is. Jews have been anxious since the time of Moses and many millennia later; there are still Jewish mothers asking when their sons will become doctors.
How far have Jews come in America that we can publish cartoons about our community’s foibles, idiosyncrasies, myopia, and future all within the confines of a general public interest magazine? The triumph of Jewish humor is that it somehow morphed from coping about society’s general lack of enthusiasm about the Jewish community to becoming the bedrock of what makes America laugh. The collection that Mankoff has created together for Have I Got a Cartoon For You will make you chortle and, ultimately, it will make you think.