Jew­ish Com­e­dy Stars: Clas­sic to Cut­ting Edge

  • Review
By – September 9, 2011
For those stu­dents choos­ing Jew­ish com­e­dy as a school report, this book is gang busters, though not a laugh a minute. Finkel­stein does an excel­lent job devel­op­ing the piv­otal impact of Jew­ish come­di­ans on Amer­i­can cul­ture. He explains how styles mor­phed to fit the times, how the suc­cess of many fun­ny Jew­ish men and few women (8 out of 46) affect­ed enter­tain­ment and sen­si­tized the wider soci­ety. Defin­ing Jew­ish humor from the Bible (yes, the Bible) to right now, then pre­sent­ing exam­ples, Finkel­stein iden­ti­fies Amer­i­can com­e­dy as Jew­ish com­e­dy. Com­e­dy is inte­gral to Jew­ish tra­di­tion. Immi­grants used com­e­dy to explain their new world to each oth­er; their chil­dren to explain it to the wider world. The orga­ni­za­tion is ter­rif­ic; snap­py, chap­ter head­ings are appro­pri­ate and accu­rate. Intro­duc­to­ry back­ground to each era pro­vides suc­cinct, insight­ful his­to­ry of this Jew­ish art form. Each biog­ra­phy prov­ing the point pro­vides a pho­to, quote bal­loon, vitae includ­ing real names, but Wikipedia depth infor­ma­tion. The prob­lem is that except­ing the trendy final sec­tion, exam­ples are out­dat­ed for tar­get­ed read­ers. Chil­dren meet dead white males with lit­tle rel­e­vance beyond an off­beat aca­d­e­m­ic assign­ment. Their par­ents, on the oth­er hand, will enjoy the nuggets of infor­ma­tion about child­hood favorites and laugh at the joke bal­loons, which today’s young­sters will find too mature, stale, or both. Warts not­ed, this is a live­ly addi­tion to a sparse­ly devel­oped top­ic for young read­ers. Hooray for Jew­ish come­di­ans: on stage, on air, and now on your book shelf. For ages 8 – 12.

Ellen G. Cole, a retired librar­i­an of the Levine Library of Tem­ple Isa­iah in Los Ange­les, is a past judge of the Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Awards and a past chair­per­son of that com­mit­tee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excel­lence in Jew­ish Children’s Lit­er­a­ture. Ellen is the recip­i­ent of two major awards for con­tri­bu­tion to Juda­ic Librar­i­an­ship, the Fan­ny Gold­stein Mer­it Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroed­er Award from the Asso­ci­a­tion of Jew­ish Libraries of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. She is on the board of AJLSC.

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