Eri­ca S. Perl writes for JBC’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series about the most icon­ic Jew­ish com­e­dy skits, tele­vi­sion shows, and movies she revis­it­ed while writ­ing her book All Three Stooges. 

As good Jew­ish par­ents, my mom and dad intro­duced me and my broth­er to the fin­er things in life. Name­ly: pota­to knish­es, bialys, kasha varnishkes…and comedy.

Today, thanks to the mir­a­cles of YouTube and oth­er online video archives, it’s even eas­i­er to find a smörgås­bord of Jew­ish com­e­dy, which helped me a LOT while I was work­ing on my new nov­el All Three Stooges. It’s a mid­dle grade nov­el (for ages ten and up) about Noah and Dash, two Jew­ish boys who are best friends and com­e­dy junkies, and the fam­i­ly tragedy that threat­ens to end their laugh­ter as well as their friend­ship. I watched as many com­e­dy clips as I could, and put many of them in the book. This expe­ri­ence led me to cre­ate this slight­ly sub­jec­tive and far-from-com­plete list.

The State­room Scene: The best bits from the Marx Broth­ers’ films may seem famil­iar because many come­di­ans have paid homage to them by repeat­ing or riff­ing on their rou­tines. Here’s one famous example: 

Cof­fee Tawk (Sat­ur­day Night Live): One of the most famous Jew­ish char­ac­ters on Sat­ur­day Night Live, Lin­da Rich­man, the host of Cof­fee Tawk,” was cre­at­ed by (non-Jew) Mike Myers as a trib­ute to his Bar­bara Streisand-obsessed Jew­ish moth­er-in-law. Her sig­na­ture catch-phras­es (“it’s like but­tah” and tawk amongst yuh­selves”) were deliv­ered with stud­ied – and hilar­i­ous — real­ism. It should be not­ed that the real Jew­ish First Lady of SNL was, of course, Gil­da Rad­ner. Her inven­tive­ness and will­ing­ness to make fun of her­self made her a role mod­el for many.

Seltzer Fight: Unlike the Marx Broth­ers, the Three Stooges were not all actu­al­ly broth­ers. How­ev­er, as Adam San­dler notes in The Hanukkah Song,” ALL Three Stooges were in fact Jew­ish. The Three Stooges made close to 200 movies, most­ly from the 1930s – 1950s. Their phys­i­cal com­e­dy is based large­ly on slap­stick and oth­er Vaude­ville tra­di­tions. Some find their fre­quent bouts of injury and asso­ci­at­ed histri­on­ics off-putting. Many, myself includ­ed, find them hilarious.

Sein­feld: Lar­ry David and Jer­ry Sein­feld’s sit­com, which dom­i­nat­ed the screen in the 1990s, may be off the air but lives on in the stream­ing uni­verse. The show cre­at­ed an extreme­ly Jew­ish (and extreme­ly fun­ny) New York-cen­tric uni­verse for the world to see, enjoy, and imitate. 

Young Franken­stein: Want to see a Jew­ish com­e­dy hor­ror movie? Try Young Franken­stein. A Jew­ish com­e­dy West­ern? Blaz­ing Sad­dles. How about…Well, you get the pic­ture. Mel Brooks, who was the Jew­ish comedic genius behind these and many more clas­sic com­e­dy films (many of which starred Jew­ish actors, like Gene Wilder and Mar­ty Feld­man in Young Franken­stein) is why these films exist. Full dis­clo­sure – some of the humor in some of Mel Brooks’s films can be off-col­or, raunchy and/​or dat­ed, but most of Young Franken­stein stands the test of time.

The Princess Bride: Thanks to Rob Reiner’s direc­tion and the con­tri­bu­tions of many hilar­i­ous Jew­ish actors (includ­ing Mandy Patinkin, Wal­lace Shawn, Bil­ly Crys­tal and Car­ol Kane), this film – based on a book that is as awe­some, if not more so — is not only a com­e­dy clas­sic, but one with a dis­tinct­ly Jew­ish sen­si­bil­i­ty. Have fun storm­ing the castle!

The Hanukkah Song: Adam Sandler’s clas­sic, which he’s updat­ed reg­u­lar­ly, is com­ic gold as well as the defin­i­tive list of cool and inter­est­ing folks you nev­er real­ized were Jew­ish. (Cap­tain Kirk AND Mr. Spock? Yup!)

Nation­al Broth­er­hood Week: Tom Lehrer gets my vote for the fun­ni­est satirist (and best rhymer) who ever lived. This song is extreme­ly bit­ing and dark in its sarcasm…and very fun­ny. I also appre­ci­ate his work for The Elec­tric Com­pa­ny,” a fan­tas­tic edu­ca­tion­al tele­vi­sion show of my youth. My favorite of his Elec­tric Com­pa­ny” songs is about adverbs, called sim­ply L.Y.”

Fun­ny Girl: This 1968 film is a two-fer, since it stars Bar­bra Streisand as Fan­ny Brice, the pio­neer­ing Jew­ish come­di­an. It is fun­ny and love­ly to watch how Fan­ny was able to take the very things that alleged­ly stood in her way as an actress (her eth­nic” nose and looks) and use them to cat­a­pult her­self to star­dom sim­ply by being will­ing to embrace them and cel­e­brate what made her dif­fer­ent and spe­cial and, well, Jewish.

Eri­ca S. Perl’s mid­dle grade nov­el, All Three Stooges, won the 2018 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award for Children’s Lit­er­a­ture and a 2019 Syd­ney Tay­lor Book Award Sil­ver Medal. Eri­ca also writes pic­ture books, ear­ly read­ers, chap­ter books, and plays. She loves work­ing with young read­ers and writ­ers (and cre­ative peo­ple of all ages). She has received writ­ing fel­low­ships from the Vir­ginia Cen­ter for the Cre­ative Arts, the Yid­dish Book Cen­ter, and the DC Com­mis­sion on the Arts and Humanities.