From Aleichem to Allen: the Jewish comedian in popular culture
University of Delaware
Motivated by the quest of contemporary Jewish Studies scholars to define “Jewishness,” my research explores Jewish identity through the lens of a figure in American popular culture: the Jewish Comedian. In response to critics who claim that the Jewish Comedian is removed from Judaism and true Jewish culture, I argue that the figure is essentially Jewish and has derived from a distinctly Jewish literary tradition. Tracing the persona of the Jewish comic back to its Old World origins, I compare the characteristics of the schlemiel figure in Jewish folklore and literature to the attitudes that define the modern Jewish Comedian. Finally, I explore how this Old World humor informs the work of contemporary Jewish comic performers.