My answer: it depends on the circumstances. Personally, I really like not only the fact that Jews have made such a great contribution to the American tradition of humor (and to all other types of artistic art), but also their increasing willingness to recognize this fact and even be proud of it. For example, the participant of the show “Saturday Night Live” Adam Sandler speaks with dignity about his faith (and even sings it, as in his famous “Song about Hanukkah”).
I am pleased that Jerry Seinfeld, unlike generations of previous artists, did not consider it necessary to give up his real Jewish surname and take a pseudonym, and then even made a very New York, very Jewish series “Seinfeld”, which became the most popular situation comedy in history. (A few nuances: Seinfeld’s partner in the series Jason Alexander, born Jay Greenspan, changed his last name, but after a trip to Israel with the assistance of our Anti-Defamation League, he became interested in studying his Jewish roots and even became our propagandist.)
So, Jewish humor, like any other forms of funny, I definitely respect and love.
And one should only be glad that millions of Americans of any origin also fell in love with this humor (and even learned a few words in Yiddish along the way). This can be a powerful weapon in the fight against anti-Semitism. But here’s what I don’t like about this whole situation: when Jewish comedians use national stereotypes as the main source of their humor. And I am especially against the use of offensive stereotypes and myths relentlessly instilled in people by anti-Semites. For example, Jack Benny comes to mind, who for several decades portrayed a Jewish miser on radio, television and in movies.
But stinginess is not the only drawback of the comic image created by Benny. He is also quarrelsome, always dissatisfied with everything, constantly complains, is vain and plays the violin terribly. (In reality, Jack Benny, of course, skillfully owned a musical instrument.) Nevertheless, the distinguishing feature of all the characters was pettiness, and Benny’s classic jokes are built on this unattractive character trait. Let’s remember a safe in an incredibly deep basement or Benny’s answer to the robber’s offer “Trick or treat!” after a long, long pause: “I think… We need to think about it.”
Funny? Sure. Benny used this image and the jokes associated with it to the fullest. The comedian’s shows were regularly ranked among the highest-rated programs. But if we objectively evaluate the artist’s creative legacy, it becomes clear that his humor contributed a lot to strengthening the stereotype of Jews as misers among non-Jewish Americans. It is not difficult to imagine how a non-Jewish fan of Jack Benny makes some kind of prejudiced remark about “petty Jews”, and responds in his defense: “Well, even Jack Benny, a Jew, and he admits that they are like that!”