When Jews were funny…a movie review by Roz Tarszisz

August 2, 2014 by Roz Tarszisz
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“You can capture the past by retelling it” declares one comic in this documentary which attempts to answer the old question – why are so many comedians Jewish?

 Director/Writer Alan Zweig could have simply summed it up with the (extreme) shortened version of the Passover Sedar.  They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.

However, that would have meant missing out on the many marvellous moments in an exploration of Jewish comedians in America and Canada. There are common parallels with Australian Jews- grandparents with European accents, Holocaust survivors and a tendency to self-deprecation.

Zweig looks at the possibility that Jews used to be funnier and wants to know why.  While modern comics don’t have heavy accents, they still share many attributes with the funny men of yesteryear. “We complain. We eat. We’re funny” is one succinct answer.

“Jews see the humour in everything and laughter is part of the Jewish diet” says another.

Modern comics don’t see themselves as mainly Jewish comics although many agree that “the essence of Jewish humour is to kvetch – to complain” .

Old black and white clips from tv shows are included. When he interviews modern comedians and writers, Zweig is as much present as his subjects.  Watch the sparring with Bob Einstein (Super Dave Osborne) carefully because their interaction is a prickly one.

Zweig is possibly pandering to his own ego in his search but his experiences form part of the story and he is not shy to retain interviews where his thesis is not accepted or indeed some of his questions are refuted.  Make sure you wait for all the credits to roll for Bob Einstein’s last word on the director himself.

Some of the same ground was covered in 2013 in When Comedy Went to School but there are many highlights and more than a touch of nostalgia. Is there a last word on the topic? When telling a joke, “Rhythm is everything”.


Directed by Alan Zweig.

Country: Canada 2013


Showing  Sunday August 10 as part of the Possible Worlds Festival of US and Canadian Films which runs 7-17 August in Sydney.

www.possibleworlds.net.au for full programme.

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