Flunking Sainthood

Flunking Sainthood

Why Are Jews Funnier Than Christians?


I’ve been reading The Big Jewish Book for Jews: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Jewish Jew. Written by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman, who brought us the equally hilarious Yiddish with Dick and Jane, the book pokes fun at all aspects of American Judaism, from gefilte fish to klezmer music to the sukkah. If you’re Jewish, this is the perfect book with which to surreptitiously pass the long hours of fasting on Yom Kippur next month. Even if you’re not Jewish, it’s a hysterical read.


But it got me thinking: why do Jews have a better sense of humor than Christians?

Look at the evidence. Beliefnet’s list of top Jewish comedians: Jon Stewart, Mel Brooks, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld, Chelsea Handler, Billy Crystal, Andrew Dice Clay, Sarah Silverman. (Beliefnet added Woody Allen to its list, too; he’d need therapy if omitted.) There’s also a list at CNN with some classic old-timers, including Fanny Brice, Gilda Radner, and Graucho Marx. We can’t forget George Burns, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, and Jerry Lewis.


And in the Christian corner, Stephen Colbert. He’s a devout Catholic. And . . . that’s everyone.

Oh, sure, there are “Christian comedians” out there, the people your youth conference hires if you want to make sure the kids are entertained by someone who is not routinely dropping the F-bomb. But other than Colbert, are there “out” Christians who are nationally-known comedians? I can’t think of any.

One website claims that although Jews constitute only about 2% of America’s population, they represent 70% of working comedians.I have no idea where the second half of this statistic comes from, but it certainly feels true, so let’s run with it.


Why is this? There is certainly some truth to the idea that great humor is born of pain, and Jews know from pain. They have arguably the most difficult history of victimization over 3,000 years AND they are currently ranked as the unhappiest of all religious groups in America. More Jews describe themselves as depressed than Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists.

Clearly what’s needed is for more Christians to get good and depressed. Then we might have a shot at better comedy.

  • radosh

    I brought up exactly this question with several Christian comedians I interviewed for my book Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture.
    One thing several of them acknowledged is that evangelical Christians tend to be suspect of irony, stemming from their concern that speaking the truth in any way other than clearly and directly might inadvertently “cause your brother to stumble.” It’s very hard to do comedy without irony. It’s no coincidence that Colbert is Catholic rather than evangelical. (Interestingly, I think fear of irony is one factor that often dooms Christian rock music.)
    That said, Sherri Shepherd has one of the most brilliant standup routines I’ve ever seen, and she is nationally known, though perhaps not AS a comedian.

  • Ellen

    I’m not a connoisseur of comedy (though I watch Stewart and Colbert regularly) but I’m guessing there are plenty of comedians who grew up in Christian homes/Christian culture and who poke fun of Christianity from the outside, as people who don’t practice the faith they were raised in. But for those still within the fold…this is a huge generalization, of course, but I often perceive an overly developed focus on holiness, purity, and straight-lacedness among serious Christians. And a concurrent lack of ability to see humor and truth in unlikely places. I think a lot of Christians put God, themselves and the faith in a pretty narrow box; being a Christian automatically requires teetotaling and dull wardrobes and consuming low-quality literature and music designated as “Christian.” Humor (along with good music and good books) is often irreverent, which does not necessarily make it sacrilegious, but people often think it does. One reason I love Colbert is that he’s willing to poke fun at his own faith, which doesn’t mean he’s belittling its value.

  • Sarah

    Why are Jews funny? To answer a question with a question (another Jewish Trait): what choice do we have?You can laugh or cry; laughing is better.
    But seriously, being an outsider gives you a clear view of them ainstream and an ability to laugh at it; it also, paradoxically, gives you an understanding of how the mainstream views you and the ability to be ironic about that.
    That said, I think Stephen Colbert is funnier than Jon Stewart. (Maybe his writers are Jewisih?)
    Still, I’m surprised to find Jews are the unhappiest group in America. I think Jews are just more honest about things like depression.

  • Christopher Bigelow

    So let’s do “The Big Mormon Book for Mormons: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Really Mormon Mormon.”
    I actually stirred up some agent phone calls a few years ago by querying with a project idea like this, but I didn’t pursue it.
    My experience with the Sugar Beet book, though, shows that this kind of stuff is too Mormon for the mainstream and too “worldly” for the Mormons, so I agree there’s not much of a market…

  • jestrfyl

    And yet there are more Christian comic strip writer/artists than Jewish ones. Of course, the early comic hero writer/artists were jewish too. But these days, not so much.
    I think the christians have lost their sense of humor, irony, and satire. They are so solemn about correcting the multitude of wrongs around them that they do not see the broiling mass of conflicts within them. Until christian regain their humility (HA!) and rejoin the rest of humanity, they (we – I am certainly among them) will have little humor.
    One goyim comic to add to your list – Jay Leno.
    Maybe its because all humor is dirty – but so is humanity. It is the “hum-” that binds us; humanity, humor, humility, humus (rich fertile soil, not the chick pea spread on pita bread). Of course, the hum- means we are of the earth, the soil, the stuff of Adam (dust and divine spit). Christians don’t like dirty or spit, so maybe thats why they aren’t funny. Fart jokes are funny, farting Christians are funnier. Thats the way it will be and for ever more. Amen (*braaap*)

  • Chris

    Sure, Jews are funny. But let’s not forget the likes of Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor and who is probably the funniest comedian today, Chris Rock.

  • Gary

    A Jewish friend of mine told me there is the Jewish “culture” and the Jewish “religion.” He was raised in the Jewish culture with all their holidays and other excuses to get together as families and eat. But he did not go to synagogue. It could be that much of Jewish humor stems from the Jewish culture.
    Their culture is that they are penny-pinchers and will take advantage free opportunities. Here is an example: “How was copper wire invented? Two Jews found the same penny.”
    Now combine their penny-pinching culture with their religious-based dietary constraints: “What do you call it when a Jew gets a free ham? A predicament.”
    A Jew could be non-practicing (religiously) but still Jewish (culturally.) But is there an equivalent on the Christian side? There is no “Christianity culture” outside of practicing Christians.
    One can poke fun at the Jewish culture without being considered blasphemous of the Jewish religion. But then again, I think Jewish people take themselves more lightly than Christians do. But poking fun at Christians could get close to poking fun at the religion itself and practicing Christians.
    Christian vs. Mormon joke: “Saint Peter was showing a new arrival around heaven. As they approached a wall, Saint Peter said ‘Shhh.’ After they passed by, the newly-arrived asked why. ‘Because on the other side of that wall are the Mormons and they think they are the only ones up here.'”

  • Murdock

    Why do Mormon women stop having kids at 36? Because 37 is just too many.
    How do you keep a Mormon from drinking all of the beer at your barbeque? Invite two of them.
    What is Mormon heroin? Sugar
    I do not recall for sure, but I think that the first one might be in “Mormonism for Dummies.” Not exactly the Big Mormon Book for Mormons but durn good. I read it. Roughly six months later the missionaries, one from Utah and the other from Idaho, came knocking on my East Coast door. They just could not get over everything I already knew. Whe I told them that my favorite dessert in childhood had been green jello, which was perfectly true, they cracked up and were then unable to be serious the rest of the evening. I was baptised about a year later. Thanks in no small part to you Dr. Riess and you Brother Bigelow.
    I love Richard Pryor and have all of his CDs. Years ago, when I read his autobiography, “Pryor Convictions and Other Life Sentences”, it turned out to be tragic rather than comic. He was a victim, which fits in with your thesis that Jewish humor stems from victimization.
    Anyway, I read recently that obesity is the underlying cause of most premature death in America. Oh!So that’s why they call them funeral potatoes. Murdock

  • Matt

    Chris farley was a funny Catholic. Although I think what some Christians due is they try to say “oh that person may say they are a Christian but they don’t act like one” So there is that idea that only people who act holy and go to church every Sunday are Christians when actually accepting Jesus makes one a Christian not going to church.

  • Jodie

    Daniel Tosh, not a Jew and extremely funny.

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