Top Living Jewish Comedians
By Jeremy Elias
Comedy has been a staple among the Jewish people since the beginning of time. You might recall the joke Abraham played on Isaac, for example. Whether it was the risk-taking routine of Andrew Dice Clay or the one-liners from Jerry Seinfeld, Jewish comedians have had a presence since the art form began. Here’s a list of the 15 most hilarious Hebrews still working today.
Jewish Comedians: 1. Mel Brooks...
“Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die.”
He's probably the first man to create a musical sketch based on the Inquisition, and the only person to write a song entitled “Springtime for Hitler,” but these are just a few of Mel Brooks’ accolades. Films like “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein” created the blueprint for the modern-day spoof, while “The 2000 Year Old Man” remains one of the greatest comedy albums ever recorded. But I think we’re all most envious of the fact that he was able to use the line “Are you trying to seduce me, Mrs. Robinson?” in a real-life setting.
“If every student was like me in college, we'd still be in Vietnam.”
Who could have imagined the degree of success Larry David has achieved? Certainly not the man himself, who often walks around the streets of New York City hoping to find a nice place to live once he becomes homeless. But before turning to the streets, the greatest sitcom ever broadcast took off on NBC. With "Seinfeld," he was the man behind the scenes, only to be portrayed by his alter ego George Costanza (yes, Larry did actually take part in a "Contest"). Now starring in his own HBO series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Larry brings his comedic genius to full view.
“I heard Dennis Kucinich say in a debate, "When I'm president..." and I just wanted to stop him and say, ‘Dude.’”
At a time when political comedy seemed dead, and political interest among the youth was even more lifeless, Jon Stewart turned a mediocre show into pure gold. Exchanging one-liners with politicians, journalists, and actors, “The Daily Show” has become a "Tivo must" for Generation Y. Many longtime fans are hoping his political wit will one day lead him to public office. But there might not be room for two good-looking, hilarious Jews in Washington. So you’re safe for now, Joe Lieberman.
“Who picks your clothes--Stevie Wonder?”
Don Rickles, Mr. Warmth himself, is the father of insult comedy. Making fun of the crowd used to be simply a way to get the laughs started--until Rickles made it his entire act. His punch lines could lead the most secure audience members straight to the therapist, while leaving the others doubled over with laughter. Making his name on the Vegas strip, Rickles became the unofficial jester of the Rat Pack. And although Frank, Dino, and Sammy are long gone, you can still catch Rickles in a city near you--just don’t sit in the front row.
“Men want the same thing from their underwear that they want from women: a little bit of support, and a little bit of freedom.”
The brilliance of his "Show About Nothing" will have generations to come repeating phrases like "yada, yada, yada" and "No soup for you!" But besides co-creating Seinfeld, Jerry developed a brand of comedy that took George Carlin's "Observational Humor" to the next level. Nowhere is Seinfeld's commitment to craft more noticeable than in the 2003 documentary, "Comedian," outlining his painstaking journey toward creating a new routine. In the film it becomes apparent that it's not always pleasant going to the office every night--and it can be a long private jet ride home to the Hamptons.
Sacha Baron Cohen
“Thank you to every American who has not sued me so far.”
While I was a bit hesitant to include this innovative comedian on the list because he didn’t get his start in stand-up, a quick re-viewing of his film "Borat" settled all dispute. It is undeniable that Cohen’s comedy is a new brand, breaking new barriers, and eliciting countless controversies. Jews can be funny. But Cohen took it a step further by proving Jew-hating is even funnier.
“I went out with a guy who once told me I didn't need to drink to make myself more fun to be around. I told him, 'I'm drinking so that you’re more fun to be around.'”
For the critics who claim that women aren’t funny, simply tune into E! and witness the comedic skills of Chelsea Handler. Her blonde hair and blue eyes make her seem more Aryan than Ashkenazi, but Handler did in fact grow up in a Jewish household in Livingston, New Jersey. Some might call her a spin-off of the Silverman brand of comedy, but there’s more innovation than emulation in her hit television show, "Chelsea Lately."
Billy Crystal, Gary Shandling, Richard Lewis, and David Brenner
"In high school, I was the class comedian as opposed to the class clown. The difference is, the class clown is the guy who drops his pants at the football game, the class comedian is the guy who talked him into it." --Billy Crystal
I'd hate to reduce these brilliant performers to a comedic category, but they all represent variations on a similar brand of comedy. They weren't breaking barriers like Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor, but their material presented a smarter, more accessible act. Many of them rose through the ranks at "Catch A Rising Star," not necessarily performing straight jokes but pulling material straight from the id. Their acts left every anxiety-ridden kid in Hebrew school thinking they would one day get their own sitcom. In many ways, the New York comedy scene of the 1970s and 1980s became the modern-day Borscht Belt, with just a little faster nightlife than Grossinger’s.
“I do off-beat impressions...like Sir Isaac Newton. Hey, no one can check.”
The constantly morphing Robert Klein has always tailored his comedy to his own life. His first comedy album, “Child of the Fifties,” was about growing up in the Bronx, while his latest HBO special opened with a song about the humor in aging. He’s the professor of stand-up comedy, blending observational with improvisational material. If you’re still not convinced, pick up “The Amorous Busboy of Decatur Avenue,” in which Klein describes bringing a German gentile home to meet the parents; a joyous evening with stuffed cabbage and war-crime accusations.
Andrew Dice Clay
“Hickory, Dickory, Dock…”
The dirtiest comic I’ve ever heard perform, Dice doesn’t exactly encapsulate the nice Jewish boy who’ll carry your challah home. He turned comedy into a concert event. More Mick Jagger than Mort Sahl, Dice proved the line of political correctness was only an illusion. Although now he’s more of a has-been, plaguing us with his presence on reality TV, Dice didn’t spare any expense when it came to making us laugh in the 80s.
“So all my friends have kids now...which I think is rude.”
Although he is extremely reformed, an atheist to be more specific, Cross is still a Jewish comic in my mind. He isn’t a bad boy like Dice, he isn’t innocent like Seinfeld, but rather performs an anti-establishment comedy for the thinking man. Although Cross is enjoying more and more of a presence on both television and the big screen, he maintains a commitment to his act. However, I would love to see a return of “Arrested Development,” in which Cross plays the aspiring thespian, Tobias.
“I don't care if you think I'm racist. I just want you to think I'm thin.”
When she's not urging young Yids to make the "Great Schlep" to Boca to convince their bubbies and zaydies to vote for Obama, Sarah Silverman performs some of the most edgy and hilarious material to ever come out of a performer's mouth. Her cute smile and girl-next-door charm allow her to deliver punch lines about race, religion, and sex like no other. It takes a special comedian to tell such off-color jokes while still maintaining her charm.
“I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality through not dying.”
After establishing himself as one of the greatest stand-up comics of all time, Woody Allen abandoned the stage for the screen, churning out a movie virtually every year since 1966. His wit, charm, and iconic on-screen persona make neurotic Jews a hot commodity. With jokes referencing topics from Dostoyevsky to metaphysics, Woody’s delivery and timing are unmatched.
“You see a guy with one leg, he's got a story. ‘Land mine '69.’ You see a guy with one tooth, what would the story be? ‘Well, uh, I like a lot of taffy.’”
On any given night in New York City, you can stumble into the Comedy Cellar and probably find Dave Attell making college kids keel over with laughter. What makes Attell so special is his constant presence in the smaller clubs. He’s toured the country, he’s had his own comedy central show, but you can truly understand him by the joy he finds in sticking with the New York comedy scene.
Probably operating under the correct assumption that Lifschultz (his given last name) wouldn’t look great on a marquee, the newly named Jeffrey Ross emerged from his New Jersey roots to become the “Roastmaster General” of the Friar’s Club. The star of countless roasts, he is the youngest old-time comedian in the history of the art. He’s more Jewish than Jackie Mason, more insensitive than Don Rickles, and has a certain quality that makes you think he’s cracking jokes with Uncle Milty in the back of the Carnegie Deli.