Roseanne Barr…Oy

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You know that famous Seinfeld where Jerry thinks his dentist, Dr. Watley, converted to Judaism for the jokes? A priest asks Jerry if this offends him as a Jew. In a classic punchline, Jerry responds, “It offends me as a comedian!”

If you haven’t heard about this yet, you should. In last month’s “Germany Issue” of Heeb Magazine, Roseanne Barr dressed up as Hitler, and was pictured taking burnt Jew cookies out of an oven. The reaction to this picture has been swift and strong. Basically, everyone from Fox News to Perez Hilton has called out Heeb for being rude and offensive, to say the least.

Roseanne as Hitler in Heeb Heeb, feeling a lot of backlash, had to respond. But in his statement, Joshua Neuman, the editor of Heeb, didn’t apologize at all. Really, all he said were that the views of the magazine were being misrepresented. To quote him: “…while we kind of don’t give a sh*t whether the magazine wreaks havoc on smug and sanctimonious visions of Jewish life, we do care when our intentions (or those of our collaborators) are distorted.”

It’s ironic that in an attempt to defend his publication, Mr. Neuman came off as incredibly smug himself. He says they were exploring whether or not Holocaust humor has shed its taboo. He goes on to mention such jokes as “the Soup Nazi” from Seinfeld to prove that we are actually okay with it all.

But here’s my issue. For the most part, I’m fine with Holocaust humor. But (and I’m trying to avoid sounding smug myself), comedy isn’t about just making the most outladnish thing you can think of and throwing it at people. The “Survivor” scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm that he also mentions, is hilarious because it’s smart. It makes fun of people who think reality shows are hard. It doesn’t make fun of the Holocaust. Where is the joke in the Roseanne picture? She is killing Jews? Haha…nope.

Just like Jerry, I’m not offended as a Jew. I’m offended as a comedian. Shock value just isn’t funny. And Heeb Magazine is just plain lame.

Posted on August 4, 2009

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7 thoughts on “Roseanne Barr…Oy

  1. There are certainly different levels of “Holocaust humor,” and the most comfortable jokes are ones that clearly make fun of Nazis, Hitler, or people who are ignorant about the Holocaust, and do not poke fun at the victims or the horror itself.

    Heeb, however, made a “Jews in the oven” joke, which is bound to offend a lot of people. However, I would argue that there are some Jews who can and do laugh at that type of humor. Using taboos to make people uncomfortable is a form of comedy, and whether you find that sort of thing funny is just a matter of personal taste.

    If you check out my post at Jewesses With Attitude, my personal opinion is that Holocaust humor is a generational thing. Since younger Jews are less likely to have personal connections to survivors, they use Holocaust humor as a way to incorporate the Holocaust into their own Jewish identities.

    -Leah Berkenwald
    jwablog.jwa.org/holocausthumor

  2. Meredith Kesner Lewis

    I absolutely agree. Holocaust humor and the absurdity that goes with it is one method that people use to try to understand something that is basically comprehension.

    The idea that one European ruler could kill 6 million people without the world really noticing would seem outrageous and absurd if it hadn’t actually happened.

    That being said, the Heeb piece isn’t about Holocaust humor. It’s about shock value and trying to get to get people to pay attention to a dying, irrelevant magazine.

    They would have achieved the same goal (or perhaps done better) if the cover just had a huge headline that said “Abe Foxman can suck it.”

  3. Daniel Septimus

    I don’t have a particular interest in defending Heeb in this specific case (though, I will say that I don’t at all think the magazine is “lame”  or “irrelevant” in general).

    But I think you are missing one thing here, Jeremy. Shock does indeed have significant value, but: (a) That value isn’t always supposed to be comedic; (b) That value isn’t necessarily positive (i.e. it doesn’t necessarily add something “good”).

    In fact, one might say that Heeb’s photo has produced profound value as it has significantly furthered the conversation about how the appropriate “use” of the Holocaust. In fact, it’s been illuminating the extent to which people think Heeb crossed the line.

    One also has to wonder about Roseanne’s role here. If Bruno (i.e. Sascha Baron Cohen) or someone else with more current cultural cache was photographed in the same way, would people have responded similarly?

  4. Meredith Kesner Lewis

    Perhaps irrelevant is too strong of a word. But it think it’s fair to argue that magazines in general are a dying business and focusing on shock value as opposed to editorial content may not be the best strategy to combat that.

    At least in my cohort, people loved Heeb when it first came out and were excited by the content and positions it took. Now, I don’t know any one that still reads it or makes an effort to do so.

  5. DocBev

    Several years ago this person mocked the national anthem of the United States and when the crowd voiced its disapproval, she grabbed what would be her testicles had she been a man.

    She deserves to contract testicular cancer for mocking one of the most horrendous events in history. She is unworthy of further comment

  6. Theresa Simons

    Guess I have a BIG problem with “holocaust humor”. I find no humor in it whatsoever. This is most offensive to me as a Jewish convert and still would be if I were not.

  7. Theresa Simons

    I believe the more things like this that are tolerated the more it desensitizes people and the more likely it is for another holocaust to happen.

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