Jewish Sketch Comedy & Stand-Up
1970s & '80s stand-up & sketch comedy: Seinfeld's start, Andy Kaufman, Saturday Night Live
But there was a difference, as SNL writer Robert Smigel explains: "Sid Caesar's sketch comedy came out of vaudeville and had more of a straightforwardness to it. Caesar is more about wacky people in normal situations; the newer writing was more about normal people in strange situations."
Jon Lovitz as "Hanukkah Harry"
SNL combined the often-risqué shock comedy of National Lampoon with a more sophisticated Jewish style of humor, an approach fostered by producer/writer Lorne Michaels and by the show's Jewish writers--Rosie Shuster (The Larry Sanders Show, Square Pegs), Bob Tischler, Al Franken (Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot), and Alan Zweibel (It's Garry Shandling's Show), among others.
Clearly, SNL did not fear the Anti-Defamation League. One of Saturday Night Live's more controversial sketches was "Jewess Jeans" (1980), a faux ad for jeans with Jewish stars emblazoned on the posterior, modeled by Gilda Radner's gum-chewing Jewish shopaholic.
In the 1970s and '80s, SNL launched the careers of a rainbow coalition of young comedians, including Jews who were not afraid to affirm their roots on TV. In 1989, actor Jon Lovitz created Hanukkah Harry, a bearded Jew in a black Santa's cap. In his sketch "The Night Hanukkah Harry Saved Christmas," Lovitz parodied TV Christmas specials that linked materialism and gift-giving with happiness.
"Hanukkah Harry," "Jewess Jeans," and other SNL sketches of the period (such as 1988's game-show parody "Jew, Not a Jew," which satirized the assimilation of Jews in showbiz) enabled SNL writers/performers of the '90s such as Adam Sandler to be even more open about their Jewish identities.
Arie Kaplan is a freelance writer who has written for MAD magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and Time Out New York, among other publications. He has also written jokes for MTV's Total Request Live. More of his work can be found on his website, www.ariekaplan.com.
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