The Role of Jewish Americans in Comedy
With Hanukkah right around the corner, it’s time to take a look back at how Jewish Americans shaped stand up comedy into what it is today.
Upstate New York’s Catskill Mountains in the 1930s had vacation resorts that provided an escape for many Jewish-Americans living in New York City. This area affectionately came to be known as the “Borscht Belt”.
Combined with a desire to fit into the American lifestyle and a need for a welcoming space, the Catskill resorts catered to NYC Jews as a place where one can be welcomed and entertained without a cloud of oppression hanging over one’s head.
Vaudeville shows were all the rage back then, but as comedic taste began to get more sophisticated, comedian Henny Youngman began to take the stage as a monologuest with killer one-liners that brought the house down.
The Borscht Belt in the Catskill Mountains gave Jewish Americans an opportunity to mold stand up comedy into a shape of its own.
Legendary Jewish comics like Sid Cesar, Lenny Bruce, and Joan Rivers got their start in the Catskill resorts. The Borscht Belt provided an opportunity for Jewish comics to flourish and eventually burst into the mainstream with the rise of television.
Without the roles Jewish Americans had in stand up comedy, who knows if it would even exist?
The role of Jewish Americans in stand up comedy deserves to be respected. Jews are a staple in stand up culture, and stand up is a staple in Jewish culture. Harrison Greenbaum, a Stand Up NY regular, had this to say about comedy in Jewish culture:
“Comedy likely became such a vital part of Jewish culture as Jews used it as a defense mechanism during tough times.”
Stand Up NY is proud to present Jewish comedians like Harrison Greenbaum, Elon Gold, Judah Friedlander, and Judy Gold.