Comedy is the lifeblood of the Jewish people. Well, OK, the Torah is actually the lifeblood of the Jewish people. But comedy is definitely a close second!! In the face of centuries of persecution and current antisemitism, Jews have seemingly developed a knack for laughing through the pain, and creating, writing and performing comedy that brings the house down. Standing out across the spectrum of media – from episodes of TV to stand-up performances to viral internet songs – these Jewish comedians and hilarious Jewish moments were truly the best of 5782.
The Best Performance
When Alison Leiby set out to write about and perform stand-up material relating to her abortion, she probably couldn’t have imagined that she would open her off-Broadway stand-up show “Oh God, A Show About Abortion” mere weeks before the Supreme Court of the United States would overturn Roe v. Wade. That those events did coincide, however, made the Jewish comedian’s show and performance that much more important. In fact, one could argue – and we do – that Alison’s vulnerable and comedic destigmatization of a necessary medical procedure is an act of tikkun olam. “[The show] isn’t going to change anybody’s mind, it is not going to politically shake the ground. I mean, I hope that it has all kinds of positive repercussions in the reproductive rights space,” Alison told Hey Alma. “But what I really want is for it to make people feel like they can be more open with their experiences, abortion or otherwise, and be able to talk about things that are happening to them in real time and not hold onto these things.” Thank you, Alison.
Breakout Jewish Comedian
SNL’s 47th season, which premiered in the fall of last year, brought a decent amount of change for the historic late night show. Hard-hitting cast members like Kate McKinnon and Pete Davidson were absent for a few episodes throughout the season while filming other projects. Additionally, new cast members and writers, who typically scrounge for screen time, became stars almost right away. Among them was Jewish comedian Sarah Sherman aka Sarah Squirm. Almost overnight, Sarah, who grew up in a not-very-Jewish part of Long Island, solidified her place as America’s kookiest darling on “Saturday Night Live” with her Fran Drescher-inspired wardrobe, wacky characters like the Six Flags Guy and Chucky, and, of course, calling Colin Jost an antisemite. Whatever she goes on to do at the show, season 47 drove home that Sarah Sherman has a lot of star-power potential at “Saturday Night Live” and we absolutely cannot wait to see more.
The Best Jewish Comedian
Jewish comedian Alex Edelman has had a really good year. In December 2021, his one-man show “Just For Us” opened off-Broadway. The show, which both recounts his experience attending a meeting of white nationalists and examines Jewish whiteness, was initially slated to run for less than a month. Instead, “Just For Us” closed its run on September 2, 2022 at the Greenwich House Theater after multiple extensions spanning two other theaters. Meanwhile, the show was positively reviewed by the New York Times and the New Yorker, and earned Alex appearances on shows like “Late Night with Seth Meyers” and “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Even if “Just For Us” wasn’t supremely Jewish, Alex Edelman would still be our Best Jewish Comedian of 5782. The thought and care with which Alex approaches his comedy is Talmudic, interrogating both situations and himself to find the ridiculousness at their core. More than that, he’s only interested in exploring Jewishness in new ways onstage. On “Saturday Night Seder,” a virtual, comedic and musical seder from 2020 for which he served as the head writer, Alex told Hey Alma, “I was super militant about no bubbes, no briskets, no bagels. I didn’t want this very superficial engagement of old school, mid-century Judaism. Because I think that gets in the way of really, really getting into it, and wondering what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century in the United States.”
The Best Jewish Joke
July 15, 2022 marked Jewish comedian Nathan Fielder’s return to TV, and it was not long before audiences — and seemingly everyone in our Twitter feeds — were entranced by the Wizard of Loneliness’s profoundly uncomfy, indisputably brilliant new project: HBO’s “The Rehearsal.” In his hit 2013 series “Nathan For You,” Nathan only occasionally referenced his Jewish parents and upbringing (true stans will recall the episode centered around Nathan’s Summit Ice launch, a brand aimed at simultaneously “producing quality outdoor apparel and raising awareness of the Holocaust”). However, over the course of “The Rehearsal,” Nathan’s Jewishness finally began to inch, then leap into the spotlight. His Jewish identity was continually amplified by characters like Angela, Nathan’s hardcore evangelical Christian “wife,” and episode three’s Patrick, a man with the unfortunate tendency to perpetuate antisemitic stereotypes during his rehearsals. As for Nathan’s best “Jewish joke,” we have chosen to nominate the entirety of episode five (“Apocalypto”). As we watched Nathan stealthily send his “child” Adam to synagogue and a Jewish tutor, lost our minds over his spectacularly awkward bar mitzvah photos, listened as he articulated the age-old fear of feeling “like a bad Jew” in his typical monotone, and witnessed him clunkily evade all of the tutor’s pointed questions about Israel’s political climate, we laughed because we recognized ourselves.
The Best Jewish Comedy Song
From Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” to almost everything Rachel Bloom did on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” good Jewish comedy songs are basically tradition at this point. This year, Jewish comedian Rose Kelso added an absolute banger to the Jewish musical canon with her song and music video “European Boys.” Centered around the premise of hooking up with a European boy and asking him, “What were your grandparents doing between 1939 and 1945?” the song features hilariously kinky and Jewy lines like, “Did you hear that, Grandma, Grandpa? / Your dear grandson got pegged by a Jew! / The best part is that I did / every single thing he begged me to,” and, “Give him eight days and he’ll call on me / to carry out his bris.” Even better, the lyrics are accompanied by a klezmer melody and a colorful and campy vibe that would make John Waters himself plotz.