No Joke: Making Jewish Humor - June 2013
"It’s a treat. The jokes are abundant, well chosen, and funny; and Ruth Wisse brings Harvard scholarship to our wonderful Yiddish treasury of humor. A salute and congratulations."―Herman Wouk
“The funniest thing since we let the goyim into show business.”―David Mamet.
In her delightful, erudite new book No Joke: Making Jewish Humor, Harvard professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth Wisse evokes and applauds the genius of Jewish joking—as well as the brilliance of writers like Heinrich Heine, Sholem Aleichem, Isaac Babel, S. Y. Agnon, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Philip Roth. At the same time, Wisse draws attention to the precarious conditions that call Jewish humor into being—and the price it may exact from its practitioners and audience.
Wisse broadly traces modern Jewish humor around the world, teasing out its implications as she explores memorable and telling examples from German, Yiddish, English, Russian, and Hebrew. No Joke looks at how Jewish humor channels Jewish learning and wordmanship into new avenues of creativity, has brought relief to non-Jews in repressive societies, and has enriched popular culture in the United States.
Even as it invites readers to consider the pleasures and profits of Jewish humor, the book asks difficult but fascinating questions: Can the excess and extreme self-ridicule of Jewish humor go too far and backfire in the process? And is “leave ‘em laughing” the wisest motto for a people that others have intended to sweep off the stage of history?
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. She is the author of The Modern Jewish Canon: A Journey through Language and Culture, which won a National Jewish Book Award.