A distinctive urban publisher since 1941

Wayne State University Press

0 items

Funny, You Don't Look Funny

Judaism and Humor from the Silent Generation to Millennials

Jennifer Caplan

Jewish Studies, Humor, Media Studies

Published: March 2023
ISBN: 9780814347317
Pages: 296 Size: 6 x 9
Published: March 2023
ISBN: 9780814347300
Pages: 296 Size: 6 x 9
Published: March 2023
ISBN: 9780814347324
Pages: 296 Size: EPUB

In this comprehensive approach to Jewish humor focused on the relationship between humor and American Jewish practice, Jennifer Caplan calls us to adopt a more expansive view of what it means to "do Jewish," revealing that American Jews have turned, and continue to turn, to humor as a cultural touchstone. Caplan frames the book around four generations of Jewish Americans from the Silent Generation to Millennials, highlighting a shift from the utilization of Jewish-specific markers to American-specific markers.

Jewish humor operates as a system of meaning-making for many Jewish Americans. By mapping humor onto both the generational identity of those making it and the use of Judaism within it, new insights about the development of American Judaism emerge. Caplan's explication is innovative and insightful, engaging with scholarly discourse across Jewish studies and Jewish American history; it includes the work of Joseph Heller, Larry David, Woody Allen, Seinfeld, the Coen brothers films, and Broad City. This example of well-informed scholarship begins with an explanation of what makes Jewish humor Jewish and why Jewish humor is such a visible phenomenon. Offering ample evidence and examples along the way, Caplan guides readers through a series of phenomenological and ideological changes across generations, concluding with commentary regarding the potential influences on Jewish humor of later Millennials, Gen Z, and beyond.

Jennifer Caplan is the Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of numerous works on Judaism and popular culture, including publications in Bulletin for the Study of Religion, Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, Shofar, and the Journal of Jewish Identities.

Unlike most books on Jewish humor, Caplan’s innovative work explores the place of Judaism within humor itself, allowing Caplan to stay laser-focused on her topic. The reader will be enlightened and entertained as she tracks the evolution of this poorly understood facet of American comedy across four generations.

– Jarrod Tanny, author of City of Rogues and Schnorrers: Russia’s Jews and the Myth of Old Odessa

You have undoubtedly heard that Jews are funny and, after all, so many iconic Jewish comedian writers are famous for their biting humor, right? Rather than take that sweeping assertion for granted, Jennifer Caplan writes insightfully about the story behind their stories through several generations of literary and film humor by iconic Jews who ‘made it’ in America. Her profound revelation is that humor as an intellectual and social frame for paradox offers a critical expression of generational difference in views of the role of Judaism in American culture. Her book is a provocative cultural history and at the same time a clarion call for future generations of a people connected to the joke as well as the book.

– Simon J. Bronner, author of Jewish Cultural Studies (Wayne State University Press, 2021), a National Jewish Book Award winner

Funny, You Don’t Look Funny is a terrific volume, anchored by Jennifer Caplan’s sharp, innovative readings of American Jewish comedic work from the late twentieth century through the turn of the millennium. Training her lens on how these comics took on the Jewish religion, Caplan reveals that the comedic process has long been a vital form of religious interpretation for American Jews.

– Rachel Kranson, author of Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America

This wide-ranging analysis skillfully synthesizes cultural themes from novels, films, and tweets, while the insightful takes illuminate what it means to be Jewish in America. The result is a discerning perspective on the recent evolution of American Jewish identity.

– Publisher's Weekly

Jennifer Caplan adds a significant angle to the enormous collection of scholarship about Jewish humor by focusing on how specific comic works fit into the tasks of the Jewish community in America from the mid-20th century until close to the present.

– Louis Finkelman, The Detroit Jewish News

An occasionally esoteric, but always well-researched and provocative cultural history.

– Paula Bernstein, Wellesley Magazine