I credit the motion picture industry as the strongest environmental factor in molding the children of my day.

Andy Hardy: whistling; a brown pompadour; a green lawn; a father whose severest punishment was taking your car away for the weekend.

Warner Baxter was a doctor. All priests looked like Pat O'Brien.

The superintendent of my school looked like Spencer Tracy, and the principal looked like Vincent Price. I was surprised years later to discover they were Spencer Tracy and Vincent Price. I went to Hollywood High, folks. Lana Turner sat at the next desk, Roland Young was the English teacher and Joan Crawford taught general science. "She's got a fabulous body, but she never takes that shop apron off."

Actually, I went to public school in North Bellmore, Long Island, for eight years, up until the fifth grade. I remember the routine of milk at 10:15 and napping on the desk - I hated the smell of that desk - I always used to dribble on the initials. And how enigmatic those well-preserved carvings were to me:
(Bruce, 1966:9)

lenny.JPG - 38.9 K

Travelling Humor: Shtetl to Stand-up Comedy

The production of humor is both specific to particular social structures and is transmitted across them. Humor in the second sense is a form of "travelling theory," to adapt Edward Said's phrase (Said, 1983:226-247), and bears all the advantages and problems of its global itinerary. The `liberation' of humor from its anguished, productive context may become a trap of its own when projected into another context. Jokes cracked in Ireland or Bratislava may reinforce the migrant's sense of transition when adapted in New York by new immigrants, but may be a straightjacket when forced on their children, who are likely to want to tell different jokes appropriate to other contexts. This essay is therefore about travelling humor, but not about whether the humor "wears well" when it travels, (an argument which depends on the comparative juxtapositions of values being constant in different contexts) but with how the humor is transmitted from one value-system to another.

Lenny Bruce was an American raconteur, comedian, aphorist, whose performances - on and off the stage - gained some notoriety in the late l950s and early l960s. Bruce was brought up in Long Island. His grandparents had migrated at some point from Central Europe to England, and, then, when Bruce's father, Mickey Schneider, was one-and-a-half years' old, to the USA. After Demobilization from the Army in l945, Mickey trained himself as a physiotherapist. Bruce's mother, Sadie, tried, and failed to make it on the stage. They got divorced after a few years. Neither of them, at any stage of their lives, were part of a Jewish religious community, though Bruce's grandmother seems to have been important in transmitting Yiddish and Ashkenazy traditions to her family. And yet it was Lenny Schneider (alias Bruce) who presented the clearest case of travelling Jewish humor and its fate in North America. By going back to the Central European roots of Jewish humor, and its migration to the European cities and to North America, I intend to show the problems of travelling humor.

Much of the joke-telling in Ireland, Wales, Cape Breton, Newfoundland, and Kentucky seem to display similar patterns. There are jokes about the mean-spirited, the frugal, the penny-pinchers. There are jokes against people with split values, jokes against people deemed to be of lower or higher intellectual statuses which are essentially racist, jokes against the clergy, jokes which expose particular forms of infidelity, jokes against those who are incompetent in their jobs, and so on. These jokes are transposable from situation to situation not only because the people were transported, but because they were transported to essentially similar socio-economic situations. Such humor "wears well" because it travels from one situation to another which are characteristically similar. What folklorists are concerned with is to spell out the nuances of the variations of the transmigration.

Most humor, after a while, does not wear well. (Anyone heard a good Welsh Patagonian joke recently? Or a great Hungarian New-York-bred one?) But humor does travel: this essay is concerned with exploring the implications of Jewish humor travelling from the Central European shtetl to the United States, and I am taking this route because the Jews, like the Blacks and the Irish, provide a well-documented case of a culture forced to migrate and therefore, against their personal wishes, compelled to examine their culture and their humor in entirely new contexts.

Two trajectories inform what I have to say. One is experiential, historical, practical. The history of world Jewry for the past 100 years, although well-documented, has to be re-stated not in terms of its past and cultural heritage but in terms of what it is becoming. The North American confidence in infinite progress and growth must be treated as a set of values that have to be deconstructed in terms of how they distinguish between living structures and apparent values. There may be a past (`The World We Have Lost','World of Our Fathers') which continues to affect how contemporary Jews live now, but that impact can only be traced through artifact (letters, words, images) and as facticities of memory inscribed on the everyday. It is in the practice of the everyday that these artifacts come alive. But because the artifacts have an impact we must be able to trace them against the overwhelming presence of the other images with which they have to contend.

Lenny Bruce suggested this problem in an aside on the problem of the Jewish 'god':

Now, the reason, perhaps, for my irreverence is that I have no knowledge of the god, because the Jews lost their god. Really. Before I was born the god was going away.

Because to have a god you have to know something about him, and as a child I didn't speak the same language as the Jewish god.

To have a god you have to love him and know about him as kids - early instruction - and I didn't know what he looked like. Our god has no mother, no father, no manger in the five and ten, on cereal boxes and on television shows.

The Jewish god - what's his face? Moses? Ah, he's a friend of god's:

"I dunno. Moses, he's, I dunno, his uncle, I dunno..."

He has no true identity. Is he a strong God? Are there little stories? Are there Bible tales about god, that one god, our faceless god? (Bruce, l967: 45)

The second trajectory, couched in the language of what is often called PostModernism argues that, since the early 1960s, both Western and Eastern societies have experienced a complete breakdown in values which is exemplified in three ways: the production of knowledge for its own (or Life's) sake, the dichotomy between law as a central all-pervasive control and the counter-thrust of demands that everything must be tolerated, and, thirdly, the awareness (sketched by Baudrillard and MacLuhan) that we live in a world where the representation of the real takes over from the real itself.

The two trajectories intertwine, (though rarely in the work of those who espouse them). The first takes history seriously as sequence but as a sequence that has to be read backwards. The second (although its pessimism/despair about the present forces us to confront the past as something that was lived) compells us to re-examine a present which is more than simply read. The tension between reading and living, practice and theory, are central to both exercises. And that tension is surely revealed in the moment we call humor. Here we invariably recall moments in the past in order to give meaning to the present. Alternatively we project the present onto a past which we want to highlight for our own purposes.

The `living' moment of humor, if it is spoken, is the voice of the story-teller, the raconteur who becomes the voices of those he wants to project into this present. The `dead' moment is the retelling of an old story in a way that will make sense to the other living. Something of encoding and decoding takes place here, with parody and satire lying at the point of intersection. Even if the humour is not spoken, it is the inflection of the spoken and unspoken, the story retold in another context that gives it its decoded sense, where the `audience' becomes both the deconstructor of the message and the encoder of the new one. Performance art - especially in theatre, music and comedy - is such a situation where the storyteller, caught between the literature of memory and the practice of seeing and hearing, becomes himself a problem. Who is this guy up there? Why is he saying this to us now? Lenny Bruce stands at the apex of this conflict between ourselves wanting a `show' and not knowing why this `show' should go on.

Changing Contexts: the Urbaniziation and Secularization of Jewish Humor.

The reading of this particular trajectory of Jewish humor begins with the shtetl, and the moment when Jews in Eastern Europe were congregated in small farming communities in an area roughly bordered by the Danube to the south, the Vistula and the Baltic to the north, the Oder to the west, and the Dnieper and the Dvina to the east. They were a society of farmers, craftsmen, itinerant musicians and rabbis.Their language was Yiddish, a German patois spoken with a Hebraic/Slavic inflection. An urban strata - led to some extent by professionals who had migrated to the cities - soon declared themselves independent of rabbinical control, which had provided the central oppositional focus of those who lived in the shtetl. Not only did a sophisticated bourgeoisie emerge in such cities as Berlin, Warsaw, Kiev, Budapest, Prague and Vienna, but so did a militant working class and an intellectual Marxist movement which sought to overthrow the existing regimes. Pre-American European Jewishness therefore split into two strands: the beleagured rural enclaves of the shtetl and the bourgeois/proletarian radicalism of the cities. Shtetl Jews preserved the Torah, Hebrew and rigid ritual; urban Jews tried to universalize the Jewish experience. After 1914 the divisions became even more marked. As E.J. Hobsbawm has written of himself and the interwar generation of radical Jewish intellectuals: "We did not make a commitment against bourgeois society and capitalism, since it patently seemed to be on its last legs. We simply chose a future rather than no future, which meant revolution. But it meant revolution not in a negative but in a positive sense: a new world rather than no world." (Hobsbawm: 1977,251)

In the shtetl, peasants temporarily became workers' heroes, claiming a place above the intellectuals, but the shtetl itself was physically constraining, "crisscrossed with ditches and drains. Time and events flowed away in them along with the rainwater. The ditches were spanned by small wooden bridges, almost like litter planks, like poor Jewish biers." (Neugroschel, 1979: 465).

It is important for our purposes to sketch two interrelated forms of Jewish humor. It is commonplace to say that Jewish humour is born of hardship, that it is "laughter through tears," that it is "philosophical," that it is "wistful" (all characteristics listed in Ausubel, 1967: 21-25). And it is commonplace to see that the central feature of much humour is not about very distant strangers, but about close neighbours who are slightly strange versions of ourselves. But it is equally important to recognize different styles of humor, and especially, for my purposes, to distinguish between `carnivalesque' humour and 'jokes.' The first depends for most of its effect on parodic storytelling, the second on structured situations and probably a set of fairly universal rules (at least in Western society), of which the Jewish is a unique variant.

I will explain what I mean by this. In his study of Rabelais, the Russian cultural critic Mikhail Bakhtin emphasized the importance of understanding humor as an aspect of popular opposition:

"All the acts of the drama of world history were performed before a chorus of the laughing people. Without hearing this chorus we cannot understand the drama as a whole...But not every period of history had Rabelais for Coryphaeus. Though he led the popular chorus of only one time, the Renaissance, he so fully and clearly revealed the peculiar and difficult language of the laughing people that his work sheds its light on the folk culture of humour belonging to other ages." (Bakhtin, 1984:474).

The central features of this laughter consisted of the centrality of the language of the marketplace, the importance of popular festivals, of eating, of the images of the grotesque, of the significance of the anthropomorphic and the metamorphic. The strategy that was employed was parodic, a parody which owed itself in part to popular caricatures of dominant catholic literature and ritual, but in part to the transposition of texts from the 'sacred' language (Latin) to the `vulgar' (French, German, or English). As Bakhtin argued

in parodic discourse two styles, two `languages' (both intra-lingual) came together and to a certain extent are crossed with each other: the language being parodied (for example the language of the heroic poem) and the language that parodies (low prosaic language, familiar conversational language, the language of the realistic genres, `normal' language, 'healthy' literary language as the author of the parody conceived it). This second parodying language, against whose background the parody is constructed and perceived, does not - if it is strict parody - enter as such into the parody itself, but is invisibly present in it. (Bakhtin, 1981:75).

In examining shtetl literature - only one step removed from the carnivalesque - Hebrew as the sacred text provides the parodied language and Yiddish the parodying. Hebrew, until the founding of the state of Israel, was a vigorous part of Jewish intellectual life, in particular in the Eastern European countries. It was, however, not the language of the people, but the language of the dominant segment of the male community, transmitted, like Latin, almost exclusively by texts and ritual. Women were not required to speak it and, as Gershom Scholem puts it, "that spark of vitality which comes to language from women was lacking, and this lack was very much in evidence" (Scholem, 1976:94). Books for women were written in Yiddish, for men in Hebrew, including often the parodies of the sacred texts. Hebrew was therefore a male literary language, Yiddish was female and popular. Over and above this was Gentile culture and Gentile languages - German, Russian, Polish - which provided something of a frame from within which the Jewish dialogue took place. There was no dialogue with Gentile culture, even if there were Jewish voices clamouring for dialogue (see Scholem, 1976:61-92). But Gentile culture interpenetrated the Jewish: Yiddish provided the lingua franca of this interpenetration. The stories of the shtetl display the popular negotiation of the people between the highly literate forms of Hebrew law and theology on the one side and practical everyday realities on the other. In Bakhtinian terms, then, the popular laughter of the Jewish people expresses in parodic form self-affirmation against both the hyper-rigidity of Hebraic law and the exterminating or assimilating tendencies of Gentile culture. It is to this counter-tradition (not in the transmitted culture of the Hebrew texts and rituals) that we must look if we want to understand anything of Jewish popular culture and, in particular, of its political humor.

To sketch the ingredients of this culture involves assembling the following constituent parts: the strategic significance of the traveller (embodied in the musician and the storyteller, theoretically encapsulated by Walter Benjamin in his essay on Leskov - Benjamin, 1970:83-109), the cabbalistic motif of the golem (see Scholem, 1969:158-204), the intersubjective humour of failure and incompetence, frequently involving anthropomorphism (see in particular the stories of Sholom Aleichem), the production of androgynous heroes, the creation of superhuman wandering prophets (Baal Shem and Elijah), and the existence of parodic texts and popularized Yiddish versions of sacred texts (of which the Tsene Rene or the 'Women's Bible' was the most influential). All of these were invariably centered on the marketplace, in the domestic feast or home, and in the social networks in the shtetl. Carnivalesque Yiddish humour flowered in Central Europe during the latter part of the nineteenth century up to the first World War and was transplanted to some extent to New York during the same period, where it continued in an urban form until the outbreak of the second World War. It is crisis - the pogroms in Russia and Poland, the first World War and migration - that, as with Rabelais in the Renaissance, sharpens the carnivalesque, giving it a satirical edge, and turning the commonsensical everyday reality of the shtetl into a vantage-point for viewing the outside world. Within the shtetl this produces the short stories, plays, and novels of Sholom Aleichem, Mendelele Moicher Sforim, I.L. Peretz, Isaac Meier Dick, Avrom Reyzen, and David Bergelson.

Paralleling this development was the secularization of shtetl humor, which must be seen in relation to the great secular political movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - Communism, Socialism, Nazism, and Zionism - which in turn can be seen as urban adaptations to the crisis of capitalism and, in the latter case, of the Jewish Diaspora. The hyper-narrative components of the shtetl carnivalesque as well as its social locus and religious contexts were lost to this process of secularization. Some continuity can nonetheless be seen in the stories of Isaac Babel, who quite deliberately rejects patriarchal Talmudic Judaism, shuns the ghetto (he came from Odessa, far from the shtetln) and sees himself as a man of action, especially of military action, and yet who forces himself to come to terms with the 'aura' of religion which he finds in the shtetl when he encounters it as a maternal, spiritual Yiddish force. The twin forces of the feral revolutionary man (who replaces the patriarchal intellectual tzaddick) and the dying maternalism of the shtetl are incapable of producing laughter. As an old man puts it in the story Gedali:

But the Poles, kind sir, shoot because they were the counterrevolution. You shoot because you are the Revolution. But surely the Revolution means joy. And joy does not like orphans in the house. Good men do good deeds. The Revolution is the good deed of good men. But good men do not kill. So it is bad people who are making the Revolution...here we are, all of us learned people, falling on our faces and crying out in a loud voice: `woe unto us, where is the joy-giving Resolution'? (Babel, 1961:62)

Where is the resolution? "O the rotted Talmuds of my childhood! O the dense melancholy of memories!" and "All is mortal. Only the mother is destined for immortality. And when the mother is no longer living, she leaves a memory which none has dared to sully. The memory of the mother nourishes in us a compassion that is like the ocean, and the measureless ocean feeds the rivers that dissect the universe" (Babel, 1961:33). What Babel represented in his own writing - the rotted patriarchal Talmud of the urban middle class with its strings of social failures, the Cossack-driven revolutionary (Trotsky was its leader, and in his name Babel died) and the folk memory of the dying shtetl mother - were the conflicting images that the Jews carried out of Central and Eastern Europe to North America and to Israel. If the Cossack image was ultimately to dominate Israel, the conflicting memories of the Talmudic patriarchy and shtetl maternal populism became the contending ones in North America.

Accompanying this transmission of the shtetl culture as simulacrum was the politicization and fragmentation of shtetl humour into jokes, that is, into situationally located satire that depends less on its narrative and storytelling force and more on its persistence in exploring the tension between popular agonies and political incompetence/terror. There are two kinds of joke which are peculiarly Jewish and which in a sense give a Jewish framework to the others. The first is one which imposes the oral on the literary. The following is a classic example:

Standing on Lenin's Tomb in the Red Square, Stalin was acknowledging the acclamations of the masses. Suddenly he raised his hands to silence the crowd.

"Comrades!" he cried. "A most historic event! A telegram of congratulations from Leon Trotsky!"

The crowd could hardly believe its ears. It waited in hushed anticipation.

"Joseph Stalin," read Stalin. "The Kremlin. Moscow. You were right and I was wrong. You are the true heir of Lenin. I should apologise. Trotsky."

A roar erupted from the crowd.

But in the front row a little Jewish tailor gestured frantically to Stalin.

"Psst!" he cried. "Comrade Stalin!"

Stalin leaned over to hear what he had to say.

"Such a message! But you read it without the right feeling."

Stalin once again raised his hands to still the excited crowd. "Comrades!" he announced. "Here is a simple worker, a Communist, who says that I did not read Trotsky's message with the right feeling. I ask that worker to come up onto the podium himself to read Trotsky's telegram."

The tailor jumped up onto the podium and took the telegram into his hands. He read:

"Joseph Stalin. The Kremlin. Moscow." Then he cleared his throat and sang out:

"You were right and I was wrong? You are the true heir of Lenin? I should apologize?"

(Benton and Loomes, 1976:85-86)

The second Jewish joke structure transposes two social situations in order to diminish the significance of whichever one that seems most important. This is demonstrated by another Trotsky joke:

Lev Davidovitch Bronstein has long since left his native town. News arrives that Lev has changed his name to Trotsky, and renounced the faith of his father. Old Brontein is furious, and immediately disowns his son.

Years go by. Then, in 1917, the Bolshevik revolution takes place. All the local worthies gather together in old Bronstein's house, fully aware that the callow Lev Davidovitch has become the mighty Leon Trotsky. They urge old Bronstein to visit his son in Moscow.

Finally, the old man agrees. He packs a few bags, catches a train, and makes his way to the Kremlin.

Two strapping young Red Guards prevent him from entering.

"I am the father of Leon Trotsky," he says.

After checking his papers, they take him to a Lieutenant, and from there he is passed on to a Captain, a Colonel and, finally, a very important General.

The General leads him through a suite of offices, across a magnificent hall, along a wide, red-carpeted corridor and up to a massive silver-studded door.

The General taps deferentially, and waits. On a command from within, he respectfully ushers old Bronstein through.

There is Leon Trotsky, sitting at a desk in an enormous room. He is simultaneously holding conversations in four languages on four different telephones. He recommends a General Strike in New York, organises an insurrection in Latin America, provokes the collapse of the Bank of France, and encourages a protegè Chinese warlord to seize Manchuria.

At the same time, diplomats and aides whisper in his ear, rushing off in all directions after a few words from him. In the meanwhile Trotsky has seen his father enter the room, and beckons him forward.

Finally, he concludes his business, rushes up to his father and throws his arms round him. Then he takes him by the arm, and leads him from the room. As they hurry through a hall, a dozen diplomats jump to their feet, and doff their top hats in Trotsky's direction. Trotsky vaguely motions them to return to their seats.

They pass on through a large drawing room. A score of Generals spring up, salute and click their heels.

In the corridors, the guards present arms, the civilians bow deeply and the stewards stand stiffly to attention.

They enter the garden. At last they can have a quiet chat together.

"Business pretty good, huh?" murmers the old man.

"Mustn't grumble," replies Trotsky.

"And your the Boss?"

"See for yourself. I give the orders here."

"So the business belongs to you?"


As they proceed through the grounds of the Kremlin, discussing business and swapping reminiscences, soldier after soldier comes to attention and salutes. Trotsky gestures in their direction, and strolls past.

Suddenly they come across a little man in a wheel- chair, being pushed by a nurse.

Immediately Trotsky throws his heels together with a resounding click, and slautes stiffly.

The figure in the wheelchair absent-mindedly waves two fingers in Trotsky's direction, but Trotsky remains frozen in position until the wheelchair has trundled out of sight round a corner.

"Who was that?" asks old Bronstein in amazement.

"That was Lenin. My partner."

"But you said you were the boss!"

"So I am, father, but he holds the patent."

(Benton and Loomes, l976)

In both of these jokes an element of storytelling is retained and in both the parodic remains paramount. Both are also internal Jewish jokes in the sense that they draw on a specific cultural experience: the experience of oral storytelling/reading in the first, and commonsensical job expectations in the second. Finally, both jokes `flatten' pomposities by turning the situation inside-out, and retain that element of the dialogic which suggests a continued ambivalence of the situation.

Lenny Bruce and the Art of the Carnivalesque: final journey of a travelling humor.

In studying Lenny Bruce I want to suggest in what ways - in an alien culture - these elements of Jewish political humor that travelled across the Atlantic burst into a vivid flame, then quickly burned themselves out. In Yiddish theatre, those plays that could not be performed in Russia or Poland, died a rapid death in the 1930s, as its best (or luckiest) actors and directors were absorbed by Hollywood. By the early 1950s the dominant forces in Hollywood were largely Jewish and the performing forces of the Diaspora had turned away from Yiddish theatre to the Silver screen, as well as to music and stand-up comedy. Secularized storytelling continued to be developed not only in the great Jewish urban novel - Bellow, Roth, Mailer -but also in film, although, with the exception of Charles Chaplin and, later, Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, a non-Jewish emphasis on spectacle and `epic' dominated films during Bruce's period of cultural formation. This was also the time of H.U.A.C. and the paranoia of witch-hunts - how familiar to those who had seen the entire Jewish Bolshevik parties of Europe eliminated! As played out in the motion picture and entertainment industry the McCarthy hearings redefined American democracy to allow Jew to rat on Jew and to collaborate with Gentiles in Red-baiting.

The "text" of life rapidly became showbiz, and showbiz became indistinguishable from life. Writes Baudrillard: "It is thus that for guilt, anguish and death there can be substituted the total joy of the signs of guilt, despair, violence and death" (Baudrillard, 1983:148). Or Benjamin, "Mankind, which in Homer's time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. It's self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order." (Benjamin, 1970:244). This hyperreality is the locus of Lenny Bruce's humour. His world is bounded by simulacra, by showbiz, and his use of parody is designed to return hyperreality back toward a contemplation of the real. The butts of his humor were those people who, like Ronald Reagan, took the simulation of the real as reality itself. Bruce also felt that his targets should not be 'dead'.

Here's the thing on comedy. If I were to do a satire on the assassination of John Foster Dulles, it would shock people. They'd say, "That it is in heinous taste." Why? Because it's fresh. And that's what my contention is: that satire is tragedy plus time. You give it enough time, the public, the reviewers will allow you to satirize it. Which is rather ridiculous when you think about it. And I know, probably 500 years from today, someone will do a satire on Adolf Hitler, maybe even showing him as a hero, and everyone will laugh." (Bruce, 1967:116)

Bruce's own most notorious 'satire' involved Hitler. The satire, however, was not directed at Hitler himself but at Hollywood.In Bruce's skit, a group of impressarios call up `central casting' to see if they can find the `dictator type.' And after allowing three actors to do their Hitler impressions they discover the `schlob in the white uniform who is painting the wall.' They sign him up, get together a rhythm section with some `tunes from Leonard Bernstein' and give him an `armband' (`something lucky the squares will dig') which has not been done `since Attila the Hun'. This skit highlights the Jewish media cynicism demonstrated in Hollywood blockbuster movies. The point of Hollywood is to be as sensational as possible. Bruce's point is not to turn Hitler into a hero, but to show how the media industry can use even the most horrendous stories purely for the sake of making money. The fact that the directors, actors, and musicians are Jewish is central because the satire is about the loss of the Jewish soul when it is transposed to a world where the community lacks roots, when the purpose of life has become purely superficial, and when the hyperreal has replaced the existential.

In another skit, `Religion Inc.', Bruce locates the major religious figures in a business convention. The spokesmen include H.A. Allen, Billy Graham, Oral Roberts, Rabbi Steven Weiss, and the Pope (by phone from the Vatican). The parody (switching a religious rally into a business convention) involves cutting out the apparent religious value-systems of the august body and replacing them with commercial ones.

Good evening, gentlemen. Nice to see so many boys heah tonight. Most of yew religious leaders ah haven't seen in many yeuhs. Ah jus was tawkin ta Billi this afthnoon. Ah said, "Billi yew come a lawng way, sweetie, lawng way." Who woulda thawt back in'31 - wew were hustlin baby pittures then, an shingles an siding. We're swingin, yew know - we didn't know whatthehell we doin. The c.c. camps were stahtina move, yeah. Ah didn't know mahself, yew know. An' jus lahk that! we came on it, yew know? The Gideon Bible,, an Bop! an heah we were. Hah!

Ah, the greyaph heah tells the stawry. That's about it. Faw the fust time in twelve yeuhs, Catholicism is up nine points. Judaism is up fifteen. The Big P., the Pentecostal, is stahtina move, finally, and ah...(aside) yew faggot! You're a Jehova's Witness! Got that five and ten franchise weah tryna break up.

Now, gentlemen, we got mistuh Necktyuh, from our religious novelty house in Chicago, who's got a beautiful selluh - the gen-yew-ine Jewish-star-lucky-cross-cigarette- lighter combined; an we got the kiss-me-in-the-dahk mezuzah; an the wawk-me-tawk-me camel; an these wunnerful lil cock- tail napkins with some helluva sayings theah - "Anuthuh mahtini faw Muthuh Cabrini" - an some pretty fah out things. (Bruce, 1967:61-62)

In another skit he compares the Catholic church to Big Business:

I've been really interested in Catholicism lately. I figured out what it is. It's like, there's more churches and people that work for the church than I think there are courthouses and judges. So actually, what it is, Catholicism is like Howard Johnson, and what they have are these franchises and they give all these people different franchises in the countries but they have one government, and when you buy the Howard Johnson franchise you can apply it to the geography - whatever's cool for that area - and then you, you know, pay the bread to the main office. And you have to, you know, keep a certain standard. Which is cool. But it is definitely a government by itself." (Bruce, 1967:54)

In fact in all his skits on religion Bruce reintroduces the idea of the carnivalesque as an ethical stand against the logic of organized religion. The satire via parody is not an occasion for merely making fun of the Catholic or any other religious organization: it is a self-critical attempt to establish whether there are alternative values to the practices of the religious 5 bodies and their spokesmen. "Everyday people are straying away from the church and going back to God" (Bruce, 1967:57). "My concept? You can't do anything with anybody's body to make it dirty to me. Six people, eight people, one person - you can only do one thing to make it dirty: kill it. Hiroshima was dirty. [Caryl] Chessman was dirty." (Bruce, 1967:288). At the centre of Bruce's satire is the idea of an earthy commonsense opposed to institutional moral fabrication, but an opposition registered in the self-reflective ambiguity of the comedian himself. This self-reflexivity can be seen in many of Bruce's asides, in his use of parody which is essentially a self-questioning genre, conscious of its own reversibility. The use of Yiddish expressions throughout Bruce's performances can be seen as an important element of this parodic self. The Yiddish is used not to make Bruce's humour `Jewish', but rather to validate Bruce's claim to be ironic about Jews, an important stance if the Jewish experience is to be universalized, stripped of its interiority and made public. Bruce's so-called 'ethnic' jokes are just that: the attempt to strip away the interior props with their pomposities and hypocricies so that the public relationships between people - either individually or collectively - can be made manifest. This seems to involve three interrelated techniques. (i) The first is to strip away the inherent physical biases of Jewish self-defence starting from an autobiographical position. For example:

I got this tatoo in Malta, in the Mediterranean, in 1942. So my aunt, looks at it, you know, and there's a thing, you know - Orthodox Jews, you can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery with a tatoo. That's the truth. You have to go out of the world just the way you came in, with no changes - which certainly, the Rabbi, I dunno how that figures in there; they keep philoso- phizing and say, "It's not ours to question."

So she sees this, you know, so she looks - I dunno what it was, I was washing - so she looks, you know, she goes

"Vaghhhh! Vaghhhh!"

It's a Jewish seagull -

"Look vat you did!"

You got aunts who talk that way, like parakeets -

"Hah! Hah! Lenny! Vat you did! You ruined your arm! Vy'd you do that? You can't be buried in a Jewish cemetery."

I said,

"So what are you buggin me? They'll cut this arm off, they'll bury it in a Gentile cemetery. Don't nudge me any more."

She was really weird. You know, the mole with hair in it, her breath always smelled from onion rolls, you know?

"Don't kiss me. Mema, I don't like to kiss people. Lemme alone." (Bruce, 1967:37-38)

(ii) The second is to put all race relations in historical context. For example:

Did you ever think about minority groups? You know who was the most persecuted group ever? In my generation, the Irish. The Irish got schpritzed and schpritzed and schpritzed. It's a subtle persecution, but it's there, and the most vicious. When a Jew says a schicka is a goy, he doesn't mean the Greek. That's it. You agree. When the Italian says

"Manage Irlandesi!"

When the Negro says

"That Paddy motherfucker!" that's it, Jim. It's the Irish. Zing, zing, zing, continually schpritzed. Now that's the worst kind of persecution - when it's unspoken. It's like this:

[Whisper] "They're moving in. They're moving in. They're moving in."

Who said that? The American Indians. Indian: "Oh Christ! The white people are moving in - you let in one white family, and the whole neighborhood will be white.

How come they're not worried about the real fifth column - the Seminoles? The American Indian is waiting, just waiting to turn on us. (Bruce, 1967:27-28)

(iii) Finally, Bruce recreates ethnicity in a public, familiar setting of everyday relations. The best-known version of this is known as "How to Relax Colored People at Parties":

Now, the party is swinging, and the humour emanates from the now-becoming-obscure white person's concept of "Just How Do You Relax Colored People at Parties?" And in the bit I play the white guy: White man [rasping, aggressive voice]: Oh, boy, what a hell of a party, eh?
Negro [clear, well-educated]: Yeah, I'm enjoying myself, having a wonderful time.
White: I really stuffed myself, boy, and I'm pissed to the ears, too, on top of it. Oh, boy...Before you drink you should take a tablespoon of olive oil.
Negro: Is that right?
White: Thass the best...
Negro: Oh.
White: I didn't get your name.
Negro: Miller.
White: Miller, my name is Mr. Anderson.
Negro: Mr. Anderson, glad to know you.
White: Pleasure to know you indeed, sir.

[Pause. Neither knows what to say next.] White: You know, that Joe Louis was a hell of a fighter.
Negro: Yeah, you can say that again. Joe Louis was a hell of a fighter.
White: What a man, boy.
Negro: Yeah, got right in there, right out.
White: He's a credit to your race. Don't you ever forget that, you sonofagun.
Negro: Well, thank you very much.
White: Thass awright, perfectly awright.

[Pause] White: Well, here's to Henry Armstrong.
Negro: Yeah, here's to Henry Armstrong.
White: Awright...


White: You know, I did all the construction here, you know?
Negro: Oh, you did?
White: I did all except the painting, and these
Hebes - [whispers] you're not Jewish are you?
Negro: No. man. I'm not.
White: You know what I mean?
Negro: Yeah, I understand.
White: Someone calls me a Sheeney I'll knock em right on their ass...I wanna tell you sometin. I don't care what the hell a guy is so long as they keep in their place, you know?
Negro: Right.
White: So anyway, I tells all these Mochs - Jewish people, you know - I say, I'm gonna put up the lath. You know how they talk you know, "Vut tchou doink, dahlink"? You know? I'll tell you some Aby- and-Becky jokes later. So anyway, they say, "Vut tchou doink vit de paint," you know? That's Chinese - I do all the dialects. And, ah, then they pick out this color - themselves - isn't that a crappy color for ya?
Negro: No, I don't think so. I think that's very interesting, how they use the Dufy Blue with so many other pastels.
White: That sounds like alotta Commie horseshit to me - Du-fee blue.
Negro: Yeah, that's what it is, a Dufy blue.
White: Whatthehellissat?
Negro: Some French painter derived that color. I dunno.
White: Yeah? Du-fee blue! I like that. That's pretty good. Du-fee blue. You didn't learn that in the back of the bus, you sonofagun! You're awright! Du-fee blue. How 'bout that. You know, you're a white Jew, you're O.K. You're really a good guy,
Negro: Thank you, thank you.


White: Well, here's to Stephen Fetcher.
Negro: Yeah, here's to Stephen Fetcher.


White: I guess you know alotta people in the show business, eh?
Negro: Yeah, I've met quite a few in my travels.
White: Aaaah, I'm bad on names, what the hell is that, aaaaah ... You know Aunt Jemimah?
Negro: No, I don't know Aunt Jemimah. I'm sorry, I don't know her.
White: That guy on the - on the Cream of Wheat box?
Negro: No, I don't know him either.


White: Well, here's to Paul Robinson.
Negro: Yeah, here's to Paul Robinson.
White: Yeah, boy .... You get anything to eat yet?
Negro: No, I'm kinda hungry. I wish a had a sandwich or something.
White: I haven't got any fried chocken or watermelon, ahhh ... raisins, or rice, whatever you people eat, but, aaahhh, we'll get sometin up for you there... You know sometin, you're awright, you know that? And I'm a good guy too - you see what I just did? I touched ya. Yeah! You're awright. Come over here. I like you, you sonofagun, you're awright.
Negro: Well, thank you...
White: I'd like to have you over the house.
Negro: Well, thank you very much. I'd like to come over.
White: Wouldja like that?
Negro: Umhum.
White: It'll be dark soon, aaah ... I mean, what the hell, you know, aaahhh ... You gotta be careful they're all movin' in ...you know? I mean, what the hell, I read some jerk overn the paper, The Howard Star, there, they're jus bein smart, you know - that first, the Indians were here, then when the white people came they said "Oh Christ the white people are moving in," you know, and they're gonna be all over, you know - but that's dangerous, that kinda talk, you know?


White: Here's to all colored people.
Negro: O.K.
White: Awright ... Now, I wanya to comover the house, but I gotta tell ya somtin cause I know you people get touchy once in awhile.
Negro: Oh, umhum?
White: Yeah, ahhh, I gotta sister, ya see?
Negro: Yeah?
White: Well now cummere. [whispers] You wouldn't wanna Jew doin it to your sister, wouldja?
Negro: It doesn't make any difference to me, just as long as he's a nice guy.
White: Whattayou, on weed or somtin? Look, nobody wants a Sheeney plowin' their sister, an I don't want no coon doin' it to my sister. What the hell, that makes sense. You can come over my house if you promise you don't do it to my sister. Promise?
Negro: O.K.
White: Awright.
Negro: Here's to the Mau Mau.
White: Awright.
(Bruce, 1967:20-24)

In this sequential development Jew ultimately becomes Black, but note that in the final skit Jew equals Black, but with the self-critical awareness that this may not be quite true (that Black and Jew may sit uneasily together in any minority relationship: "You wouldn't want no Jew doing it to your sister").

The hyperreality of Hollywood, the hyperreality of the cocktail circuit, and the hyperreality of organized religion are, of course, part of the same thing: lives which are fabricated by a simulation of the real, which are distanced from the real by stereotypes, which, when once accepted, take on a mythological life of their own. The myths are sustained not only by their own momentum but also by the various interests which they serve. To pierce through these myths and the institutions that perpetuate them Bruce examined their effects on two subjects: language and the body, both of which, as with Rabelais, are closely interrelated. For example, he used sexual stereotypes about the Black male to highlight the dilemma of the Jewish American male who is concerned about his body and his sexuality as he confronts the `animal' Black male:

"White: I heard you guys got a wang on ya, ya sonofagun, ya!
Negro: No, I couldn't do that. I'm just playing guitar at this party.
White: Whatthehell, just whip it out there. Let's see that roll of tarpaper you got there, johnny, yeah?
Negro: No, I, uh, I couldn't show it...
(Bruce, 1967:25)

Alternatively, the Jewish male compares Jewish women with Gentile women:

"It's the kind of thing, like-shicksas-. Well, it's not that Jewish chicks are lushes, are not attractive, but it's just that pink-nippled, freckled, goyisha punim-that is hais, boy, that is a rare tribe. And Elizabeth Taylor-=even if I can't see the mustache, I know she's got it. That's all. It's enough. And a mole with the hair in it. It's just a cooking thing the pharaohs have. O.K.? (Bruce, 1967:221)

The ambiguity of Jewish sexual identity is clearly the vantage-point from which Bruce evolves his search for the authentic body and authentic language. Isaac Babel's trinity of Yiddish mother, patriarchal `rotting talmuds' and the militaristic Cossack contend with one another in Bruce's sexual imagery, but now given a specific American context. The Cossack Jew is still a rather pathetic figure (the Israeli barely exists in Bruce's work) and is perhaps best summed up in his skit on Jack Ruby and the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald:

Why Ruby did it. You see, when I was a kid I had tremendous hostility for Christians my age. The reason I had the hostility is that I had no balls for fighting, and they could duke. So I disliked them for it, but I admired them for it-it was a tremendous ambivalence all the time: admiring somebody who could do that, you know, and then disliking them for it. Now the neighborhood I came from there were a lot of Jews, so there was no big problem with a balls-virility complex.

But Ruby came from Texas. They're really concerned with `bawls'--they got ninety-year-old men biting rattlesnakes' heads off! And shooting guns! And a Jew in Texas is a tailor. So what went on in Ruby's mind, I'm sure is that

"Well, if I kill the guy that killed the president, the Christians'll go:

'Whew! What bawls he had, hey? We always thought the Jews were chickenshit, but look at that! See, a Jew at the end, saved everybody!'"

And the Christians'll kiss him and hug him and they'll lift him on high. A JEWISH BILLY THE KID RODE OUT OF THE WEST!

But he didn't know that was just a fantasy from his grandmother, the villain, telling him about the Christians who punch everybody.

Yeah. Even the shot was Jewish--the way he held the gun. It was a dopey Jewish way. He probably went "Nach!", too -- that means "There!" in Jewish. Nach!
(Bruce, 1967:48)

With Bruce, the Cossack is still an outside figure but one who is sanctified by the media and by the entire paraphernalia of politics, and who is one with the cowboy, the executioners, and the mass-murderers of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The image, however, is still there for the Jew who wishes to prove himself as macho man, as more than the victim of patriarchal law and matriarchal power. In dismissing it, however, Bruce is compelled to confront alternative definitions of sexuality. In terms of male sexuality, at least the Rabbi is a schtupper, which the priest is not (Bruce 1967: 44), but the Black exudes sexuality, he is closer to the basics and lives his stereotype, has "a natural sense of rhythm," and has always lived in prison. The Black is close to the Jew: how did he come out so different? In 1952 Norman Mailer wrote an article for Dissent called "The White Negro" (though it properly should have been called "The Jewish White Male Negro") in which the Jewish male appropriation of Black language was explored (see Mailer, 1961: 237-281). The essence of Mailer's argument was that a new Bohemian language was emerging which took its cues from Black jazz and blues.

Bruce's metaphor for Bohemian man is very close to Mailer's, as indeed the search for a commonality between oppressed experiences is similar (though Bruce is ultimately less romantic about it because he feels compelled to expose the hyperreal images that are already appropriating the experiences). The Black jazz musician is the alternative to the Rabbi and therefore the language that he uses must be fused with the Rabbi's to create the basis of a common cultural stance. Most of the charges against Bruce for obscenity come from this deliberate fusion, except that most of the Rabbi's public language is derived from the female Yiddish. Hence the problem with Jewish female sexuality: Jewish women are all potentially mothers or grandmothers. (As I overheard in the Men's locker-room at the local Jewish Community Centre: 1st Man: "Have you any grandchildren yet?" 2nd Man: " Feh! I hope not! I don't want to go to bed with a bube".) Beyond that, they "never know when their sons are faggots. They just miss it somehow. Out and out screaming queens--mothers are never hip" (Bruce, 1967:214). In a classic twist the only real women are the goyish, goyish -- Irish and German (Bruce, 1967:221). In his autobiography Bruce describes an early performance:

"Maybe I could have my mother go out and say, "He's really a 'great guy'" and everybody would believe her because a mother knows her son better than anyone.
I saw a strange, silver, rather grotesque looking ball in front of my nose. It was a microphone. I was onstage.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen---"
"Bring on the broads!" cut me short. Oh, my God, a heckler! The angry request came from one of two guys standing near the bar; with them were two Lerner-clad ladies with the let-out hems, brown-and-white spectator pumps and whoopee socks, cloth coats with silver-fox collars that were a little too tight, and the final unique touch; lipstick on their teeth.
It shocked me into reality.
I looked at my mother and I saw a helpless smile. Her son, her baby that she nursed through chicken pox, working as a maid to sustain the both of us. Her child was in trouble and she couldn't help him.
Ma, help me; that boy hit me, Ma; gimme a quarter, Ma; I'm in trouble, Ma; I'm alone, help me, Ma . . .
"Bring on the broads!"
This time the request was more positive and energetic. The heckler must have sensed a weak, inexperienced prey. The two girls and the man with him bathed in his reflected glory. His friend joined him and they screamed in unison: "Bring on the broads!" Their lady friends shrieked with ecstasy.
"I'd like to, but then you wouldn't have any company at the bar."
My first laugh.
(Bruce, l966: 38-39)

Bring on, and be distanced from, the broads; invoke and reject the mother. Get balled, but don't sleep or kiss with any of them; see them in Playboy; watch their bodies, talk them into the script. The woman as language, as vision or photograph, as they whom you want to touch it (but you may never touch their's -- see the revealing skit on Eleanor Roosevelt's breasts in Bruce, 1967:239), masturbate in the bathroom over a Playboy centerfold as the woman waits for you in the bedroom. In his attempt to escape from the Shtetl mother and the pompous, nervous father, Bruce escapes into the hyperreality that he castigates in religion, politics, and race relations. Bring on the broads! But Bruce's `broads' are an exposure in Playboy. It's better in "Viceroid", because "Viceroid" is the real. Fuck the image, over and over again. The kicks come from the busts (biological and legal), with the adrenalin flowing, and the deconstructing body. While trying to find the authentic sexual experience behind the commandeering presence of text, media, and the mimetic presence of the hyperreal, Bruce became concerned with the necessity of using language that would shock, and with the show-biz world (his Talmud) that would validate the context of his satire. Parody came full circle. Take two different skits. The first, perhaps his best skit, tries to find the authentic behind the text by verbalizing a pure cross between Samuel Beckett and e e cummings.

is a preposition
To is a preposition
is a verb!
To is a preposition,
Come is a verb.
To is a preposition,
Come is a verb the verb intransitive.
To come.
I've heard these two words my whole adult life and as a kid when I thought I was sleeping.
It's been like a big drum solo:
[drums rolling and cymbals flaring in a crescendo of excitement]
To come to come, come too come too, to come to come
uh uh uh uh uh um um um um um uh uh uh uh uh -- TO COME! TO COME! TO COME!
Did you come?
Did you come good?
Did you come good?
Did you come?
Did you come?

I come better with you sweetheart than with anyone in the whole goddamn world. I really come so good with you--after being married for twenty-two years--goddamn I sure do love you! I really came so good with you--but I come too quick, don't I? That's cause I love you so much.

Goddamnit! Do you know that with everybody else I'm the best baller in the whole world? But with you, I'm always apologizing. If you just wouldn't say anything--just don't say, "Don't come!" That's what it is.
Don't come in me
don't comeinme
don'tcomeinme mimme.
Don't comeinme mimme mimme.
Don't comeinme mimme mimme
Don't comeinme mimme mimme
Don't comeinme mimme
don't comeinme--
unless you want to kill me.

My sister bled to death in the back of a taxicab, with a bad curettage. Because she had a baby in her belly. She was a tramp--my father said she was a tramp. That's why she bled to death in the back of that taxicab--cause she couldn't come home with a baby in her belly. A tramp with life in her stomach--so don't come in me, unless you want to kill me.

I can't come, don't ask me!

I can't come--

Cause you don't love me. I love you but I just can't
come when I'm loaded!

Cause you don't love me-- That's why you can't come.

I love you! Will you get off my ass? I'm just loaded. I shouldn't juice and ball at the same time.

Cause you don't love me.

I love you but I just can't come when I'm loaded! Now will you get off it

Cause you don't love me.

Awright! Awright. You want me to tell you why? I'm gonna tell you the truth: you know why we never had any kids? Cause I can't come, cause it's DIRTY! All that bullshit in the books, but it ain't in that Sunday book, because the good people don't come. And I'm gonna rise above the physical, the carnal--don't you think I'm ashamed of coming? It's filthy and rotten. And I'm just sorry they blamed it on you. That's why we never had any kids; but they blamed it on you and kept you in bed with those dumb temperature charts. So if you want any kids you better get a different old man. But I sure do love you. But I just can't help it--intellectual awareness does me no good. I know it's not dirty but it is dirty. You know what I mean? God damn it! Oh shit! Maybe we oughta adopt some kid from some bum who can come.
(Bruce, 1967: 250-253)

The importance of this skit is that it shows the limits and the possibilities of language, as verbal and written. But often Bruce is consumed with playing word games to show how the verbally obscene is normal, and how the language of the `people' should be accepted as the language of the establishment (a strategy that has become successful: almost all of the words can be heard and viewed daily by anyone who has a VCR). But, if this is true, it is important to establish the context within which the `people' will continue to speak, even after their words are appropriated. Bruce often appeals to `images' as his alternative world:

Paul Malloy, who's sort of Christ in concrete, he's got a thing going, it's "Decent-Indecent" --you know, "What is Good?" And Good is God is Danny Thomas. So, I want to show you some pictures of tramps.

[Holding up a pin-up nudie photo]

These are bums. This is an indecent woman. The Paul Malloy culture would call this lady indecent. Ohhh, no! Are you kidding? Indecent? How can that sweet, pink-nippled, blue-eyed, goyisha punim be indecent? Are you kidding? Indecent? God damn Paul Malloy, man. I love that lady. And she's religious--see the beads? That's how the sisters look before they take the vows. They take one last picture, and that's it.
(Bruce, 1967:287)

Beyond Hyperreality

The key to Bruce's art is him being trapped by the images, by the simulacrum, and knowing it. Ultimately his message involves an attempt at finding the world beyond those contrasting images and the sexual and social basis of any affirmation. The roots of that affirmation, with all their temporal media-bound constraints, tie in the exploration of sensibilities between people of different cultures, of puzzling out an identity where sexuality and sociability still owe something to a tragi-comic tradition which reaches back into Poland and Russia. It is a tradition which, with Isaac Babel, Karl Kraus and Jonathan Miller, tries to establish the universalism, the secularism of Jewish humor. It is the moment of oral/parodic carnival before both the discovery of humor in ethnic withdrawal (Jackie Mason, Richard Prior, Eddie Murphy) and the mass-appropriation of ethnicity (Rhoda, Bill Cosby). In between lies parody for its own sake (Mel Brooks, Monty Python). Lenny Bruce was not a `man ahead of his time', as many people have remarked: he was a man precisely of his time. That time will never be reclaimed, but rethinking Bruce may act as a catalyst to examine this time, when the distinguishing mark of most public humor is its non-carnivalesque nature, its failure of political nerve.

Bruce's denouement came in making public the White Negro's Bohemia, but unlike Oscar Wilde or Baudelaire before him, the publicizing of Bohemia did not make it romantic or a sought-after alternative. Rather, because his target was the media, the media turned its gaze on Bruce and, with him, the whole of Bohemia, making it tawdry. In trying to apprehend the real through the hyperreal (because it seemed to offer the only substitute for Talmudic readings that everyone might share), Bruce provided the last snapshot of the carnivalesque Jewish intelligentsia. But, like any snapshot, it was pure simulacrum. Ultimately Bruce's work was wrapped in a Playboy centerfold.

The experiential, historical, practical trajectory of Bruce's work is found in the identity conflicts (racial, political, sexual) and in the storytelling form of his humor. The tragic sense was there throughout, until, at the end, it became all-consuming. But it is this set of conflicts that give the cutting edge to his art, establishing a stance from which the post-modern could be encountered. The form he employed and the experiences that carried it through indicated a memory of the past that was more than artifact, and that brought with it all the contradictions of the past. But those contradictions had to contend with the sanitization of similar contradictions in the memories of millions of other Americans, behind which, in Umberto Eco's words, "the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake; where the boundaries between game and illusion are blurred, the art museum is contaminated by the freak show, and falsehood is enjoyed in a situation of `fullness', of horror vacui" (Eco, 1987: 8) Bruce's attempt to go behind even this search for the real led him to an impasse. The personal experiences were real enough, but the inherited Jewish style, though providing the basis for an oppositional tragic sense, could not be translated into an American style without either becoming nostalgically ethnic or being absorbed into the hyperreal morass. Bruce tried to resist all of this, as the twitchiness of his interviews demonstrate, and as the self-destructiveness of the last two or three years underlined. But in the end the morass sucked him in, until, as Eco wrote of the Wax museum at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, "it is hard to decide which side is reality and which is illusion" (Eco, l987: 13).

Bruce's dilemma is precisely the dilemma of Jews in North America (though now the feral Cossacks in Israel create an extra dimension). The past is appropriated by haphazard contemplation of relics, language, memory which have somehow to be translated into the dominant language of America, a language of the hyperreal. (When Bruce satirized Reagan he was simply a Media Trade Union chief....) Jewish memories are diasporic and selectively amnesic. The real Promised Land is Amerika, and its language is displayed in Disneyland/Hollywood/Wall Street. Lenny Bruce tried to develop a new Yiddish to contest that language. He failed because the old Yiddish was an inadequate basis for understanding the vibrancy behind the hyperreal, but also because he took the hyperreal as the only language that there was.

The most vibrant comedy in America today is, of course, not on the David Letterman show, nor masterminded by Johnny Carson, nor Rodney Dangerfield, nor Garry Shandling. It is certainly not in the professional comedy/nightclub circuits. It is mainly by women - mostly Jewish or Black - who take the locality in which they live, the superimposition of the media, and their interpersonal political experiences as the basis for creating an oppositional comic language. But this, of course, is where we started. Lenny Bruce may have laid out the problem, but the new `Yiddish' humor will be female, in the absence of males who will do anything to be appropriated by the dominant culture. It will, of course, be a tragic and affirmative humor, as opposed to most current humor which is silly and socially complacent.

Nathan Ausubel, (ed.) A Treasury of Jewish Humour. New York: Paperback Library, 1967

Babel, Isaac. Collected Stories (translated by Walter Morison) Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1961.

Mikhail Bakhtin, The Dialogic Imagination. Austin, U. of Texas Press, 1981

Mikhail Bakhtin, Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana U.P. 1984

Jean Baudrillard, Simulations. New York: Semiotext(s) 1983.

Walter Benjamin, Illuminations. London: Jonathan Cape, 1970

Greg Benton and Graham Loomes, (eds.) Big Red Joke Book, London: Pluto 1976

Lenny Bruce, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1977

Lenny Bruce, (ed.John Cohen) The Essential Lenny Bruce. New York: Ballantine Books, 1967

Martin Buber, The Legend of the Baal-Shem. New York: Shocken, 1960

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperrealism, London, Picador, l987

John Fekete, ed. Life After Modernism. Montreal: New World Perspectives, 1987

Albert Goldman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Lennie Bruce!! New York: Ballantine Books, l974

Stuart Hall and Others, (eds.) Culture, Media, Language. London: Hutchinson, 1980

J. Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries. London: Quartet Books, 1977

Irving Howe, World of our Fathers, New York: New American Library, 1976

Irving Howe and Kenneth Libo (eds.), How We Lived, New York: New American Library, 1979

Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody, New York: Methuen, 1985

Norman Mailer, Advertisement for Myself, London: Andre Deutsch 1961

Jonathan Miller, "The Sick White Negro," Partisan Review, XXI, 1, Spring l963

Jachim Neugroschel (ed.) The Shtetl, New York: G.P. Putnam, 1979

Chris Powell and George E. Paton (eds), Humour in Society: Resistance and Control. London: Macmillan, l988

Edward W. Said, The World, the Text and the Critic. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard U.P. 1983

Gershom Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism, New York: Schocken Books, 1969

Gershom Scholem, On Jews and Judaism in Crisis, New York: Schocken Books, 1976

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