For the Waterlogged, A Dry Wit

What a Girl Wants: A Jewish Wedding

By Gail Chalew

Published November 25, 2005, issue of November 25, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In the comedic Jewish tradition of wresting laughter from tragedy, Ellen Steigman — who used to do stand-up in New York but now lives in Mandeville, just across from New Orleans’s Lake Pontchartrain — is making fun of Hurricane Katrina.

Asked how can she make jokes in the face of such devastation, Steigman told the Forward: “How can you not? If you don’t laugh, you’d cry.”

Steigman is making plans to embark on a Dry Humor Tour of the South, which will incorporate a slew of Katrina jokes.

The Dry Humor Tour germinated in the moldy atmosphere of New Orleans. Steigman’s home sustained only minimal damage, and so in the weeks after Katrina she and her husband, photographer and Southeastern Louisiana University art professor John Valentino, opened their home to friends who were gutting their flooded homes and needed a place to stay.

Steigman described the scene: “Take five people who have been cleaning out and packing up three post-Katrina homes. Combine with a comedian and an art professor. Add a couple of bottles of wine. Stir.”

The result is a description of today’s New Orleans, sung to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music.”

Water is swarming with verminous species Elegant swimming pools teeming with feces The rash on my haunches is starting to sting These are things that Katrina brings. Houses are burning and levees are breaching Into my water the sewage is seeping Horrible odors awaft in the breeze Hoping I don’t catch a dreadful disease First the roof leaked Then the dome reeked Damn, the fridge smells bad! New Orleans covered in green, purple and gold It’s not Mardi Gras, it’s MOLD!

It was a shock to the system when Steigman moved to New Orleans four years ago. “Never in my life would I have imagined I would end up living in the Deep South,” she said. “It took me awhile to feel at home here, but now I am like a Southern Jewish ambassador.”

She feels very strongly that only those who have lived through Katrina have the right to make jokes about it, although she does give honorary New Orleanian status to Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show,” who, she said, always makes her laugh.

And she is sensitive to the mood of her audience. “For me, making comedy is all about connecting to people. Some may not be ready to make jokes about Katrina, and that’s okay. In my shows, I will throw a few hurricane jokes out there and if I get dead silence, I will know not to go down that road and will focus on other areas.”

Talking to Steigman can be a dizzying experience, as she throws out joke after joke in a machine-like fashion. In the space of a few minutes, we went from her recent experience as a high school substitute teacher (“the best birth control there is”) to her dislocated friends who are in line for a FEMA trailer and “can’t wait to be trailer trash; go figure!” to her observation that four months ago no one knew what an MRE (ready-to-eat meal) was, and now people are debating which are the most tasty.

But for Steigman, being funny stems from being serious. “Like many comedians, I see the funny side of things precisely because I see the tragic aspect. I feel things very deeply,” she said.

“It sounds clichéd, but living through Katrina has really taught me what is most important in life, what really matters, and that is my connection to others.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.