Like a trompe l’oeil painting or the lectures of a well-read but deranged academic, each chapter of “The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies,” the first full-length work of, um, scholarship by Heeb magazine editors David Deutsch and Joshua Neuman, operates on a premise that is in equal parts absurd and bizarrely accurate.
Recounting tales from ancient Rome to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, where they unveil a fresh theory for today’s blinged-out baseball salaries, New York humorists Deutsch and Neuman merge a traditional Ashkenazic, Borscht Belt sensibility with codified history and faint echoes of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” to create one of the oddest histories every committed to paper: a Judeo-Christian chronicle done in soap-operatic, intrigue-ridden chapters built around the patently silly, but unarguably attention-grabbing, notion that all bad things blamed on Jews were, in fact, the Jews’ fault.
In the chapter “Fratricide,” Deutsch and Neuman break down the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a fraternity prank with worse consequences than any brother could have predicted. A badly dressed, market-savvy 18th-century Jew takes the blame for the French Revolution after he exploits the laws of supply, demand and fashion and incites a call for liberté, égalité and skirt-shorts.
“We started by putting thoroughly nebbishy and unremarkable protagonists in remarkable circumstances,” said Neuman, “and created a history that didn’t happen, but could have.”
At times dated in their humor — and occasionally totally unfunny — Deutsch and Neuman seem more like giggling historians on a coffee break than full-blown comedians. But the ex-doctoral candidates (Neuman studied religion; Deutsch, philosophy) wear their academic prowess on the page. They weave historical trivia into overblown and stereotype-laden accounts of The Jew in Modern Europe and North America. While Neuman does not recall being particularly impressed by “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and its genre of time-bending humor, he cites the 1984 social study “Revenge of the Nerds” as a primary influence.
“We like to think of ourselves riffing on the tension between Jewish conspiracy theories and pop culture,” Neuman said. “We tell stories of Western history that we don’t want anyone to take too seriously.”
Ariella Cohen is a writer living in New York City .