By Sara Levine
Europa Editions, 172 pages, $15.00
There are as many Jewish humors as there are funny Jews, which is to say that there are 12 — and half of them haven’t been good in years.
Many essentialist definitions of Jewish humor, such as the comedy of outsiders, or the comedy of the oppressed and dispossessed, have been put forward over time, but these have turned out to be little more than heuristics — momentary explanations, useful only until they are not. The humor of the Marx Brothers and the humor of the Apatow troupe are not the same humor, though we persist in calling them both “Jewish,” and hunt for the spiritual link between them. (See, for example the many disparate comedians and styles covered under the Jewish Humor category in Saul Austerlitz’s “Another Fine Mess: A History of American Film Comedy,” reviewed by The Arty Semite here.) The idea of a monolithic Jewish humor is more myth than fact.
Still, it is rare to find a comic, or film, or even a book (yes, books can be funny) that manages to feel both completely new and simultaneously connected to Jewish cultural life. Yet this is exactly what Sara Levine has accomplished in her new book, “Treasure Island!!!”, whose comic brilliance derives not from participating in, and extending, the tradition of Jewish humorists, but from making a mockery of Judaism, and the idea of textually derived truth.