Every day this week we’ll be highlighting classic and cutting-edge Jewish comedy, from the best Jewish memes to the best jokes about Jews by non-Jews. L’chaim!
It’s a strange time in comedy when world events feel increasingly absurd, but, like…not in a fun way. Comedians can help us contextualize the absurdity. Or they can be distractions. Or they can be moral voices who use humor to be heard. Or bullies.
It’s 2019, and everything old is new again — Seinfeld and Stern and Silverman are still major voices. But they’ve been joined by Eichner and Noah and Amram and Haddish. There is more diversity in gender, race, and sexuality. There are fewer jokes at the expense of those things. There’s a deeper sense of despair, and a deeper sense that comedy is activism, or at least criticism.
In no particular order, here are the Jews who are making America laugh — and think — right now:
1. Sarah Silverman, 48, Rape Jokester-Turned Rabbi
Silverman has succeeded where zero others have — responding to America’s pain with love (without being completely annoying.) The increasingly politically performer turned her show “I Love You America” into a kind of “Sesame Street” for adults, helping us navigate the hard parts of life with a laugh. Her dinners with Mormon families are good — but her confronting her own best friend’s sexual harassment story is one for the history books.
2. Nick Kroll, 40, Polyphonic Prince of Raunch
(If you’re watching this at work or around youngins, please put in headphones before clicking on this video.)
Nick Kroll has a big mouth and plenty to smile about. As the voice of too many characters to list here on “Big Mouth,” the hysterical animated show about seventh graders learning about sex, Kroll — of the corporate investigations Kroll family — might know your kids better than you do (check your Netflix history.) “Big Mouth,” which is based on Kroll and best friend Andrew Goldberg’s own childhoods in Westchester, is, for an uncomfortable number of tweens and teens the sex ed class they don’t get. We can thank Kroll and co for injecting some humor and care into a national discourse in which a man who admits to sexually assaulting women gets elected president.
3. Billy Eichner, 40, Especially Loudmouthed Jew
Don’t sleep on the guy whose name sounds like a German children’s entertainer — Billy Eichner has vaulted himself from ironic web-series personality to one of the most powerful performers in America. Eichner is a grassroots brand and real-deal mensch — he stars on the lauded “American Horror Story” on FX besides major credits on Hulu, Netflix, and his own creation “Billy on the Street.” He may have single handedly shifted the 2018 midterm elections. And he’s one of the smartest celebrities. Get yourself a celebrity crush who is a Stuyvesant-grad, a sex symbol, and a pop-culture savant, why don’t ya?
4. Kate Berlant, 31, The Witchy Jew
Ranting, mumbling, monotone genius Kate Berlant is the kind of person insecure men recoil from at parties. Her comedy plays on the grotesqueries of capitalism and the absurd, while making excellent use of her hair. Fall in love with her comedy — or don’t. She doesn’t care.
5. Jerry Seinfeld, 64, Torchbearer of Tone-Deaf Jokes
Seinfeld can do whatever he wants including monetizing a carpool with his famous friends to coffee shops in a fleet of luxury vehicles. But instead of using his massive platform to stump against Trump, he’s more concerned with how comedians can’t say offensive stuff on college campuses anymore. This, along with Millennials coming to the obvious epiphany that Jerry’s self-titled sitcom is problematic, isn’t helping his profile with the youth — though at least that demographic got a lot of mileage out of “Bee Movie” memes.
6. Iliza Shlesinger, 36, The Inheritor of Lenny Bruce
Shlesinger’s comedy persona is fascinating — it’s a polished blend of thoughtful feminist criticism and jokes about women as humpback witch-hags, though Shlesinger herself is impeccably coiffed and blindingly blonde. In “Elder Millennial,” her 2018 hit Netflix special, and her fourth for the streaming service, she says that she hasn’t eaten bread for five months. It’s not clear if it’s a joke, or just a piece of advice. In a bit of truly Trumpian reality-corruption, Shlesinger was sued by a real man, really named George St. George, for starting a “War on Men” because he and his friend were ejected from one of her stand-up events.
7.Dan Levy, 35, Heir to the Eyebrows
Levy and his dad Eugene, share a glorious set of eyebrows and a winning sense of humor, but the creator of “Schitt$ Creek” has managed to do something the last generation never could: Produce a Canadian show popular with Americans. Levy isn’t just funny, he’s proudly queer and something of a style icon known to sport a wide array of fabulous, outlandish sweaters. Against all odds, the eyebrows make the look.
8. Amy Schumer, 37, The Mature, Thoughtful One (that’s right)
Schumer has come a long way from cheap, racist bits (she says it was commentary — we’re not convinced.) For a long time now, she’s made political comedy — and politics — a cornerstone of her work. She was one of the many people arrested for protesting the Brett Kavanugh confirmation hearings, and has spoke about #MeToo, which one of her main sources of jokes for her latest Netflix special, “Growing,” along with truly moving comedy about her husband’s autism-spectrum disorder.
She’s also been fighting a long-running battle with a horde of internet trolls who hurl body-shaming and misogynistic insults at her — their fakakte shtick hasn’t really worked.
9.Abby Jacobson, 35, and Ilana Glazer, 31, Your Jewish Millennial Worst Nightmares
Abby Jacobson and Ilana Glazer had us at “stoner comedy about Jewish millennials.” But after 2016, the stars and creators of Comedy Central’s “Broad City” invited fans to view their hilarious breakdowns through the lens of the show’s fourth season — the same breakdown that attended many a privileged, coastal, millennial learning in the wake of Trump’s election about basic American realities. It’s that self-aware, imperfect graciousness that so endears them to us. As “Broad City” draws to a close, both are tied to major comedy projects — Abbi and Ilana will be dead. Long live Abbi and Ilana.
10. Howard Stern, 65, The Keeper of the Real Trump Tapes
During the 2016 campaign, Stern’s radio show served as a hot-mic record on candidate Donald Trump, dispositive of everything from the real estate mogul’s true stance on the War in Iraq to his history of leering at half-clothed Miss Teen USA contestants. While Stern has copped to liking Trump personally, he gave some unsolicited advice to his one-time frequent guest in 2018 on how to handle this whole accidental president-thing: “My advice would be, like, get the f**k out of there, man.” Trump either didn’t care for this recommendation or was tuned into “Fox and Friends” instead. This decade has turned Stern into a reformer — but no less of an influencer. We’ll have to see if it lasts, and if there’s anything meaningful in it.
11. Tiffany Haddish, 39, The Jew-nicorn
Oh, she ready. Tif Haddish has been ready. A sunshine ray out of a narrow place, the unbreakable comedian finally snatched her hard-earned mega-fame when she starred in 2017’s “Girls Trip.” Her gender-based comedy manages to charm, not alienate. It’s magic.
12. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 58, Still Funnier Than Everyone Around Her
In the hit HBO show “Veep,” Louis-Dreyfus portrays a vice-president, then president, who is stupendously underqualified for office. A vain idiot who is surrounded by idiots, she cares only for her media image and for how well she can get over on her enemies. As the massive hit and critical darling comes to a close, Louis-Dreyfus is more beloved than ever, despite being in the public eye for decades. Louis-Dreyfus 2020.
**13. Randy Rainbow, 38, Nobody’s Court Jester
Get yourself a man who can do both: sing show-tunes and provide cutting political commentary. Write parodies and edit videos. The sharp-tongued queer advocate and entertainer is a rainbow in stormy political times and a songbird whose voice rises above the din of social media.
14. Megan Amram, 31, Self-Flagellating Tweeter
Megan Amram is everywhere — she’s crafted a good number of the jokes you’ve loved on “Transparent,” “Parks and Recreation” and “The Good Place.” She’s written a book, she’s a legendary tweet-er, and her Emmy-baiting web series “An Emmy For Megan” was nominated for two actual Emmys.
International women’s day was just invented to sell more women— Megan Amram (@meganamram) March 9, 2019
If that doesn’t exemplify the Trumpian irony-is-dead-so-can-we-also-be-dead-too ethos that rules our times, you can also read her very genuinely funny Shouts and Murmurs piece, “Jared Kushner’s Harvard Admissions Essay.”](https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/09/11/jared-kushners-harvard-admissions-essay)
15. Chelsea Handler, 44, Outrage Lightning Rod
Handler has professed several times that the Trump presidency woke her up. Now, she tweets about Trump. A lot.
If the government shutdown delays food stamps for millions of families, then Donald Trump should be forced to go without his fast food too. This shutdown would be over by the time his adderall wears off.— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) January 23, 2019
We need to do another apprentice but with the catch phrase being “you’re deported,” and every episode, another trump family member moves to Saudi Arabia.— Chelsea Handler (@chelseahandler) December 13, 2018
16. Marc Maron, 55, The Grizzled Sage of Liberal Rage
Maron began his last stand-up special with the line, “I don’t know what he’s going to do next.” Everyone knew who “he” was, and it sure wasn’t Martin O’Malley. While some elect to skip to the superb interview section on his “WTF” podcast, others may find catharsis in how Maron vents at the top of the show about the continued erosion of our Union (and also his long-going battle with a cell tower near the studio in his garage).
17. Louis CK, 56, The One Who Threw It Away
i mean he’s like a RW comic now. hes milo pic.twitter.com/QYOGI7TrGa— jack allison (@jackallisonLOL) December 31, 2018
Louis CK was considered the cutting edge of comedy — the perfect combination of genius and fame, artistry and humanity, and fun. And then it was revealed that he had serially sexually harassed and then bullied women coming up in comedy. Now, facing the wreckage of his own behavior, CK appears to be swinging his left-ish, vulgar views around all the way to the right. His newest material has sounded less like a person mocking hate, and more like a hater. Whatever’s to come will tell us a lot about CK, and even more about the people who chose to follow him.
18. Trevor Noah, 35, Philosopher King
The Jew-ish (it’s a long story) comedian has risen to the occasion with the best ratio of outrage to facts to laugh-till-the-snot-drips jokes. “The Daily Show” is in safe hands, despite the departure of the beloved Jon Stewart, who seems to be waiting out the Trump era looking after goats.
19. Rachel Bloom, 31, The Girl Who Does Musical Theater
Nobody knew that Americans would be interested in watching a well-off, average-sized Jewish woman sing about her childhood trauma and genetically inherited mental illnesses on television, until Rachel Bloom proved it on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Who else could be funny enough to make suicide, abortion, mass incarceration of black people, and parental abuse fodder for musical comedy? Pre-Trump, Bloom was fierce. Post-Trump, she’s prophet-like.
20. Gad Elmaleh, 47, Worldwide Phenomenon
Gad Elmaleh, the French-Moroccan stand up, is often called “The Seinfeld of France,” but for our money we’ve never seen Jerry Seinfeld dominate a continent, move to another, master a new language, and then make jokes about Sephardic mothers.Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture intern
Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny