Directed by Alan Zweig • Documentary • With Shecky Green, Howie Mandel, Shelley Berman, Gilbert Gottfried, David Steinberg, David Brenner, Marc Maron • 2013 • 89 minutes
Insightful and often hilarious, When Jews Were Funny surveys the history of Jewish comedy, from the early days of Borsht belt to the present, ultimately exploring not just ethnicity in the entertainment industry, but also the entire unruly question of what it means to be Jewish.
Popular comedians from the past and present provide an abundance of surprising opinions and witty humor. Veterans of the 1940s and 50s deny that their comedy reflected anything of Jewish culture. For younger comics, their biggest influences are family members, fathers, aunts and yentas. Many bemoan the loss of Yiddish, while arguing about the quintessential Jewish joke.
Perhaps the movie's real subject isn't so much comedy but what it means to be Jewish. It's an impossible question to answer...but it's also one well worth exploring, especially in a movie as funny and heartfelt as this one.
"An entertaining and enjoyable examination of comedy, identity and what it means to be Jewish today." —Screen Daily