Louis CK

Louis C.K. and the Jewish Comedy Tradition

I came across this fascinating article sparsely titled Non-Jews Telling Jokes, after reading about Louis C,K,’s next project — a feature film, which he’ll write, act, and direct, as he does so effectively on his show. I couldn’t help but think of Woody Allen, who also famously acts, writes, and directs his own projects. Furthermore, both men’s work has New York embedded in its very DNA, even though Louis is originally from Boston. Interestingly, C.K.retains much of the vulgar rough-and-tumble spirit of Beantown, but has nonetheless fully assimilated himself into the style and sensibilities of his adopted home of New York. So much so, it’s easy to forget he isn’t from there.

But what does a New York comic look like? Like Louis C.K. That nebbish and self-deprecating observational style humor that traces its roots back centuries, but more recently grew out of the lower East Side immigrant Jewish population, and characterized by sardonically irreverent wit, and influenced by colorful storytelling, Yiddish Theatre, Vaudeville, Borscht Belt comedy acts, old school roasts, and a rich — yet challenging — history of migration, persecution, guilt, skepticism, heritage, tradition, perseverance, and survival. But at the very core of all that hardship and heartbreak, is the one thing the Jewish people never surrendered: their laughter.

The only problem is, Louis C.K. isn’t actually Jewish. But he must be! His whole sensibility screams Jewish humor. As it turns out, he’s an honorary “schlemiel” — the Yiddish word for a stupid, awkward, or unlucky person. Louis so effortlessly slipped into the skin of a New Yorker, he even managed to pass and fool nearly all of us — including many Jews, who just took him to be a part of the tribe. Yet C.K. has always been honest about his upbringing, and never intentionally mimicked the style of his Jewish peers. As it turns out, the reason America has always had a love affair with Jewish humor is because it was clever, unthreatening, self-deprecating, and most of all — deeply human — with all its failure and awkward clumsiness. Louis C.K. is doesn’t have to be Jewish to be a ‘schlemiel’ — just a goofy and unlucky everyman that we can all see ourselves in. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, Jewish comedians are being paid tribute in spades. (but as one might expect from a schlemiel, getting none of the cash or the credit! Oy vey!)

If we can only elect one president in this world who would you vote for?

Answer by Jon Ferreira:

I would probably choose Chris Rock. Not only is he incredibly funny, he has a really nuanced understanding of race in this country. He has the ability to be critical, yet hopeful, about the fragile state of race relations in this country. Racial tension is clearly one of the most divisive and corrosive problems plaguing our country at the moment, as well as several other ‘culture wars.’ We don’t necessarily need a Commander in Chief with 20 years crafting legislation in the Senate, but someone who’s been on the streets, and in neighborhoods all over this country, drawing the lifeblood from the people they perform for. Chris Rock is actually incredibly intelligent, and has a very pragmatic and sensical approach to a lot of what ails this country.

I actually feel the same way about another comedian, Louis C.K. They both use self-depracating observational humor to critique our peculiar ways and questionable choices, while celebrating life and all its infinite diversity. Their comedy is quite philosophical, and often practical. They view this country as great, but just in need of a swift kick in the pants. We need to get out of our own way. It’s not unpatriotic to criticize your country. In fact, it’s just the opposite. A true patriot knows the principles this country was founded upon, and how far we still have to go to get there. As Browning said, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp…” and the worth is in the trying. These two men understand the great work we still have left to do, but choose to use their art to help us laugh (and cry) ourselves all the way there. That kind of vision is skeptical optimism, and something Washington is sadly in need of.

Although many might think I am joking, or simply crazy to propose that a comedian occupy the most powerful seat in the land, I actually think we could use some levity in the office. Although they have both shocked and offended at times, they use it pointedly, and know when to turn it off. They can scrap with the best of them, but also know how to clean up nice, and play fair. I think we could use someone who looks at the world creatively, and sees the value and worth of each person on the planet, regardless of skin color, sexual preference, wealth, or whatever our superficial differences or deeply divisive serious conflicts. A comic is an observer and innate communicator. They seek to probe our flaws and foibles, and examine what divides us, while also using the healing salve of comedy to bridge our cultural differences, and find a way to laugh as one.

Obviously, there would be questions of foreign policy experience, domestic aptitude, executive experience, blah, blah, blah… But we’ve had plenty of those guys in the White House, and where has that gotten us? And the precedent is there, since we have had an actor, after all.

I would enthusiastically endorse a Rock/ C.K. ticket in 2016!
(“Rock the Vote”)

If we can only elect one president in this world who would you vote for?