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Jewish Comedians: A Legacy of Laughter

Knock knock! Who’s there? Did you hear the one about April being National Humor Month? If you love a good laugh, this is your month to tell a joke, remember your favorite sketches and stand-up routines, and help leave others in the best kind of stitches there are. Below, we’ve featured just a few of the top Jewish comedians of the past century. Trust us, it was a tough choice! From Billy Crystal to Jerry Seinfeld to Sid Caesar and more, there are so many Jews in comedy. Please share this post and let us know about your all-time favorite Jewish comedians!

The Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers (1892-1979)

Born to Jewish immigrants from German and France, the five Marx Brothers (Chico – Leonard, Harpo – Adolph, Groucho – Julius, Gummo – Milton, and Zeppo – Herbert) began their career in vaudeville. Their comedy routine took off during a performance in Texas, when much of the audience abandoned the brothers on stage to see a runaway mule instead. Upon their return, Groucho began poking fun at their interest in the animal — and, gradually, the stars were born. Groucho, Chico and Harpo, went on to make movies, including Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. They have been in the Motion Picture Hall of Fame for nearly 40 years. Gummo and Zeppo (also a talented inventor) left the act to run a talent agency.

Though their connection to Judaism wasn’t always forthright, the Marx Brothers’ impact on modern entertainment cannot be denied. References to Groucho’s signature glasses, mustache and cigar are woven throughout television history and many of the brothers’ famous acts have lived on.

Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers (1933-2014)

Born in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish immigrants, Joan Alexandra Molinksy always wanted to act. Her mother just wanted her to get married. Joan used this as fodder for much of her early stand-up. After graduating college, Joan worked briefly in an entry-level job in the fashion industry but later honed her theatrical craft. When she began working with Second City in Chicago, her comedic writing soared. Joan published four books, raised her daughter Melissa, and became infamous for her fashion reviews on the red carpet. Supportive of many Jewish philanthropic organizations during her life, Joan also left money to many in her will, including L.A.’s Simon Wiesenthal Center. She also once said, “I love Israel for its blue and white flag as it matches my legs.”

Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks (1926-present)

Mel Brooks was born Melvin Kaminsky in 1926. He was raised by his mother and three older brothers. He studied psychology for a year before becoming an engineer in the U.S. army. It wasn’t until after his stint with the army that Mel Brooks pursued stand-up comedy and began writing for television. Brooks’ fame is due, in part, to his performances in the Borscht Belt, which refers to the summer resorts of the Catskill Mountains where many Jewish comedians got their start. It wasn’t until Mel Brooks began directing films, however, that he really found his footing in comedy. We know him today for having directed The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein and Spaceballs, among others. He often plays a cameo role in his films and reflects his Jewish identity through references and jokes.

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