Jon Stewart just doesn’t get it

— by Ilan Chaim

Why does Jon Stewart keep making inept jokes that offend Jews? Such a talented comedian, with such a good ear for irony, and such satirical skill in skewering deserving media or politicians-why must he trash Jewish symbols in the crudest of ways?

If he is too intelligent to claim ignorance, then is the only explanation that he does so out of hatred? And if we accept his protestations of Jewish identity, are we by definition talking about that cliché, Jewish self-hatred?

These questions and more were prompted by The Daily Show episode of June 26. In a piece on the Hebrew National kashrut scandal — certainly a legitimate target for satire — Stewart offered some observations on what makes things kosher. In doing so, he displayed at least a rudimentary knowledge of definitions; even pointing out that the language of the accompanying news clip “not entirely kosher” is what Jews understand to be “not kosher.”

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But then he proceeded to go off the deep end in a decidedly unkosher skit involving the circumcision of a hot dog to make it kosher. The skit, as a colleague pointed out, was worse than offensive-it wasn’t funny.

This is not-God forbid-to deny that circumcision can be funny. Jews have been telling circumcision jokes probably since Abraham, although it’s curious that in Google’s listing of many thousands of such jokes there is a separate category of “funny circumcision jokes” — implying there are also unfunny ones. There is even a separate category devoted to jokes about Tim Tebow’s mission to circumcise impoverished Third World boys, though this is not listed in a separate category of “gentile circumcision jokes.”

What was so offensive about Jon Stewart circumcising a Hebrew National hot dog? An initial test might be to ask whether this was the kind of joke he would have dared to try on a Jewish audience. In other words, was it authentic Jewish humor or was it the kind of “kosher style” ersatz Jewish joke an assimilated Jew such as Stewart has no qualms about milking for a gentile audience?

If one assumes that he is too intelligent to claim ignorance as an excuse, what explanation is left for this truly offensive lapse of taste? Perhaps an explanation may be found in previous gaffes, when he trashed Jewish holidays.

Stewart regularly plays Jewish holidays, Holy Days, and observances for laughs, which he draws from an always easily amused studio audience. He seems to think these supposedly comic references show the gentile world what a regular funny guy he is — and he is often brilliantly funny. What is not a laughing matter, however, is seeing a comedian who happens to be Jewish portray Jews by the worst kind of stereotypes.

The Daily Show

The Daily Show

In a September 2010 episode, he took Israeli diplomats to task for not attending President Barack Obama’s UN General Assembly speech and then disparaged the reason for their absence — the Jewish holiday of Succot.

In an April 2012 segment pitting Easter against Passover, while the premise was not necessarily a terrible idea, the punch lines trivialized nearly every important concept of the Jewish festival of freedom for the sake of a few cheap laughs. That the studio audience ate it up is no indication of its funniness — it’s a known fact that The Daily Show audience is warmed up before the taping and laughs at anything.

Compared to circumcising a hot dog — the Jon Stewart Hebrew National Bris — his Passover/Easter showdown was a triumph of understatement and good taste.

I have watched The Daily Show for years and am a great fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian who happens to be Jewish. Stewart displays great wit and is a constant delight skewering such easy targets as the Fox network. There is also a serious side to the show in many of his interviews, whose subjects are not allowed merely to plug their books, but also deal with serious issues that are a showcase for Stewart’s considerable intellect. It is Stewart’s own exceptional talent and obvious intellectual curiosity that make his vulgar Jewish references all the more embarrassing.

So what kind of a Jewish comedian thinks it funny to make jokes about Jewish stereotypes and who is his audience? I would put forward a very unscientific theory that someone who makes such jokes has a deficient sense of humor, if not just deficient common sense. If someone proudly delivers punch lines that are not funny, but brutally insensitive, that person just doesn’t get it.

The writer, a Jerusalem resident since 1972, is an editor, writer, and translator; a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post and information consultant to Israel’s Foreign Ministry.


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