Yes, this is an April Fool’s Day headline. But it’s also true. At a recent JMM staff meeting the conversation turned to classic Jewish comedy sketches. I learned that morning that many of the younger members of the team were unfamiliar with the Plotnick Diamond and the Grammy-nominated comedy album “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish” which is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this year.
The album was the product of a golden age of comedy records in the early 1960s. The first Grammy award for best (spoken) comedy album is in 1960 and went to actor/comedian Shelley Berman. In these years, Jewish performers dominated nominations for this category – including the 1960 albums “Sick Humor” by Lenny Bruce, “Look Forward in Anger” by Mort Sahl, the 1961 album “The 2000 Year Old Man” and the 1962 album “An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May”. And on the comedy musical side of the ledger were the classic albums by Tom Leher and Allen Sherman.
Jewish Comedic Performers
But even in this glittering array of talent, “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish” stands out for it’s quick memorable punch lines delivered with exceptional skill by great voice talents. I noticed one reviewer on line referred to this album as “the I ching of Jewish humor”, and who am I to dispute that. Performers on the album include Jack Gilford (the Hollywood blacklisted actor who many kids of my generation associate with Cracker Jack), Lou Jacobi, Arlene Golonka and the sonorous voice of Kraft Music Hall announcer Frank Gallop.
The album was the brainchild of the writing team of Bob Booker and George Foster. At the time they made “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish” they had already won a Grammy award for the comedy album The First Family – an amazing, good humored send-up of the Kennedy administration – a milestone in political comedy.
In 2013, Seinfeld star, Jason Alexander turned the album (and its sequel) into a theater production in Los Angeles. Thanks to that production I was able to find an LA Jewish Journal interview with Bob Booker (at age 87).
I learned that while his collaborator was Jewish, Booker himself was not. He reports that growing up in Miami he was influenced by all the Jewish comedians who would come to local clubs and theaters (Henny Youngman, Milton Berle, and Don Rickles among others). His success in crafting the Jewish humor on this album is the real proof that “you don’t have to be Jewish” to appreciate the ironic wit that emerges from Jewish culture.
As for the Plotnick Diamond, I did find a source for a partial script of the routine. Click HERE and scroll down the page. But do yourself a favor and download the audio from iTunes instead. The routine “The Diamond” is much funnier with the actors.
Scrolling down this Jewish magazine website I did see a few jokes that really made me groan. Here is the most painful of the bunch:
It seems a group of leading medical people have published data that indicates that seder participants should NOT partake of both chopped liver and charoses. It is indicated that this combination can lead to Charoses of the Liver.
Happy April Fool’s Day!
A blog post by Museum Director Marvin Pinkert. To read more posts from Marvin click HERE.
The Baltimore Jewish Times publishes unidentified photographs from the collection of Jewish Museum of Maryland each week. If you can identify anyone in these photos and more information about them, contact Joanna Church at 410.732.6400 x236 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Date run in Baltimore Jewish Times: July 25, 2014
PastPerfect Accession #: 2011.078.061
Status: Unidentified! Do you know anything about this Beth Shalom Congregation of Carroll County photo?
Even a butler has his favorites, and so too an honest Collections Manager. In my case, I have too many a lot of ‘favorite’ artifact types, but I do have a particular fondness for elaborate serving utensils: pickle forks, grapefruit spoons, bon-bon servers, fish slices… they’re so delightfully specific.
Take, for example, this sterling silver spoon, made by Jenkins & Jenkins of Baltimore in the early 20th century. Though the form resembles that of other utensils, its scalloped bowl is broader than a sugar shell, and it lacks the holes and slots of a tomato server: thus, it’s almost certainly a berry spoon. Nonetheless, to the untutored – i.e., many of us in today’s hey-grab-me-a-plastic-spork world – it’s simply a fancy serving spoon, which could be put to many uses. To our better-mannered (or at least, more thoroughly trained) predecessors, however, it had a definite and correct use: serving berries. (Not eating said berries, though – there are, of course, special forks for that.)
One needn’t be wealthy to achieve an elegant table. This boxed “berry set” was available from Sears, Roebuck & Co. in the 1897 catalog, for $2.90 (approximately $81 in today’s money).
This spoon’s owner, Fannie Wiesenfeld Friedman (1874-1967), would have put it to its proper use. The repousee-style handle – very popular in early 20th century Baltimore – is engraved FW. The use of her maiden initial suggests this was part of a wedding gift or trousseau purchase. A woman planning to set up her own household would need the correct dishes and flatware, in anticipation of entertaining friends, family, neighbors, her husband’s business associates, or anyone else who should be served in the best style.
Close-up of the handle reverse, featuring the engraved initials FW.
A blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts from Joanna click HERE.