Jewish jokes dominate top 100 on New York magazine list

Ben Sales

Jerry Seinfeld speaking onstage at the 2015 Hulu Upfront Presentation at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, April 29, 2015. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

Jerry Seinfeld speaking onstage at the 2015 Hulu Upfront Presentation at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, April 29, 2015. (Craig Barritt/Getty Images)

New York Magazine’s culture section, Vulture, this week published a mega-listicle, “The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy.” With the help of comedians and historians of comedy, the magazine’s editors picked the most important jokes ever uttered — from Charlie Chaplin making dinner rolls dance to Louis C.K. dissing his daughter.

And Jews dominate the list.

Jews make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population, but the chosen people had a hand in no fewer than 50 of Vulture’s 100 jokes, according to a JTA count. Beyond the numbers, Jews have remained a consistent comedic force, showing up in every decade: Vaudeville in the teens and 20s, the Marx Brothers in the 30s, the Borscht Belt in the 40s and so on — all the way up to Jerry Seinfeld, John Stewart, Judd Apatow and Amy Schumer. (Though Adam Sandler, who ruled the ’90s, somehow didn’t make the list.)

Most of the jokes are Jewish by virtue of who wrote or performed them. But some explicitly reference Judaism and the traits associated with it — from Yiddish accents to circumcision.

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Here’s a sampling of the most-Jewish moments on Vulture’s list:

Cohen on the Telephone (1913)

In what Vulture called “the definitive Jewish vaudeville monologue,” George L. Thompson struggles to conduct business on the phone, owing to his Old World, Yiddish inflections — a tactic Jewish comedians have used ever since. Hilarity ensues.

Duck Soup (1933)

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In one of the most iconic films of one of the most iconic Jewish comedy acts, Groucho Marx channels the anxiety leading up to World War II by playing a man who becomes leader of a small nation and then goes to war. In the song above, all four Marx Brothers dance as Groucho excitedly declares war.

Johnny Carson discovers a mohel (1965)

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It’s Ed Ames who’s Jewish but Johnny Carson who makes a Jewish joke in this clip. When Ames throws a tomahawk and misses his mark, Carson comes back with a perfect one-liner.

Springtime for Hitler (1968) 

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Mel Brooks. Zero Mostel. Gene Wilder. Nazis on Broadway. ‘Nuff said.

Annie Hall (1977)

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Watch Woody Allen reach peak Jewish neurosis in the opening to one of his best films. “I think I’m gonna get better as I get older, you know? I think I’m gonna be the balding virile type, you know, as opposed to, say, the distinguished gray, for instance, you know? ‘Less I’m neither of those two. Unless I’m one of those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism,” Allen says.

Seinfeld talks “Seinfeld” (1992)

In a meta moment, Jerry pitches George on a sitcom for NBC modeled on “Seinfeld”: A show about nothing that manages, somehow, to be about everything.

Sarah Silverman and the Jewish doctor (2005)

The risque comedienne pushes the boundaries when she recalls an experience that was “so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.”

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