Jewish Comedy and a History of the American Right

Sunday, May 1st, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are Jewish Comedy and a History of the American Right.

Our Speakers are Jeremy Dauber and Matthew Continetti.


Larry Bernstein:

Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement.

Today’s discussion will be on Jewish Comedy and a History of the American Right.

Our first speaker today will be Jeremy Dauber who is a Professor at Columbia and the author of Jewish Comedy: A Serious History. I love comedy and want to know more about what makes Jewish comedy extra special and so funny.
Our second speaker is Matthew Continetti who is the Resident Fellow in Social, Cultural and Constitutional Studies at AEI. Matthew has a new book that was released this week entitled The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism. I want to learn how the views in the Right are not monolithic and how the coalition has disagreed over foreign policy, trade, and immigration.

Buckle up.

If you missed it, check out last week’s program on gentrification and kidnapping rich people, check it out. It was wild.

Our first speaker was Mitchell Schwarzer who is the author of Hella Town: Oakland’s History of Development and Disruption. Mitchell will discuss why both the wealthy and the poor oppose new building and change in Oakland. The Not in my Back Yard has become the mantra in California, limiting growth and driving up real estate values.

Our second speaker was Tom Sancton who is the author of The Last Baron: The Paris Kidnapping that Brought Down an Empire. The book is crazy, fast paced and fantastic. It is a unbelievable true story about the kidnapping of one of France’s leading industrialists.

I use interns to help me prepare this podcast, and I am looking to hire a new batch of interns for the summer. Historically the interns have been seniors in high school, college students, or recent graduates. Interns will read assigned books to decide if they are show worthy, we will review last week’s show to learn how to make it better, and interns will be exposed to all aspects of podcasting. Please let me know if you are interested.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcast and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Jeremy Dauber. Jeremy good luck on your six minute presentation.


Jeremy Dauber

Topic: Jewish Comedy
Bio: Professor of Jewish Literature and American Studies at Columbia University
Reading: Jewish Comedy: A Serious History is here


A lot of people on this podcast talk about their points and they make three different points for two minutes each. And what I decided to do in talking about Jewish comedy was do something slightly different, which was to make twice as many points taking half the amount of time. So, six points because there were six different funny ways Jews do comedy.

The first is Jewish humor comes as a response to persecution. One of the ways of dealing with trauma is to make a joke about it. You can cope with it and feel better. So, one kind of Jewish comedy is a response to persecution, trauma, and antisemitism.

Another is Jewish comedy as social and political satire. Jews have had social, political, and religious institutions and they mock and make fun of them.

A third kind of Jewish humor goes back to this idea that Jews are the people of the book. It’s a certain Jewish comedy is a witty bookish. It is very intellectual, practiced by the elites who had facility with texts.

The fourth kind of Jewish comedy is of the body. Jews have bodies, just like everybody else. They can have a vulgar comedy. Mel Brooks is bodily humor and intellectual comedy is Woody Allen, although his neurasthenic jokes about himself are very much of the body. You have those two different kinds, the wit and the bodily humor.

Our fifth kind of Jewish comedy is about metaphysics. Jews have flourished and suffered and lived through thousands of years of diaspora due to their self-identification as a people with a relationship with God, even if it’s a God that they don’t believe in, don’t trust, and are angry with.

An example is someone like Tevye the Dairyman in Sholem Aleichem who is schlepping through the shtetl and talking with God and arguing with him. You look at the world, at God and at Jewish history and put that all together. That kind of Jewish comedy is metaphysical and it’s pervasive.

The sixth kind of Jewish comedy is the Jewish folk tale. This is the Jews as a people who have their culture, folklore, and stories and how it applies to us today as it did to ancestors thousands of years ago.

Jeremy Dauber:

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Matthew Continetti

Topic: A History of the American Right
Bio: Resident Fellow in Social, Cultural and Constitutional Studies at AEI
Reading: The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism is here

Most histories of the American Right begin shortly after the Second World War and culminate in Ronald Reagan’s presidency. In my book, The Right, I begin the story much earlier and end it after Barack Obama. Reagan is not the central character but one character among many whose rise was not inevitable.

The Republican party of Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis has a lot in common with the Republican Party of the 1920s: Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge. The American Right prior to the Second World War stood for non-intervention in foreign policy, restriction of immigration, and a protectionist trade policy.

The Republican party under Donald Trump is against deploying troops overseas and illegal immigration. Trump called himself, “tariff man.”

A theme of my book, The Right, is the ongoing dynamic between conservative elites and the broader grassroots populist revolting against expert wisdom, top-down governments, bureaucracy and the elite guardianship of institutions.

Elites and the populists often find a common antagonism toward liberalism in American government, American culture, universities, the entertainment industry and the media.

Beginning in the mid-20th century, conservatives found that the way to power was the populist grassroots. But that didn’t necessarily mean that the conservatives and the populists always saw eye-to-eye.
During the Cold War, anti-Communism provided a foundation for an alliance between the conservatives and the populists.

After the Cold War, many of the fissures between conservatives and the populist grassroots came to the fore. The issue of immigration, the simmering discontent with George W. Bush’s policy of regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan and the integration of China into the global economy.

This tension between conservative elites and the Republican populist grassroots grew with time. And culminated in the rise of Donald Trump who was the agent of populist revolt, not only against liberal elites but also against conservative ones and that’s where we find ourselves today.

Matthew Continetti:

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