When the baby boom generation was growing up, Catskill comedians were a big phenomenon. Entertainment in the mountains was always a comedian.
And everyone was in the mountains! No one took an airplane anywhere and no one had air conditioning. Therefore, the “cool” mountains, and I mean cool air not cool crowd, was the ‘physical’ get away. And humor was the ‘mental’ get away.
Humor, was about poking fun at things. And – Mothers-in-law, were the easiest target. Every comedian ripped at them. Of course, I had no idea why. To me that was my sweet grandmother! Not someone’s mother-in-law.
There were no women comedian either, so no one was a protective force defending mothers-in-law.
Now, these comics had no boundaries. Mothers-in-law were completely defenseless. These poor overworked, 3 foot 7, little European ladies, potentially traumatized from their past, were portrayed as the devil incarnate. They were trounced by these comics. They portrayed them as ogres that loomed as large as the giants the spies reported inhabited the land of Israel back in the days of Moses.
To the credit of these old-time comedians, no inappropriate word was ever uttered. If they were saying anything ‘off color’ it was in Yiddishe. So, who understood it anyway?! In fact, who knows if they even spoke yiddishe? It didn’t have to be a real word, because any word that sounds Yiddishe harks of an explicit message. Example – She was a real ga-hufenblacha, seeing her once a month was more than enough! She could give you such a machan-shlufel you would run out of there holding your head just so it wouldn’t roll off.
And then again, even an authentic Yiddish word, utilized in a completely innocent manner, could still sound like you called someone an old battle axe! Just look at the word for ground meat for instance, “Gahakta-Fleish”! Need I say more?!
Today, the code of ethics has changed. ‘Mothers-in-law’ seem to be completely off limits! I guess women’s lib took care of that! But crude language has become not just acceptable, but the order of the day! Practically every word needs to be censored. These new guys could never perform for an Orthodox audience. There would be no content! Perhaps that’s how mimes got started?!
So, what do comedians who perform in the Catskills these days talk about?
Us!!! Because we are good material. We are funny! We eat a lot, talk a lot, and celebrate holidays a lot, which only means we eat and talk…. a lot more! And our greatness is that we can laugh at ourselves. We don’t need a ‘mother-in-law’ to be put down, or crude language to be uttered to get us laughing!
Our simple images make us laugh! Just say the word gefilte fish, or pi-cha, or shidduch resume, and we get hysterical. Well maybe shidduch resumes actually make us hysterically cry?! But, our “stuff” is just plain funny! In other words, our lives are just meant to be taken with a grain of salt and a good gafaugh.
We were born to be material for a Catskill comedian.
So, even when you don’t hear one in person, just close your eyes, sit back, and laugh. Cause maybe that is what Gd meant by commanding us “Ivdu et Hashem bisimcha / worship Gd with joy”. We are not just the people of the book, we are the people of the joke book!
Rivki Rosenwald is a certified relationship counselor, and career and life coach. She can be contacted at 917-705-2004 or firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto:email@example.com