In his controversial opening monologue on “Saturday Night Live,” comedian Dave Chappelle said a lot of things that upset a lot of Jews. But another stand-up routine making the rounds this week took joking about Jews to a whole other level:
“Those are called Sephardic Jews, or as my grandmother called them, animals.”
“Jews are racist but we don’t see skin color. We see IQ and income level.”
“We’re cheap but only compared to you guys. We’re not cheap compared to Chaim and Shlomo.”
“Goy is Yiddish for non-Jew. And just so you know, when you hear it, you think it’s fun and friendly. It’s not. They’re sh—ing on you to your face.”
Dave Chappelle didn’t say any of these insensitive things. Ari Shaffir, a Jewish stand-up comedian, did.
These are some of the milder punchlines and observations in his recently-released comedy special, “Jew.” The 90-minute show, filmed in Brooklyn before a live audience, has already racked up over 3 million views and over 25,000 comments since it was posted to YouTube on Nov. 2.
If we’re upset with Chappelle, why aren’t we livid with Shaffir?
I’m going to suggest a crazy answer: We shouldn’t be upset with either. We should, if we feel like it, even laugh a little.
Chappelle’s comments, coming a time when high-profile antisemitic incidents have set many in the American Jewish community on edge, have drawn a firestorm of criticism.
“We shouldn’t expect @DaveChappelle to serve as society’s moral compass, but disturbing to see @nbcsnl not just normalize but popularize #antisemitism,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted. “Why are Jewish sensitivities denied or diminished at almost every turn?”
The ADL is on the front lines of fighting actual antisemitism, but this is, judging by the mixed reactions Chappelle’s monologue received, at worst a debatable example of it.
But why no word from Chappelle’s critics about Shaffir’s attack on “Jewish sensitivities”? Why is Chappelle accused of inciting antisemites while Shaffir gets a pass?
In his routine, the 48-year-old New York-born Shaffir, who left Orthodox Judaism after attending yeshiva, talks about how the Jewish god is obsessed with sex, especially anal sex. He spends a good five minutes mocking Jewish religious rituals around menstruation, followed by 10 minutes on masturbation and a Holocaust joke about pushy Jews.
You might argue that Chappelle has a bigger megaphone, but Shaffir’s post has racked up one million views in the past two days alone. (“I think it’s your best work ever,” Joe Rogan told Shaffir on Spotify’s top-rated podcast.)
Has no one called out Shaffir because of the rule — illustrated by Chapelle’s frequent use of the N-word — that those in the tribe get a free pass to mock the tribe? Or is it because Chappelle poked not at Jewish religion but at Jewish power, a very sensitive subject for people more used to seeing themselves as victims?
I raise this question as someone who liked both routines. Shaffir’s “Jew,” in particular, made me laugh, hard. It’s raw and crude in parts, and mostly brilliant. The ending has a callback so deft and unforeseen it’s positively Chappelle-like.
There’s a minyan of contemporary comedians who talk about being Jewish in sharp, personal and very funny ways — Elon Gold, Alex Edelman, Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer, not to mention Howard Stern — but Shaffir doesn’t do a couple of bits; he does a whole, Jewish show. Ari Shaffir makes Jackie Mason look like a goy.
Sure, Shaffir doesn’t always present Jews in a heroic light. He exaggerates, like Chappelle did, because comedy isn’t MyJewishLearning.com — and fair warning, you may get upset.
But that’s comedy. The best comedians — Mark Twain, George Carlin, Sarah Silverman, and yes, Dave Chappelle — do indeed serve as “society’s moral compass.” Sometimes that means offending people. But the best response to comedy is not high-horse umbrage; it’s more comedy.
To be sure, there are comedians who cross the line. The French perfomer Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, for one, has spoken wistfully of gas chambers while also denying the Holocaust. He’s been fined, jailed and banned. Worse than that? He’s not funny. It’s pretty easy to know an antisemite when you see one.
Chappelle isn’t one, and whether what he said gave ammunition to real antisemites is at least a matter of debate.
Ari Shaffir at a 2016 New York City performance. Photo by Rob Kim
But, please, not too much debate. It’s almost unseemly that as Iran snuffs out the lives of peaceful protesters, Ukrainians fight for freedom in the cold and dark, and real white supremacists are reelected to Congress, all Jewish Twitter seems to care about is whether one of Jon Stewart’s best friends just launched a pogrom.
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