Behavior: Analyzing Jewish Comics

It's just that it hurts less when you laugh

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Jewish comedians, he argues, are "overwhelmingly anxious" people who turn most of their humor on themselves. Though self-deprecation is traditional in Jewish humor, says Janus, it has a special function in America: it serves as "ritual exorcism" for conflicts shared with Jewish audiences, and it assures Gentile audiences that Jewish humor is not threatening.

Abe Burrows once told Janus that the comedian must practice his comedy in order to avoid destroying himself; and the psychologist agrees that the comics are successfully using humor as a form of self-therapy. All told, Janus says, the comedians are bright, sensitive and relatively stable. But, he adds, "they are not happy guys."

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