The informant is my grandfather, who spent most of his teens in 1950’s and 60’s New York City. He is Jewish, and grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, immersing himself deep into the lore and sardonic nature of Jewish, New York humor.
These are some jokes my grandfather has told me to me over and over since I could walk. There’d be many times at family functions and events that we’d be talking and he’d break into a tirade of “Jewish jokes,” flinging out one-liners and jokes from Henny Youngman, Sid Caesar, and jokes he heard on the sidewalks in the city growing up. My grandfather told me that he and his friends would go for hours, cracking joke after joke like rapid fire, imitating the comedians on the radio.
A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill. The doctor gave him another six months.
I broke my leg in two places. The doctor told me to stop going to those places.
My dad was the town drunk. Usually that’s not so bad, but in New York City?
These one-liners were always my favorite jokes growing up. For me, they were my first impression of an era of post-WWII America immortalized by films and television: New York City in the mid-20th century. This was a time where many immigrants were coming to the United States and establishing identities for their communities in this new land. My grandfather moved to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in the city after his family emigrated from Israel. Many of the jokes he heard and told with his friends during his time growing up there formed the backbone of the Jewish identity in New York City. These jokes are quick, witty, and overly masochistic. The Jewish people suffered greatly in Europe in the prior decades, and now they were forced to try and assimilate to a foreign country. These one-liners are almost a coping mechanism for the Jewish people, as they learn to laugh at pain and misfortune. A broken leg is certainly not as severe as the Holocaust, yet it mimics the misfortune and shares the experience with companions when the joke is told to a group of friends hanging out in a schoolyard.