What, You’re Coming Empty Handed?


The informant is my grandfather, who spent his teens living in a Jewish neighborhood in New York City. This joke was one he heard every now and then. He calls it New York Jew humor.


I heard this joke a few years ago while out to dinner with my grandfather and his brother. When they get together, they tell jokes for hours on end, like they used to growing up in New York.

Main Piece:

The woman says to her friend, “Rachel, is it true you just moved into a big, new apartment?”

Rachel says, “It’s true. Why don’t you come visit. It’s on 1584 8th st. What you’ll do is you’ll take the train down to 8th st and get out. You’ll walk up to the door, there’s a big double door, and open the door with your left elbow and then use your right elbow to prop the door open and walk in. There’s another door, so you have to go to the list of buzzers and with the left elbow, buzz apartment 680. It’ll ring me upstairs and I’ll buzz you in. Then you use the right elbow to press down on the handle of the inside door and push in. You’ll be in the lobby and you walk up to the elevator and with the left elbow you press ‘up.’ You’ll get into the elevator and with the right elbow press ‘six’ for the sixth floor. The elevator will take you to the sixth floor and then you’ll walk to the left down the hall to apartment 680. You’ll ring the doorbell with the right elbow, and you can give some knocks with the left elbow. I’ll come open the door and you’ll come in and I’ll show you around and we’ll have some coffee.

“Wait, Rachel! What kind of directions are these with all the ‘right elbow’ and ‘left elbow? What’s with all the elbows?’

She says, “What? You’re coming empty-handed?”


Per my grandfather’s own words, this joke epitomizes Jewish humor, at least Jewish humor originating out of New York City. The joke distills the customs and character traits of New York’s Jewish population down to a joke. The meticulous nature of the idiosyncratic details that Rachel describes with all the elbows reminds me greatly of my aunts and uncles that still live in New York. It also conveys the expected hospitality and custom of bringing a gift when someone invites you over to their home. My grandfather also tells the joke with a voice, using a nasally, baritone voice when speaking Rachel’s part, making a mocking imitation of a middle-aged Jewish woman from New York. Much of this Jewish humor that my grandfather has described to me is somewhat masochistic and self-degrading. It makes sardonic, comic relief of shared experiences between New York Jews, such as the ones shared between my grandfather and his brother.