Skip to content

Movie Review: When Jews Were Funny

November 15, 2013

When Jews Were Funny PosterWhen Jews Were Funny – A KinoSmith Release

Release Date: November 15th, 2013

Rated PG for language

Running time: 90 minutes

Alan Zweig (dir.)

Alan Zweig (writer)

Michael Zweig (music)

Shecky Greene as Himself

Howie Mandel as Himself

Shelley Berman as Himself

Norm Crosby as Himself

Jack Carter as Himself

David Steinberg as Himself

Andy Kindler as Himself

Elon Gold as Himself

Gilbert Gottfreid as Himself

David Brenner as Himself

Bob Einstein as Himself

Judy Gold as Himself

Marc Maron as Himself

Eugene Mirman as Himself

When Jews Were Funny

©KinoSmith.  All Rights Reserved.

Shelley Berman in When Jews Were Funny.

Our reviews below:


When Jews Were Funny Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

Through revealing interviews with a variety of Jewish comedians and hilarious old footage, When Jews Were Funny looks at how humour passed down through generations has helped shape the culture, and how their cultural identity continues to evolve in a world without the same types of oppression.  But this odyssey to uncover the true definition of Jewish comedy morphs into something even deeper, a thoughtful study of how past experiences shape humour, and the ongoing struggles to keep an entire culture alive.

Directed by Alan Zweig, who also gave us the inspirational 15 Reasons to Live earlier this year, When Jews Were Funny is an interesting and entertaining documentary that becomes another engaging personal journey for the Toronto filmmaker.  The deserving winner of Best Canadian Feature at TIFF, this is a lively and often fascinating conversation piece that is well worth seeking out.


When Jews Were Funny Review by Erin V.

*** (out of 4)

Directed by Alan Zweig, When Jews Were Funny is an interview-based documentary that asks the question of where humour comes from and if ‘Jewish humour’ is a real thing (and if so, will it be lost in generations to come)?  In some ways, this is something Zweig wants answers to himself.  He asks the interview subjects the questions for his own reasons, wanting desperately to know if his own daughter will grow up around the same kind of humour that he did.  And he gets many varied answers.

One thing’s for sure though, and on this the subjects seem to agree.  Humour can come out of oppression – it is a sort of freedom in itself.  And where the Jewish humour originated is part of what makes it what it is today.  Will this continue to be as culturally distinct in a more global society?  Only time will tell.

From young to old comics, the interview subjects are all engaging (after all, they do this for a living) and makes the 88 minute documentary, consisting pretty much of all talking heads, fly by as though it was only an hour.  The film is worth seeing – in particular for those who have always appreciated the sensibilities in ‘Jewish humour’ – and is sure to entertain.


When Jews Were Funny Review by Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

What life experiences make the best comedians?  This is a question writer/director Alan Zweig finds out when he interviews a group of Jewish comedians.  He discovers that, in the past, many Jewish people survived anti-Semitism by seeing the humour in every situation.

When society became accepting of multiculturalism, the dry sense of humour was no longer essential, yet has remained somewhat in Jewish culture.  Maintaining one’s cultural identity in a multicultural society is the prevailing theme throughout this documentary.  The need for cultural identity is really brought home in the end, when Alan Zweig wishes to create a strong identity for his toddler daughter, who is part Jewish.

When Jews Were Funny takes a fascinating look at cultural identity.  This documentary is a must see for anyone interested in sociology.


When Jews Were Funny Review by Maureen

*** (out of 4)

In the documentary When Jews Were Funny, Jewish writer/director Alan Zweig explores the interesting and entertaining question, “are Jews still funny?”  Through a series of interviews with Jewish comics of all ages along with archival footage of well-known comics, Zweig tries to figure out where Jewish humour is coming from and why the previous generation of Jews seem funnier.

The answers are insightful and very entertaining.  There’s a strong sense of cultural identity that is revealed by comedians such as Howie Mandel, David Steinberg and Shelley Berman to name a few.  The viewer gets the sense that this exploration of cultural identity is as much for Alan Zweig as it is for his interview subjects and his general audience.

Whether you identify as Jewish or not, WJWF is worth checking out.  This is funny stuff.


When Jews Were Funny Review by Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Through interviews with several generations of comedians and archival clips of classic standup routines, When Jews Were Funny is an exploration by Canadian filmmaker Alan Zweig of the predominance of Jewish comics over the last century. As everyone agrees that Jewish humour was a response to oppression and adversity in their countries of origin and as immigrants in the early 20th century, the question posed by the film is how much of the tradition has survived the comfort and acceptance enjoyed by most Jewish comics today.

Too often an analysis of what gets laughs is anything but funny. To the credit of Alan Zweig and the charm of his guests this is not a problem here. For me the highlight was the thoughtful and challenging discussion with Shelley Berman, whose distinguished seventy year career in improvisation, standup and acting has earned the respect of everyone in the business. Though denying having been overtly Jewish in his own work, he confirms his roots at the end with a nostalgic Yiddish folk song. It is reassuring that even though what they have to kvetch about now may be trivial compared to the past, the current generation of comics has maintained the brash and ironic attitudes that made their predecessors so funny.


Consensus: Featuring engaging interviews with different Jewish comedians, When Jews Were Funny is an entertaining documentary about how culture defines humour, that also serves as an interesting personal journey for director Alan Zweig.  ***1/4 (Out of 4)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: