Of all the things that define the Jewish people culturally, our sense of humor is high on my list. We’ve endured so much persecution and strife, and I believe this sense of humor plays a large part in our collective resilience.
Locally, two Jewish brothers who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later lived in Randallstown and Reisterstown, Andrew and Marc Unger, have been giving Baltimore residents a reason to laugh for 10 years at their club, Magooby’s Joke House, now in Timonium.
The brothers came at the business from different perspectives, as Susan C. Ingram explains in this week’s cover story. While Marc was (and is) a stand-up comic, Andrew pursued business and investment banking after the Army. But Andrew left the business world behind because he felt he wasn’t contributing enough to the community.
And while it’s no philanthropic organization, Magooby’s is revered in the comedy world and seen as a cozy home away from home for both up-and-coming comics and legends such as Jewish comedians Richard Lewis, Gilbert Gottfried and Pauly Shore.
The club owners also host a Comedy Cantonese show on Christmas Eve, billed as a “Night of Jewish Humor, Booze and Chinese Food.”
Marc, the stand-up comic, has trouble defining Jewish comedy — but he’s sure it exists.
“There’s something about the Jewish sensibility, that sarcasm, that quick wit,” he tells the JT. “There’s something about the introspection and the existentialism of life that I think is an important component to comedy, and particularly Jewish comedy.”
The broad-minded, big- question orientation that Marc notes in Jewish comedy is likewise seen in other Jewish cultural products, from art to music to movies. The unanswerable, almost intangible questions are not only explored in Jewish art, they serve as the inspiration that drives us to create, question and seek something greater than ourselves.
Maybe not every audience member who walks through the doors of Magooby’s will think in these terms, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the Unger brothers have created a community space, a place where people can escape from the woes of everyday life (or laugh at them) and share a chuckle with people they may have very little in common with. And sure, maybe they’ll take away some life lessons as well.
As a stand-up comedy fan myself, I’ve always appreciated the way comedy can serve as a mirror to society, pointing out our strengths, flaws and peculiarities. But whether or not a comedian waxes philosophical, there’s nothing better at lifting the spirit than a good joke — something the Jewish people, including the Ungers, have been demonstrating for years.