Picks and Pans Review: The World of Jewish Humor

updated 12/03/1990 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/03/1990 01:00AM

PBS (Check local listings)

There's something self-defeating in the idea of a documentary on Jewish humor. It's like a scholarly treatise on Madonna: almost certain to miss the point. And this Great Performances special is way off the mark.

First it paints an insultingly stereotyped picture of the immigrant experience, implying that all Jews arriving in the United States either worked in delis or hawked clothing from carts. The archival footage from Eddie Cantor right through Sid Caesar's Show of Shows is decidedly weak.

A number of big comedy names—Richard Lewis, Jackie Mason, Billy Crystal, David Steinberg, Milton Berle, Alan King, Joan Rivers—tell jokes, but then they expound on why the punch line works. Oy gevalt! These people are wonderfully funny, but only in practice, not in theory. Grade: C

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