Program Details

The Great Jewish Comedians: From Burlesque and Vaudeville to the Borscht Belt and YouTube

Al Kustanowitz

Course Description

Throughout the 20th century, most of the stand-up comedians on stage, screen, radio, and television have been Jewish. Surprisingly, with the exception of Myron Cohen, Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason and a few others, whose jokes depended on their Jewish accents and inflections, most comedy routines were not aimed exclusively at "Members of the Tribe." This presentation will highlight some of the funniest and most beloved nightclub and television skits performed by the great Jewish comedians of the century and little known facts and anecdotes about their careers. From George Jessel and George Burns to Totie Fields, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Milton Berle, Jackie Mason, Alan King and many others, we will trace the evolution of comedy from the days of burlesque and vaudeville to radio, TV, film, nightclubs, comedy clubs, the Borscht Belt, and YouTube. The audience will learn of their origins, their original names (very few didn't change their names), and laugh as they watch their skillful presentations of jokes and skits. The comedy stylings of 20 comedians will be analyzed and presented in their original form. Visual images and audio and video will be used throughout the program.

About the Instructor

  • A long-term devotee of Jewish humor, Al Kustanowitz, MBA, has been collecting and sharing it even before there was an internet. In 2009, after a 36-year career at IBM managing new technology projects, Kustanowitz founded Jewish Humor Central (, an internet blog. Through the blog he brings a daily dose of fun and positive energy to readers who would otherwise start the day reading news that is often drab, dreary, and depressing (subscribing is free). He has published 12 books on humor based on his more than 4,000 blog postings, each of which includes a video clip and his commentary. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the City University of New York and taught computer science courses at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.