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Growing up in a Jewish community, and now being the rabbi of a community, I have studied the art of how the Jewish joke is told, while being forced to listen to them. And we all know, it's about the delivery. So, here is how you deliver a Jewish joke with style.
Must Have a European Accent
That means talking like a New Yorker.
To deliver a Jewish joke correctly, talk like somebody who immigrated from Europe a hundred years ago, or a New Yorker. It's all the same. They both sound foreign to anybody in the Midwest.
When delivering as a New Yorker always pronounce an 'a' when pronouncing an 'r'. The caveat, that is unless the 'r' is in the beginning of a word. And anytime you have an 'i', stress the letter and add an 'u' to it. Also add 'oy' to words with a 'y', so that you can complain more while talking. And then add vowels wherever possible. Any joke delivered in this way is now Jewish. 'Whoy did the chicken crawss the road? To get to the otha suiide.' Now, it's a Jewish joke.
Start Each Joke With 'You Know the One About...'
This lets them know that you're not talking about yourself, and you're not the one who moved to the Lower East Side in the 1930s to see Ms. Nafkowitz.
You can also use, 'Have you heard the one about...' 'About' must be in there. The 'I saw' or 'This guy I know' joke methods are not Jewish. 'About' must be there.
The 'you know the one about' method also give the other person the chance to say, 'I know that joke,' so that you can continue to tell the joke yourself.
Grab the Person
Make sure to grab your friend's arm. You start with a touch and then you grab. If you don't grab their arm, they may not stay for the whole joke. I learned this method by watching Mervin at Kiddish. He was the only one who could get people to hear him finish his jokes. Other people who did not use the grabbing technique lost their subjects mid-joke.
You want to cup their elbow. You don't want them to be able to escape. Pull them into you if possible. Squeezing tight helps if there is a long setup. The tighter you squeeze, the easier it is to hold their attention. Literally. You want to think of the arm touch and grab as holding their attention till you get to the punchline.
Now people stay away from Mervin, in fear that they will suffer physical harm from his humor. Nonetheless, violence can help with delivery.
Laugh at The Joke Yourself
You can't depend on anybody else to laugh at your joke. All joke delivery should end with you laughing. This way people can see you enjoying it. Somebody should enjoy your jokes about mother-in-laws.
Note: Mother-in-law jokes should not be told in front of mother-in-laws. That can make for an awkward conversation at Kiddish.
Stare at the Person Until They Laugh
After the joke stare. Fix your eyes on them. It will trigger a response. Hopefully they realize you just told them a joke and are expecting a laugh.
Every Statement Should Be in Question Form
Your joke should start with a question and end with a question. This way, the listener will not know if you're done.
'Why do Jews answer questions with questions?' 'Why shouldn't we?' That tone of 'why shouldn't we?' is how you must end every joke. Every punchline should sound like that, with a New York accent. Hence, making it a Jewish joke.
Shrug your shoulders while supinating your hands for correct delivery posture. A bit of a forward head tilt, with widened eyes and closed lips, helps with the question form pose. While supinating your hand, do not loosen your grip on their elbow. Even if it hurts the delivery, you don't want to take a chance with them walking towards a conversation they want to have.
To help the audience, add a 'nu' at the end of the joke. That works like a George Burns cigar, ending the joke for them. Allowing them to know they're supposed to laugh. If you don't add a 'nu' they won't know to laugh. Never depend on the material or your stare. You must have a 'nu' or squeeze their arm tighter.
That's how a Jew tells a joke. That's tradition. And if you can, corner the subject, so they can't slip out of the joke hold and get away in the middle of the joke.
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