Emily Gold: You want me to lie‽Thus was super-agent Ari Gold forgiven by God on last night's episode of Entourage, "Return of the King". This is over-the-top perversion of the actual meaning of Yom Kippur and yet it is a belief of many that the forgiveness of Yom Kippur is automatic.
Ari Gold: That is the beauty of Yom Kippur, as long as you apologize before sundown it doesn't matter what you do!
There has been a recent trend in television, particularly on HBO, to lampoon and trivialize Judaism's most sacred traditions, such as Yom Kippur services and the Passover Seder... And I couldn't be happier. It happens that it has come in vogue to use Jewish humor, usually in the form of the "self-hating" Jew. It indicates that Jews and Judaism have become a hallmark in the highest indication of societal acceptance: the American sitcom.
Take, for example, the aforementioned episode of Entourage. An Orthodox Jew complains of the "Half-Church Reform Temple down the street" and the non-Jewish main characters drink before ten AM because today is a holiday. "Which holiday?" "Yom Kippur!". The second season episode, "The Bat Mitzvah" portrayed a Jewish party that was "too much bar and not enough mitzvah"
My favorite uses of jokes at the expense of the Chosen People include Seinfeld-creator Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm,. This is especially juicy due to the fact that he is married to a WASP and his wife's family fails to understand Judaism (though Larry perverts his own religion as well). Episodes such as "The Seder", "The Survivor", and many others expose Judaism at its most ridiculous.
The most gratuitous and incredibly obscure Hebrew-humor comes from the Comedy Central cartoon/"reality show", Drawn Together. It contained in-Jokes that were too inside for most Jews to even get. Wooldoor Sockbat (who turns out to not even be Jewish) kills himself and his epitaph is given as something like "5751-now", a reference to the Jewish anno-mundi calendar. Captain Hero calls his mother Eema, the Hebrew word (actually a lend-word from Aramaic, but most Jews don't know that) for mother, properly pluralizing it as Eemahot. Jewish jokes abound; you'll probably find at least a dozen per episode.
How can I forget Borat, created by religious Jew Sacha Baron Cohen who exposes the anti-semitic sentiments of ignoramuses in both Great Britain and the United States.
Family Guy takes a few harsh and perhaps tasteless jabs at Judaism: in its pilot it crosses the line by having a chip-eating Peter Griffin exposing the hiding place of Anne Frank AND forces a religious Jewish High School student to "take off that damn hat" when he replaces the yarmulke on his head. "When You Wish Upon a Weinstein" is an episode previously banned from television, a notorious act by FOX. This, however, seems to be the one show that doesn't really do its research and the dreydl and menorah is riddled with errors. Very funny though...
And then there is The Simpsons ("I know Weinstein's parents were upset, Superintendent, but I was sure it was a phony excuse. I mean, it sounds so made up: 'Yahm Kip-Pur'.") . My friends and I in college had a game where we would try to find at least one Jewish Joke in each episode as it first aired. There were a few episodes that expose the bottom line: that humor and Judaism go hand-in-hand. In "Like Father, Like Clown" Bart makes numerous attempts to reconcile a hard-line rabbinic father with his estranged clown of a son Krusty the Clown (a fuller account can be found in "The Simpsons Talmud" made by apparently fellow List alum Noah Gradowsky). Bart paraphrases Taanit 22a and says that the Messianic Redemption will be brought through the jesters. I believe it to be a method of our survival that we have also been known as the most self-depreciating people on the planet. Without humor there could be no joy, something deficient since the destruction of the Temple, and therefore this reference to the Messianic age being brought on by a clown is appropriate.
May it come soon and may it be very funny.