Seventy-year-old Larry David was a struggling stand-up comedian until he got his big break in 1988 when he co-created the hit TV comedy Seinfeld. He has since received millions of dollars from that show’s syndication revenues. David then went on in the year 2000 to create and star in Curb Your Enthusiasm, where he plays a fictionalized version of himself — a semi-retired sitcom mogul who spends his life annoying and aggravating everyone around him, including the blind, the physically handicapped, and the mentally challenged. To him no subject is off limits. After being away from the airways for the past six years, the show returned this fall, even edgier than it was before.
During the last U.S. presidential campaign, David made a number of appearances on Saturday Night Live, impersonating presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. His depiction was hilarious and garnered much critical acclaim. On November 4, he hosted SNL and this time I wondered what was he thinking?
In his monologue, after discussing his old life in New York and making some jokes about disabled people he then, in a week of a tragic terrorist attack in Manhattan, decided to talk about Harvey Weinstein.
“I couldn’t help but notice a very disturbing pattern emerging,” David said, turning to the question of sexual harassment. “Many of the predators … are Jews.”
I didn’t believe what I was hearing, but it then got a lot worse when he continued, “I’ve always, been obsessed with women and often wondered, if I’d grown up in Poland when Hitler came to power, and was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women in the camp? I think I would. ‘Hey Shlomo, Shlomo, look at the one by barracks 8. Oh my God, is she gorgeous! Ugh, I’ve had my eye on her for weeks. I’d like to go up and say something to her.’ Of course, the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp: ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK? You know, if we ever get out of here, I’d like to take you out for some latkes.’”
I cringed when I heard this and so did the audience. In lieu of the many male celebrities who are now being accused of sexual harassment, making jokes about hitting on women are just lewd and inappropriate and it was insensitive for David to make jokes about women in concentration camps.
While jokes about the Holocaust continue to remain off limits, humour and ridiculing Hitler and the Nazis have become fair game. Bugs Bunny, Charlie Chaplin, The Three Stooges and The Marx Brothers have all used Hitler and the Nazis for the sake of comedy and satire. None have done it as successfully as Mel Brooks in The Producers with his parody Springtime for Hitler. Not only was his play a huge success in North America, it went over big in Germany and won accolades when performed in Yiddish at the Segal Centre.
The following is a joke about Hitler, told by comedian Gilbert Gottfried, that I think is ingenious: Two Jews are sent to assassinate Hitler. They stake out his home but an hour after he’s supposed to be there, he hasn’t shown up. Two hours later, still no sign of Hitler. One Jew turns to the other and says, “Gee, I hope nothing happened to him.”
Holocaust victims and their survivors used humour as a defence mechanism and weapon despite their powerlessness. According to some experts, the use of humour in tragic situations can be a step toward health and healing. With the passage of time people become more receptive to humour.
Reprising his role as Bernie Sanders, David retuned for a brief moment last Saturday on SNL to comment on the controversy he kicked off the week before. But to coin one of his own favourite expressions, David was not looking prett-ay, prett-ay, pretty good.