Rabbi, author looks at comics and comedy 
February 15, 2011


Rabbi Simcha Weinstein says that humor can be found in even the most dire of situations, even in the Holocaust.

If it sounds a little sick, well, he can refer you to Mel Brooks' classic "The Producers," and one of its most memorable songs, "Springtime for Hitler" performed by a campy Dick Shawn.

"Humor gives you control over your repressor," Weinstein explained, though he admits it may only work if the one making the joke is Jewish, in the same way that African-American comedians can say things that a white comic could never get away with.

"It depends on who you are. Chris Rock made a whole career out of the 'N' word," Weinstein said.

Weinstein, the author of two books, will speak Feb. 26 at Chabad of Northbrook, 755 Huehl Road. His appearance begins at 8 p.m. and is open to the public.

Weinstein's first book, "Up Up and Oy Vey! How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero" received the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Award for the best religion book of 2007. His second book, "Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st Century," was recently published.

In addition, he has appeared several times on radio and television and has been profiled in many publications, including The New York Times, The Miami Herald, The Seattle Times and The London Guardian.

Weinstein holds a bachelor's degree in Film History from the Manchester Metropolitan University, England. Following graduation, he became an associate for the British Film Commission and coordinated the production of hundreds of feature films throughout the United Kingdom.

As Weinstein began to rediscover his spiritual roots, his path veered from show business to the yeshiva, and he eventually became a rabbi.

Today he chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at the New York art school, Pratt Institute. Weinstein also serves as rabbi to Long Island College Hospital and is the founder of the downtown Brooklyn Jewish Student Foundation, an educational and cultural center.

Weinstein said it is not annuals for persecuted people such as the Jews to turn to humor.

It's a way, he said, for the oppressed to at least morally gain an upper hand, some control.

"Three hundred years of slavery gives you something of a sense of humor," he said in telephone interview Tuesday. "A lot of it is context."

There traditionally have been a large number of Jewish comedians, far in excess of their representation in the population, from old-timers like Shecky Greene and Jackie Mason to the young Jewish comedians of today.

But Weinstein said, the kind of humor and the type of comedian has changed.

In his second book Weinstein looked at some of the younger Jewish comedians such as Sara Silverman, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and Jon Stewart of the Daily Show.

Although Weinstein says he does not usually write much about politics, an article he wrote for his web site during the 2008 presidential campaign, "Two Candidates Walk Into A Bar. Comedy and Presidential Politics," looks at the way comedy infused the campaign and the way pseudo news programs like The Daily Show have replaced traditional news sources for particularly young viewers.

That's also something he looked at in "Shtick Shift."

"As the rabbi at New York's prestigious art school, the Pratt Institute, I can assure you that, for better or worse, countless young people look to The Daily Show as their main (and sometimes only) source of news," Weinstein wrote in the article. "Young people are turning off the Dan Rathers, Wolf Blitzers and Anderson Coopers in favor of jokes and righteous indignation masked as news."

Currently Weinstein said he is working on a new book one that leaves the areas of comic books and comedy for something more serious, demographics. Weinstein said he is looking at the need for couples to have more children to maintain the world population.

"The book is really the case for children. I'm making the case for children," Weinstein said.

Those planning to attend can RSVP by calling (847) 564-8770 or by visiting the Chabad website at 

More information on Weinstein is available on his web site,