Categorized | Cohen_Joel_H., Lighter Side

Fact- checking an old Jewish joke

By Joel H. Cohen

Joel H. Cohen

NEW YORK —  An old joke that’s resurfacing tells of a little boy coming home from school and excitedly telling his mother, “I got a part in the class play”

“Great,” says his mom, “What character do you play?”

“A Jewish husband,” the boy replied.

“Well, you go right back and tell your teacher you want a speaking role.”

The story evokes chuckles, but also some objections – from both Jewish husbands and Jewish wives. Others say it’s right on target, in the the words of one couple, “As the saying goes, the character’s silence speaks volumes.”

To try to gauge how couples really feel about the joke’s validity or lack thereof, I conducted a very unscientific survey. The informal focus group consisted of any Jewish married person willing to respond.

The results were very mixed.

One Jewish husband, insisting the joke’s premise was false, invoked a variation on another old joke, declaring: “I make all the big decisions—North Korea, climate change, immigration – and my wife makes the small ones: where we live, take vacations, how we raise the kids…”

Another said that, in their long relationship, he and his wife were equally vocal. He was convinced that the secret of a happy marriage is compromise, and he offered some examples:

He wanted to live in the city; she preferred the suburbs. They compromised; they live in the suburbs. As to where to go on vacation, he preferred the seashore; she, the mountains. They compromised; they vacation in the mountains. He wanted four kids, she wanted two. They compromised; they have two.

Many of the wives who responded insisted that, in their experience, the joke was wrong. One offered as proof the fact that her husband spoke more often and much louder than she did. “I yell,” he bellowed, “because you never listen to me.”

“If muttering and kvetching count,” another woman said, “my husband talks plenty.”

One man said he had fallen silent – deliberately – after he’d once made the mistake of giving am honest appraisal in answer to his wife’s classic question, “Does this dress make me look…” His voice trailed off.

A woman who took issue with the joke’s premise, said, “With me, he doesn’t stop talking. But when one of his meshuga  relatives call with a complaint, he doesn’t say a word.”

Another Jewish wife said her husband relied on body language with her, but spoke up as the family disciplinarian, resorting to warning a misbehaving child: “You just wait till your mother gets home.”

Respondents had the option of giving their opinions in writing, to preserve their privacy and encourage candid answers. One man had written his response –an emphatic assertion that the joke about the speaking part was nowhere near correct in his case. He returned to ask whether he could change his answer. “Sure,” I said, “but why do you want to do that?”

“My wife told me to.”

Bet he got the part.

Cohen is a freelance writer and humorist residing in New York City.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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