Thirty years ago, when we were finishing up “The Big Book of Jewish Humor,” a few older comedians were still doing what comedians had always done. They told jokes — by which we mean funny little stories of indeterminate authorship — about a man and an elephant walking into a bar, for example, or a rabbi, a priest and a minister on a train.
Lenny Bruce cursed a blue streak. Don Rickles insulted anyone within hearing distance. Sacha Baron Cohen has raised embarrassment of the unsuspected — Jews and non-Jews alike — into an art form. And for Sarah Silverman, not even the memory of the Holocaust is sacred.
For Jewish comics, Dom Imus is no joke.
In the wake of the shock jock’s unflattering comments about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team and his shockingly swift departure from the national airwaves has come a national discussion about the propriety of character defamation in the guise of humor, and predictions that an era of increased civility will ensue.