Three Jews Walk into a Bar – The History of the Jokes Jews Used to Tell about Themselves

Jewish humour is one of the distinctive art forms of the 20th century. Over one evening, we trace the various attitudes and forces – religious, cultural, linguistic and political – that drove the rise and eventual decline of what we think of as the Jewish joke. Also you will hear some classic Jewish jokes.


  • This class will be delivered online via the online platform Zoom.
  • This course requires students to have an email, a reliable internet connection, and access to a tablet, smartphone or computer.


  • Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews, Harper Collins (NY 2010)
  • Henry D. Spalding, Encyclopedia of Jewish Humor: From Biblical Times to the Modern Age, Jonathon David (Boston 1975)
  • Tim Benton et al, Jewish Humor – essays from 1st International Conference on Jewish Humor, Transaction Publishers (NJ 1997)


  • Brief overview of Judaism and Jewish history
  • Jewish religion and its influence on Jewish humour
  • The Diaspora, persecution and its contribution. We consider how the Jewish immigrant experience contributed to stereotypes of Jewish character and humour. Also we consider how Jewish jokes compare to other ethnic jokes
  • A quick introduction to Yiddish and its contribution to jokes. We link rise of Jewish humour to the secular Yiddish literary movement of the late 1800s, through to its movement and flourishing in the US in the 20th century. Touch on its links to the growth of vaudeville and Hollywood.
  • The end of the Jewish joke? Discuss how changes in the forces and attitudes that have driven the Jewish joke have led to its decline. We consider current Israeli humour and how it differs from the traditional Jewish. Also consider the legacy of traditional Jewish humour to contemporary humour, especially in the US.

By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the many social, cultural and historical factors that have driven what we think of as the traditional Jewish joke through its rise and decline.
  • Have a bit of a laugh.

This course has no current classes. Please join the waiting list by clicking .