Saturday, August 25, 2018

Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means Hardcover – September 27, 2016 by Michael Krasny (William Morrow)

Let There be Laughter' written by Michael Krasny, who is a Professor of English Literature and host of the noted NPR show 'The Forum'. He previously authored 'The Spiritual Envy-An Agnostic's Quest', in which he tried to answer the principal question about whether we can live this life according to our own code without the need and aid of faith or spiritual belief in a deity? I read that book several times and it used it as a guid on my own path to secularism. So I was extremely excited when Professor's Krasny's new book was announced and I pre ordered it as soon as it became available to purchase.

I have had the pleasure to have taken a few courses with Professor Krasny. His class lectures are equivalent to an enchanting theatrical performance. His wonderful collection of lectures on 'Masterpieces of Short Fiction' have been recorded by 'Great Courses' company and can be purchased online.

Myself being previously used to stoic Engineering Professors, thought these attributes of mixing humor, storytelling, and teaching must be shared amongst all the Professors of the Humanities; but after having taken several more courses in the literary arts, I have come to the final conclusion that, in deed, Professor Krasny is rather unique. And very much celebrated too; his classes fill out auditoriums, his radio show is listened by a multitude of people everyday; and even the Mayor of San Francisco declared Michael Krasny Day on the 20th anniversary of his radio show.

This new book 'Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means' is a collection of Jewish jokes accumulated by Professor Krasny throughout his life. The book is written in the same style and voice familiar to all of Krasny's fans and reading the book transported me back into his classroom. I could visualize him in front of me, telling these stories utilizing all of his tonal variations. There are two seminal questions the book tries to answer; First is the question of humor i.e what is in fact humor and the second why are Jews considered funny? Professor Krasny deems humor to be an another form of storytelling, that reveals some truth, albeit in a comical way. The book is divided into eight distinct categories of jokes where Professor Krasny lists the jokes and then gives personal anecdotes and explains the context. I personally enjoyed the last four categories the most: 'Yiddish Generation, Celebration, Suffering, and Separate & Distinct'. Professor Krasny reveals that characteristics such as assimilating in a new place, fear of loss of identity, holding on to tradition, pressure to succeed, etc, are some of the main crux of the Jewish jokes. But I believe that these characteristics are shared by all migrant communities. Humor could also be a vehicle to pass on tradition to the future generation, in danger of losing their heritage in the new world. Being a Pakistani living in the US, I could very easily relate with Jewish Humor exhibited by Professor Krasny. Replace the Rabbi with an Imam, the Jewish Mother with an Indian Auntie, and the joke switches from being Jewish to Indian/Muslim/Pakistani etc. Recently an Anthology of short stories was published in the US by women from the Indian subcontinent origin titled "Good Girls Marry Doctors", also a theme of jokes listed in Professor Krasny's book. So then, humor is not only a form of story telling, but is also a way to bring people together. The characters in these jokes may be of different race, ethnicities, religions; but there is something very crucial that they all share-and that is their humanity. And this is what in the end this book "Let there be Laughter" reminds us all of.

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