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Anti-defamation League Discusses Action on Offensive Jokes by Comedians

A “distressing number” of comedians are now combining offensive stereotypes of minority groups with “sick” humor in their routines to project “a morbid, outrageous and damaging picture of whole groups of Americans,” Jacob Grumet, associate chairman of the civil rights committee of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, declared today.

The tendency to combine stereotyped with sick humor is a new one, Mr. Grumet said. “Without going into the psychology of the sick comedian, the idea seems to be that anything goes for a laugh, up to and including Jokes that suggest indecent or grotesque conduct on the part of clergymen.”

Mr. Grumet spoke at the opening session of the 49th annual meeting of the National Commission of the Anti-Defamation League at the Savoy Hilton Hotel. The meeting will conclude on Sunday, January 14 when Ambassador Adlai E. Stevenson will be presented the League’s annual America’s Democratic Legacy Award.

“In night clubs from Las Vegas to New York, in major television shows, and on records, this disturbing pattern is being repeated, doing its harm to the delicate fabric of inter-group understanding in the United States,” Mr. Grumet said. “Recently, in one short span of time, more than 35,000,000 persons heard comedians on three different television shows denigrating the rabbinate.”

“Two generations ago, when offensive jokes about minority groups were far more current, at least the clergy was considered sacrosanct and not made the butt of cruel humor in the mass media of the day,” Mr. Grumet said. He noted that many comedians who “combine gross, unfair stereotypes with sick humor, are often themselves members of minority groups. Somehow, they think this fact gives them special license to ridicule in the most vicious ways possible–their own faith or religious institutions,” he said.

CALLS FOR COMBATTING DISTORTED CHARACTERIZATION OF JEWS

Mr. Grumet reminded his audience that the League was founded 49 years ago expressly to combat harmful, distorted characterizations of Jews on the stage and in the press. “In the 1940’s to 1950’s there was much sensitivity on the subject,” he said. “One of the lessons of Hitlerism and World War II was that there was nothing funny about jokes that stimulated prejudice against minority groups. Most comedians learned that the anti-Jewish or anti-Catholic or anti-Negro joke simply had no place in the big time of the entertainment world.

“But now sick humor–iconoclastic, irreverant and sometimes plain pathological–is being used on the mass media to bring back all the old canards and cruelties,” Mr. Grumet added. He made clear that neither he nor the League opposed dialect or other types of humor that treated minority groups in a sensitive or understanding fashion and did not cater to prejudice.

“Except for this new tendency, I believe that circumstances have changed for the better,” he said. “There is now less inclination on the part of the American public to accept the stereotype. What may have offended only the Negroes years ago now offends millions of others. What would offend Jews would now offend millions of Christians.”

“But we have not yet reached the point where we can look back on the old stereotypes as dead history. We may some day be able to listen to the Pat and Mike jokes, the Izzy and Moe fables, the Sambone-Rastus routine and view them merely as characters from a certain era that have no relationship with the present but that in their way were part of the mores and customs and humor of their time. Perhaps the improvement of taste on the part of the worldwide audiences will automatically drain out the vulgarity and leave instead only the truth and vitality of some of these old-time patterns of humor.”

“But the current tendency on the part of a distressing number of the most successful of today’s comics is to reach backward. They are bringing vulgarity up to date by combining stereotypes with sick humor to project the morbid, outrageous and damaging picture of whole groups of Americans,” Mr. Grumet said.

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