Borscht Belt

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"Borscht Belt" is a style of Jewish comedy. The actual Borscht Belt is a region in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that was a popular resort destination in the 1920s through the 1970s for Jews who were excluded from other resorts. Due to the heavily Ashkenazi ancestry of New York Jews, the area is named for borscht, a type of beet soup popular in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Jewish comedians who performed at these resorts developed a style of humor that became very popular in the entertainment industry. Borscht Belt humor is characterized by stereotypical Jewish traits, such as Self-Deprecation, insults, complaints, marital bickering, hypochondria, wordplay and liberal use of Yiddish. The Alter Kocker character type was developed here as well.

Comedians who have worked in the Borscht Belt or have used the style of comedy include:

Works featuring Borscht Belt comedy or characters include:

  • Coming to America features Eddie Murphy performing as an old New York Jew who tells a classic Borscht Belt joke: An old Jew asks a waiter to taste his soup, refusing to elaborate further. The waiter finally agrees to taste it and asks where the spoon is. The Jew smiles and says, "Ah ha!"
  • In Goodfellas, Henry and Karen watch Henny Youngman after their famous steady-cam walk into the theater. He tells the classic joke, "I take my wife everywhere, but she finds her way home!" Youngman's trouble with his lines was the biggest obstacle to getting the shot.
  • Any role played by Mel Brooks in his own movies is most likely an example. Most notable though is the Rabbi in Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
  • In The Princess Bride, Miracle Max and his wife are borscht belt-style characters, with their shrill bickering, haggling over money, complaining, and Yiddish accents.
  • Dirty Dancing is set at a Borscht Belt resort, though Borscht Belt comedy does not play a major role in the movie.
  • In Mr Saturday Night, Buddy Young is a Borscht Belt comedian who made it big.
  • In A Walk On The Moon, a vast majority of the film is set in a Borscht Belt bungalow colony during the summer of 1969. There is a brief scene where several of the parents are in a ballroom watching a Borscht Belt comic: "Now I want to invite you all up on the floor to dance, because it's my turn to laugh!"
  • Catskill from Heartbeeps is a standup comedian robot modeled after a bad Borcht Belt comedian, complete with a database full of horrible Henny Youngman style jokes.
  • Mel Brook's History of the World Part I features a lot of borscht belt style comedy, including a sequence where Brooks plays a stand-up comedian in ancient Rome. There are cameos by a number of borscht belt comedians, including Sid Caesar, Jackie Mason and Henny Youngman.

Live Action Television
  • Alan interviewed Borscht Belt style comedian in the Las Vegas episode of Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge. This being Alan, he failed to get most of the comedian's humor and then told an offensive Jewish joke.
  • Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show is a former Borscht Belt comedian turned comedy scriptwriter.
  • In F Troop, the Hekawi tribe is built around Borscht Belt characterizations and played by Jewish actors.
  • Robert Smigel's Triumph the Insult Comic Dog character is based on a particularly blue Borscht Belt persona, as evidenced by his accent and use of Yiddish, such as "schtupping."
  • Jimmy Barrett from Mad Men is an old-school Jewish insult comic. His Jerk Ass persona gets him in trouble starting with his Establishing Character Moment and he seems pretty unhappy, but he gets to deliver a scathing "The Reason You Suck" Speech to Don for sleeping with his wife.
  • The Nanny often indulges in Borscht Belt comedy, being centered around its Jewish-American protagonist.

Video Games
  • Fallout: New Vegas features Borscht Belt style comedian Billy Knight, complete with an inexplicable New York accent.

Web Original

Western Animation