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Creator / Ephraim Kishon

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Ephraim Kishon (August 23, 1924 – January 29, 2005) was a Hungarian-Israeli satirist. (As he would've said: If a humorist dies, people call him a satirist.) During his life, he worked as a goldsmith, art historian and journalist, and also made theater plays and movies based on some of his stories. Two films that he both wrote and directed - The Policeman (1971) and Sallah Shabati (1964) - were nominated for an Academy Award (both in the Foreign Language category) but neither of them won. Also liked chess (the Board Game, not the musical) very much.

Tropes used in his works:

  • Accidental Nightmare Fuel: invokedA babysitter of Rafi demonstrates how fairy tales can turn into this.
  • Acid Reflux Nightmare: Which leads to a row with his wife, and the next time he dreams of Freud who tells him not to eat heavy food before sleeping. Too late!
  • Adults Dressed as Children: Kison did this once on Purim, to get some gifts.
  • The Alleged Car: Kishon had this for a while, a French one BTW.
  • All Jews Are Cheapskates: Kishon called himself a cheapskate, although this was well justified by the high taxes in Israel.
  • Arranged Marriage: Sa'adya Shabatai wants to sell his daughter to a bus driver for 350 Israeli shekels. Then, a kibbutznik (who has no money) falls in love with her. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Artistic License – Film Production: Averted, in one story Kishon demonstrates how different real filmmaking is from this trope: Production runs up costs even if nothing happens on set, continuity is Serious Business, and a simple scene may need twenty shots until it's right. Add a Primadonna Director... let's just say, it's not fun for the poor guy who ended up as an extra (even worse: unwillingly), having to play the role of the random guy who cries "Oy!" when the star steps on his foot.
  • Author Avatar: In most of his short stories, the narrator and protagonist is Kishon himself.
  • Bait-and-Switch: For example, if he describes the Sabras. (An Israeli cactus fruit, or an Israeli born in the country.) "On the outer side, very prickly, but on the inside, completely inedible."note 
  • Batman Gambit: A theatre's director who uses his knowledge about a Caustic Critic to make sure he'll get a good review. The critic is head of an organization for Romanian-Israeli friendship, so the play is Romanian. Leading part goes to an actor who happens to have the same name (though no actual relationship) with the publisher of the Critic's writings. And so on.
  • The Big Rotten Apple: After talking disparagingly about NYC in an interview, Kishon becomes very popular with NY-haters from all over America, and makes a comedy tour based on this trope. Where he makes jokes like "The average Texan midget is three inches taller than the average New York giant!" Subverted at the end, when he develops a different attitude.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Kishon sometimes depicts Renana as this.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: "You can buy a lot of things in British theatres. [...] pictures, books, picture books..."
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Often happens. One example: Schlesinger's girlfriend is also his (artistic nude) model. At the beginning of the play, she complains that "they" (the public) are staring at her again.
  • Bungling Inventor: Kishon and Jossele / Erwinke do this once (OK, in theory). They come up with stuff like round tissues (you don't have to fold them, just crumple them), hats made of glass (if you drop it, you won't have to pick it up anymore) and watermelons crossbred with flies - so the seeds will remove themselves.
  • Calvinball: Yiddish poker.
  • Cannot Tell a Joke: Kishon, surprisingly (so he claimed). As he experienced when he told the following joke. OTOH, people tend to laugh at all kinds of things he said when they were meant seriously.
    There's a blackout at night at the house of Menachem Begin. He and his wife walk around, can't see anything and walk into each other. She exclaims: "Oh my God, is that you?" He answers: "When we're among us, 'Menachem' is just fine!"
  • Comic-Book Time: Averted, we see Kishon's kids age in Real Time, from toddlers to teenagers.
  • The Conspiracy: After watching I, Claudius, Kishon becomes very suspicious of his wife.
  • Contrived Clumsiness: When he discovers that the woodcut of Frankfurt which a Jacob Sinsheimer had given as a Bar Mitzvah gift to Kishon's son Amir bears the dedication "To my dear Jake, for your Bar Mitzvah, from uncle Samuel", they do the drink spill on him.
  • Cool Old Guy: Kishon would go to the annual army training even when he was old enough not having to do it anymore.
  • Could Say It, But...: One politician uses this to get bribed with a villa near the seashore. ("Where?" - "In Herzliah.")
  • Damned by Faint Praise: Kishon's invited by a couple for some dishes. After praising the wife's work with superlatives, he decides to throw in a little bit of criticism, to not appear as a Yes-Man. Unfortunately, the fruit salad was the only food she made all by herself.
  • Death is Cheap: Kishon has died and sometimes even gone to hell at the end of several of his short stories. Of course, it didn't exactly last.
  • A Degree in Useless: Prof. Dr. Honig who earns so little money in his job as a teacher that he has to sell sweets to the kids. When they tell him that a teacher shouldn't do this, he quits his job.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: With Saadya Shabatai, the Yemenite Jew. As Kishon wrote, "they are about 2000 years behind western civilization". Used in one story where a guy wants to marry Saadya's daughter, but the father demands a high dowry-in-reverse (i.e. essentially selling his daughter).
    Saadya: "You see? For fifty pounds, all you get is woman like Mrs Comrade. Can't cook, can't clean, doesn't look good, only knows how to talk, talk, talk."
  • Derailed for Details: Kishon tries to tell a joke to a Swiss gentleman, who then uses this trope. The dialogue ends like this:
    Kishon: "It doesn't matter which tunnel! For all I care, it could be the Schlesinger tunnel!
    Swiss: "The Schlesinger tunnel? Now that's funny! Ha-ha-ha..."
    At the end, Kishon is so frustrated and ashamed, he hangs himself with an indestructible Swiss tie.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: After Kishon wrote a story about an unruly student named Taussig, a brute approached him and wanted to know how Kishon dared to besmirch his family's name. Kishon's answer that he had had no such intent and only chose the name because it was funny didn't help. Then Kishon suggested that he could have chosen as well a different name, like Shmulevitz - which happened to be the brute's wife's maiden name...
  • Dirty Communists: Kishon was not only imprisoned by the fascists, but after WW2 by the Communists too.
    • Less extreme version during Kishon's kibbuz time. At that time, equality was enforced more than nowadays, described by him thusly: Either everyone in the kibbuz had to own a radio, or noone at all. Parodied by him when he demanded: "I have a cold. I demand that every comrade sneezes!"
  • Disproportionate Reward: When a friend helps him out (Kishon needs a 10-agorot coin for the parking meter, so he won't get a traffic ticket), he is sheerly wrecked by guilt and goes so far (with some help from his wife, admittedly) to give his car to his helper. Fortunately for him, then the friend needs ten agorot and doesn't have one - but Kishon does.
  • Dissimile: Also a trope he was very fond of. Like here:
    "Ephraim, please, leave me alone!" my wife murmured. Except that she wasn't murmuring, but talking quite loudly. In fact, she was shouting.
  • Distinction Without a Difference: When on a ship in stormy waters, Kishon is so desperate he prays: "Oh Lord, I'll even forfeit my life... if only you won't let me die". It works, so to speak.
  • The Ditz: One of the most stupid people Kishon ever met was a policeman, when he was making his movie Sallah.
    Policeman: "What's the name of your movie?"
    Kishon: "Sallah."
    Policeman (ponders, then shakes head): "Haven't watched that one yet..."
    • The Yemenite boy Achima'az who worked in a shoe store, was supposed to fetch a pair of shoes from another outlet, but managed to send Kishon's shoes to a Rabbi Sol Sämisch in the USA instead. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Divorce Assets Conflict: In one story. "And he took all the money from our account, minutes before I could do so!"
  • D.I.Y. Disaster: Kishon wants to apply a new coat of color (silver, to be precise) on their oven, but the work is so much fun for him that he starts to paint lots of things in their house silver - the pictures' frames, the ladder, the flowers, the lawn, the mailman's temples... so when his wife returns, she threatens to go back to her mother, but she can't, because all her suitcases are painted too...
  • Don't Call Me "Sir": After visiting Austria, in which people are depicted as being completely obsessed with titles (with even the most common everyday nobody insisting on being called the "Dr. Prof. Duke Baron Von ____ The Numbered") Kishon dreams of meeting the late Austrian emperor Franz Josephnote , is struck with awe and stutters, searching for the correct title. The anointed one replies: "No need for this nonsense. Call me Franzl."
  • Double Standard: Kishon and hitchhikers. When he was one, he disliked how car owners wouldn't pick him up, having (as he thought) sorry excuses. When he had a car himself, he used exactly the same excuses.
  • Do You Want to Haggle?: Several times in his travel stories.
    Kishon: "How much? Wieviel? Combien?"
    Greek Ferryman: "Cinquecento!" note 
    Kishon (self-conscious): "Ha ha ha! Six thousand lire, not one peso more!"
    Ferryman: "OK."
  • Eagleland: He wrote on America, among other things, that Americans believe:
    • You can get steaks only in America
    • An American family without an American boy and an American girl at the respective age of nine and seven years isn't a real American family
    • You can learn everything from ...For Dummies books, even "How to become president of the USA: In 10 easy steps".
    • Bismarck is a herring, Frankfurt a sausage factory and Napoleon one of the greatest brandys in world history.
  • "El Niño" Is Spanish for "The Niño": Once Played for Laughs when he tries to learn Japanese martial arts. The teacher "greeted us with a 'hai', which is Japanese for 'hai'."
  • Eloquent in My Native Tongue: Many stories, especially earlier ones, deal with immigrants in Israel having trouble to learn Hebrew. As Kishon quipped, it's almost as easy as Chinese, and after three or four years, they'll be perfectly able to say in fluent Hebrew:
    "Tell me the time of the day, but in English, if possible."
  • Even Beggars Won't Choose It: Mazzes
  • Explaining the Soap: With The Forsythe Saga. Even the two burglars join them watching.
  • Failing a Taxi: When he is in Paris. Even praying in Hebrew and cursing in Hungarian won't help.
  • Fee Fi Faux Pas: Happens when he visits France. At first, Kishon dares to suggest to his French hosts that Napoléon Bonaparte was anything but perfect. Then, he offers them some cigarettes - but notices too late that they're of the Nelson brand. And when he says goodbye, he tells them when in London, he plans to stay at hotel Waterloo at Wellington street...
  • Film Felons: Erwinke once pulls this off.
  • For the Evulz: One story has Ephraim's baby daughter, Renana, constantly losing her favorite pacifier and making a huge scene over it every time. One night he chooses to spy on her and finds out she takes the pacifier and hides it somewhere, just to mess with her parents. He then notes that he's relieved, because it means she's just a healthy toddler.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Once has an Israeli organization abbreviated "OYVEY".
    • Another reads the history of the "MEYUTAR", Hebrew for "Obsolete".
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: Kishon's popularity in Germany outshone the one in any of his home countries (Hungary or Israel). Noteworthy especially considering the past between Jews and Germany when he became a renowned writer.
  • Henpecked Husband: Kishon himself, at least sometimes.
  • Herr Doktor: Truth in Television, apparently most doctors in Israel were German Jews some decades ago, when he wrote this.
  • Hypocritical Humor: Two nosy neighbors one day knock at Kishon's door, because they've been watching his apartment with a binocular (their hobby) and can't agree whether the piece of bubblegum they saw stuck somewhere was red or yellow. Kishon wonders how two adult people can make a fuss about such an unimportant thing. And besides, the bubblegum was green!
  • UsefulNotes.Israel / UsefulNotes.Judaism: Both come handy when you're reading Kishon. But if you don't know about them, you'll learn about both.
  • I Call It "Vera": Kishon once had a car "Madeleine" and a black motor bike "Dr. Kaltenbrunner"
  • I Know You Know I Know: In a scene with a bagel salesman. The narrator thinks he wants to fool him into buying lower quality bagels, and goes through lengths with this trope, only to find out at the end that all the bagels always were fresh, and he suspected an innocent guy lying.
  • Intelligible Unintelligible: Taxi drivers using their radio channels, sounding like this: "zipp - grrr - click - popocatepetl - sevenbumbum - krk - kabunzu - shruckluck - zipp", but understand each other perfectly.
  • I Reject Your Reality: In one story, a guy approaches Kishon in the early morning and claims that the Histadruth building had been blown up. When Kishon looks out of his window, it's there. The other guy keeps denying until Kishon uses brute force. Then he claims that it has been blown up - and rebuilt meanwhile.
  • Ironic Echo: One politician manages to do this by himself. At first he dismisses the need of his country for a symphony orchestra, since very few people at all will listen to them and concludes "I am no artist, but an economist". Then he insists on building another factory, although the existing ones in this business already produce more than they can sell and are a money drain, talks about his vision of a flourishing industry and ends with "I am no economist, but an artist".
  • It's Easy, So It Sucks!: In one story, one friend of them gets addicted to aquarium fish. He prefers the plain-looking striped Pajama Fish to another fish which looks like it was made of sparkling gems - but is too easy to breed.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: Before their great crisis, of course.
  • Literal-Minded:
    Kishon: "How do you spell your name?"
    The Unpronounceable: "Y-O-U-R N-A-M-E."
  • Long List: When Kishon and his wife go to a supermarket the first time. They end up buying stuff for more than a thousand pounds.
  • Manchild: He said that it's typical of our time that children act more like grown-ups, but adults are more childish than before.
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Sa'adya Shabatai has seven kids and also many siblings.
  • Method Acting: Manfred Toscanini is that kind of actor, and he does a lot of preparation even when he has to play a bit character who gets but two lines.
  • Minion Maracas: In the story with the "oldtimer". Kishon expresses the concept very well:
    He shook me, as if he wanted to mix me.
  • Misery Poker: In one story.
  • Mistaken for Exhibit: In his stories about modern art.
  • Motor Mouth: Shulamith Ploni, a woman who encountered him as a witness for her wedding. He screwed it up.
    • Also, some street salesmen.
  • My New Gift Is Lame: For several years. He would give his wife a beautiful floor lamp (each time), while she'd give him fencing equipment (he doesn't fence), a set for writing letters (he doesn't write letters) and a hookah (he doesn't smoke).
  • A Nice Jewish Index: Almost all tropes from the list.
  • No Budget: The radio of Israel, at least when he wrote the story.
  • No Matter How Much I Beg: One politician lets his wife do this, to avoid him going to an interview which would probably uncover his corruption, but he's starving for the publicity and can't resist.
  • Oblivious to His Own Description: Some of Kishon's neighbors about whom he wrote in his satires. He noted that people he deliberately satirized never seem to feel offended, while others he didn't even know of were (see: Digging Yourself Deeper).
  • Once for Yes, Twice for No: Kishon's buddy Jossele / Erwinke once invents a code like this, when his boss forbids making private calls during the work: He and his co-worker will let the phone ring X times without taking the call. 43 times means "have you seen the latest Woody Allen flick already?" 46 times means "I did, but it wasn't that special", and so on.
  • Ouija Board: He once met some people too interested in the occult. Since nothing happened when he joined the session, he gave the glass a little push by himself. The "spirit" they contacted introduced himself as "MR4K?LLL", which the head spiritist interpreted as a spy's code name. Later, they contacted Aaron (Moses' brother) and asked him for his favorite Jews. Answer: "David... Judah Maccabee... Ben Gurion... Ephraim Kishon..." But is it his fault that Aaron likes reading good satires?
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: As he wrote, due to the fact that a state Israel didn't exist for 2000 years, they have the first anything in Israel for 2000 years. The first driving school, the first broom factory, and he himself wrote the first collection of humorist short stories for 2000 years.
  • Panicky Expectant Father: Once wrote a short play about three of them (all named Kohn), and confessed having been this himself.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: One play about an Israeli football player seeking greener pastures. He runs off the field during a game, is caught pretty soon and returns to the game. Or so it seems, because shortly after he tries to kick the ball - which is in front of his feet! - and misses. Only then everyone notices that the huge, bald guy seemingly has turned into a dwarf with long locks - who turns out to be the player's nephew.
  • The Perfectionist: The briefcase maker from Austria.
  • Playing the Heart Strings: Kishon notes in one story how much difference music makes, especially in sad scenes.
  • Politeness Judo: In Britain, going as far that people will rather kill each other than going through a door first.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In The Fox in the Chicken Coop. The Yes-Man finally snaps and calls the politician out on his incompetence, how he still doesn't leave politics to make room for someone else, and the stupid joke he always tells.
  • Refuge in Audacity:
    • After a Frenchman catches his wife in flagranti (he got an anonymous letter that she cheats on him), she starts ranting at him how he dares to be so suspicious.
    • When the guy he picked up on his motorbike suddenly accuses Kishon for having thrown a frozen chicken at his head (not only untrue, but impossible, Kishon didn't work at a butchery ever), after many other accusations, Kishon uses this.
    Yes. And if you should ever come back to the shop again, I'll throw a frozen turkey at your head.
  • Repeat After Me: When a student wants to join a group of wannabe terrorists, they're disturbed by the waitress when he's saying the oath.
    Goldberg (the leader): "Careful. Don't speak. The waitress is coming."
    Jacob: "...careful, don't speak, the waitress is coming... sorry Goldberg, but that's an idiotic oath."
  • Ridiculous Procrastinator: Several artisans - one plumber, one painter and the most egregious example would be a carpenter who once promised to make him a table in a few weeks, and delivered after years.
    • And once, Kishon wrote a story about how he procrastinates writing a funny short story... which ended up becoming a funny short story, though it's hard to tell how and when.
  • Sad Clown: Kishon uses the Pagliaccio joke in a different context. The joke starts the same way, but at the end the patient says instead: "Doctor, I've been at the circus, I've seen Pagliaccio. He wasn't funny at all. He was the unfunniest clown I've ever seen." The doctor breaks down: "But mister... I'm Pagliaccio!"
  • Scary Black Man: One of them wants to mug him when he's in NYC. Kishon manages to confuse him by speaking Hebrew and acting clueless about the mugger's intention. When he tells his relative how he was not-mugged and what he did she is shocked.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: When meeting with a cigar-smoking Hollywood executive.
    Cigar: "Hey, You! I want you to write me a script that is so funny that people will pee themselves."
    Cigar: "Very well. 25000$."
    Kishon: "I won't have any spare time in the next three years."
    Cigar: "50000$."
    Kishon: "My lawyer advised me not to do this."
    Cigar: "75000$."
    Kishon: "Frankly, I just don't want to."
    Cigar: "100000$."
    And a few weeks later, he delivers a script that is so funny that people will pee themselves.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: In one story, the Israeli government decides to outlaw breathing to fix the budget with the fines. In one scene, two controllers catch someone breathing, but let him go immediately when he says he's an MP.
  • Self-Made Man: Subverted when he describes the "oldtimers", people who immigrated to Israel with nothing but a suitcase, and some decades later, they still own that suitcase.note 
  • Separated by a Common Language: The personnel in Israeli hotels only speaks Oxford English, so American Jews will need a translator - unless they use Yiddish as a Second Language, of course.
  • Serious Business: The ultra-orthodox Jews studying the bible get parodied by a fictional TV show about people who memorize the telephone book of Israel.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Despite not being noble (heh), one politician comes along as this when he has to walk among the common people one day. He doesn't even understand that you don't tell the bus driver where you want to go to.
  • Shoehorned First Letter: In one story which involves a crossword. The young Israelis trying to solve "South American capital with four letters" try "Air's", but Kishon demonstrates his superiority by changing it to "Rima". (He needs the R for "Raskolnikov".)
  • Short Story: His favorite, although he also wrote some big novels.
  • The Slacker: His friend Jossele / Erwinke. Correctly speaking, a Beatnik.
  • Snowball Lie: At the beginning of one story, Kishon and wife just want to escape from a boring party. But the host of the party is very helpful and offers to escort them to the place where Kishon supposedly has Serious Business to do. At the end, he ends up owning 30% of a new factory for washing machines. It Makes Sense in Context.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: They do, but the young social worker Eva is clearly overstrained caring for Yemenite refugee Saadya Shabatai, his big family and his antics, and at the end, he ends up comforting and consulting her.
  • Staged Pedestrian Accident: Kishon did this (he wrote) when his wife needed gas and there was no other way to get it.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: After the end of the Cold War, he returned to his birth country, Hungary. And quipped that he felt like an idiot who was looking for a penny on the street that he lost fifty years ago.
  • Superstition Episode: Involving their new cleaning lady Latifah. At the end, it seems that The Cloud Cuckoolander Was Right.
  • Tactful Translation: He once did this for a fight between one of his Hungarian relatives and a shopkeeper. He did it so well that they made peace. At the end, he thought he should try the same thing with the USA and the Soviet Union.
  • Take That, Audience!: Somewhat indirectly in the story about the Red Lights of Amsterdam, where he tries to find the famous prostitute quarter but talking in a roundabout way to the locals literally gets him nowhere. In the end he gets desperate: "Where are the whores? Where?" "Kanalstraat."note  The stinger follows: "Now you know. Sometimes it pays reading an overlong story to the end." implying the reader had the same morbid curiosity.
  • This Is My Name on Foreign: The artist Raphael Schlesinger calls himself Slezangé when in France.
  • Thoroughly Mistaken Identity: A woman named Bertha mistook him for the guy who made the drawings her dead husband liked so much, in the weekly newspaper he read. Kishon wrote for a daily, non-illustrated newspaper. That is, in the story. It tends to overlap.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Parodied in his novel "Mein Kamm", about a mad dictator who starts to hunt bald people. Does that remind you of someone?
  • Trickster Mentor: In the story "Take the plug out, the kettle's boiling", he recommends the protagonist to create a little scandal, since any kind of publicity could help him, being an artist.
    "When I Was Your Age..., I already had two paternity suits filed against me! And you? Nothing!"
  • The Triple: Often exaggerated by including impossible things, like here: "I told him [an American] about our kibbutzniks, how they live: One hand on the ploughshare, the other one on the rifle, the third one on The Bible."
  • Triple Shifter: All Israelis, because of the high taxes
  • The Unpronounceable: To him, Solshenitsyn, Giscard d'Estaing and especially Zbigniev Brzezinski are this.
  • United Nations: He suggested jokingly that Israel should split up into several dozen independent states to form a counterweight to the Arab block, but also foresaw a problem: Who says that they'd always vote in unison?
  • The Un-Smile: Kishon making photographs noted that many people put up a "skull-like grin" when they're photographed. Later, he dreams of The Grim Reaper, manages to photograph him, and notes the "skull-like grin" afterwards.
  • Weird Trade Union: The five or so guys who make Silly Love Songs.
  • We Sell Everything: At a gas station in the US. After he tries to get rid of the salesman who's seemingly able to sell him a grand piano, lessons for his son, therapy in case the son doesn't want and an expert in case he's childless, Kishon has the idea to have his stories written by the man. Which explains something.
  • When I Was Your Age...: Parodied in the story with the "oldtimer". Apparently, at this time people didn't dare to dream of using bricks for furniture, drank no water (in the Middle East!), and would have to wait for many years until a taxi would drive over them.
  • Women Drivers: Kishon's wife.
  • Woolseyism: The German translation by Friedrich Torberg, which renamed Ervinke to Jossele and turned the "little wife" into "the best wife of all of them". It certainly didn't hurt the sales.
  • Word, Schmord!: Justified by Yiddish as a Second Language.
  • World Half Empty: Sometimes he describes Israel as this.
    "We also don't like that we have to pay so many taxes and make war so often, or that our water costs as much as gasoline and has the same taste."
  • Write What You Know: Kishon's family very often appears in his stories.
  • You Are Number 6: In the hotel, whenever guests need something, they have to say their room number. Which Kishon finds pretty odd. - And then, he abuses the system, by ordering all kinds of luxuries and giving someone else's room number.
  • You Can Say That Again: "Oy."