One of the toughest things about being a Jew in today’s America is that everyone assumes you are innately hilarious. It’s not the worst stereotype—better to be the comedians than the ones with the noses. Sometimes, though, it makes otherwise clever writers get lazy.
David Deutsch and Joshua Newman’s The Big Book of Jewish Conspiracies is a funny joke in the form of a sloppy book. Jews, according to the book’s premise, are behind most of the major events in history, especially the catastrophic ones. The bubonic plague? Naturally. Feminism? Of course. September 11? You get the idea.
With such an anti-p.c. premise, it’s easy to shock readers into being amused, but it takes a lot of work to sustain the gag for an entire book. Unfortunately, many of the wisecracks here seem older than Deutsch and Newman themselves. If you have Jewish grandparents, you’ll recognize their routine—and if you don’t, you’ll probably feel deeply uncomfortable reading this book in public.
Deutsch and Newman could do better, and have. Both are editors at Heeb,
the self-styled “New Jew Review” that’s a sharp-witted downtown embodiment of Jewish ambivalence. Heeb is hip in the spirit of Lenny Bruce or early Woody Allen, but this book fits more into the tradition of Catskills groan-mo
ngers like Alan King. The jokes aim for the Lower East Side but land a little too far upstate.