Mild Farce Restores Jewish Stereotypes in German Culture


At one point in Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World, an eager gaggle of Al Jazeera producers attempt to recruit Albert Brooks for a sitcom to be called That Darn Jew! The title might just as easily have served Dani Levy’s Go for Zucker.

An enormous hit in Germany, Levy’s breezy farce begins with a comatose man narrating from a hospital gurney. Flashbacks reveal Jaeckie Zucker, né Jakob Zuckermann, as a pool hustler and gambler from the east whose dissolute, debt-ridden routine is interrupted by the news that his long- estranged mother has died in Frankfurt. There’s even an inheritance that Zucker and his gentile wife will have to kosher themselves to get—the fun continues when Zucker’s ultra-Orthodox brother arrives from Frankfurt mit frau und kinder.

Not quite Rodney Dangerfield, sad-faced Henry H (an erstwhile East German actor who 30 years ago played a ghetto Jew in the original Jacob the Liar) brings a quality of debonair desperation to Jaeckie’s frantic maneuvers. He may be a lovable rogue (faking a heart attack as his mother is lowered into her grave, playing the Holocaust card to avoid elimination from a billiards tournament), but there’s a definite shortage of wacky neighbors. Levy’s project to restore a Jewish dimension to German culture is extremely circumspect in addressing that culture. Given that Jaeckie’s people are largely hypocritical money-grubbers who travesty traditional burial rites, Go for Zucker is mildly tasteless (natürlich), if not exactly uproarious.

The tension between assimilated Jews and their “primitive” ostjude brethren is a staple of European Jewish comedy (and anxiety), but Go for Zucker is actually more German in playing uptight Westerners against scurvy Easterners. Indeed, the movie would have greater resonance were Zucker an unreconstructed, obnoxious DDR-nik. At least, Levy would have covered all available Nazi-era Jewish stereotypes—greedy whoremonger, religious charlatan, and capitalist schemer, joined by the latter’s alter ego, Communist subversive.