12 Most Hilarious Borscht Belt Comedians
When I was a little kid, I used to beg my mom to stay up for Johnny Carson because he had all the funniest comedians. Most of them were Jewish, and you could bet that they had worked the Borscht Belt in the Catskill Mountains, aka the Jewish Alps.
Here are some of their best lines.
1. Don Rickles
Show business is my life. When I was a kid I sold insurance, but nobody laughed.
2. Groucho Marx
I don’t have a photograph, but you can have my footprints. They’re upstairs in my socks.
3. Rodney Dangerfield
It’s been a rough day. I got up this morning, put a shirt on and a button fell off. I picked up my briefcase and the handle came off. I’m afraid to go to the bathroom.
4. George Burns
I love to sing, and I love to drink scotch. Most people would rather hear me drink scotch.
5. Joan Rivers
I hate housework. You make the beds, you do the dishes and six months later you have to start all over again.
6. Sid Caesar
The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot. The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius.
7. Henny Youngman
Getting on a plane, I told the ticket lady, “Send one of my bags to New York, send one to L.A., and send one to Miami.” She said, “We can’t do that.” I told her, “But you did it last week.”
8. Red Buttons
Ninety isn’t old. You’re old when your doctor doesn’t X-ray you anymore. He just holds you up to the light.
9. Shecky Greene
Frank Sinatra saved my life once. Five guys were beating me up outside a hotel in Vegas. Frank walked by and said, “That’ll be enough, boys.”
10. Alan King
Marriage is nature’s way of keeping us from fighting with strangers.
11. Milton Berle
A man is hit by a car while crossing a Beverly Hills street. A woman rushes to him and cradles his head in her lap, asking, “Are you comfortable?” The man answers, “I make a nice living.”
12. Buddy Hackett
I met this beautiful young girl, and my doctor said to me, ‘You better be careful. If you have sex with her for 30 days in a row, it could be fatal.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve been going with her for almost 30 days. Little does she know, she dies tomorrow.
That’s the cleanest joke Hackett ever told. Playing the hotels in the Catskills, the comedians couldn’t “work blue.” In the clubs in Vegas, or later on cable television, they could say what they liked and Hackett was the most off-color — and the funniest. When asked about his act, Hackett said, “If it’s funny, it’s not dirty; and if it’s dirty, it’s not funny.”
In the episode, “Yada Yada,” Seinfeld suspects that his dentist converted to Judaism for the jokes. Maybe I did, too. All I know is that just about every Jewish comic — and many who are not Jewish — working today will tell you they studied under the Borscht Belt comedians. Hard work, impeccable timing, self-deprecating wit and an affinity for the underdog made it possible for us to be entertained and for many others to have careers in comedy.
Who’s your favorite Jewish comic, then or now?
Featured image courtesy of laverrue licensed via Creative Commons.