The Haunted Smile by Lawrence J. Epstein
The Story of Jewish Comedians in America

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Lawrence Epstein's The Haunted Smile tackles a subject both poignant and delightful: the story of Jewish comedians in America. For the past century and more, American comedy has drawn its strength and soul from the comic genius of Jewish performers and writers. An incomplete listing of names makes the point: The Marx Brothers, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice, George Burns, Milton Berle, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Rodney Dangerfield, Mel Brooks, Alan King, Mort Sahl, Buddy Hackett, Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Andy Kaufman, Richard Belzer, Jerry Seinfeld. These men and women, among others, form the canon of Jewish-American comedy.

In the words of the Detroit Jewish News, The Haunted Smile "offers us a deep and subtle understanding of how Jewish culture and American openness gave birth to a new style of entertainment." Often the best way to illuminate a point is to recount some of these comedians' own brilliant routines, and Epstein uses the comedian's work to great effect, making for a book that is both a thoughtful work of history and a great deal of fun.

About Lawrence J. Epstein

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LAWRENCE J. EPSTEIN is a professor of English at Suffolk County Community College in Selden, New York. Formerly the chair of the college's Humanities Division, he has also taught courses in Jewish studies, the Holocaust, and journalism. Dr. Epstein's books about Jewish life include "A Treasury of Jewish Anecdotes, A Treasury of Jewish Inspirational Stories," and "The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America." He has also written more than one hundred articles, stories, and reviews for various major Jewish periodicals. He frequently lectures on a wide range of Jewish subjects around the United States. Dr. Epstein also served as an adviser on the Middle East for two members of the United States Congress. He and his wife, Sharon, live on Long Island. They have four children. All four of his grandparents and two of his great-grandparents were immigrants who lived on the Lower East Side. Visit their web site at
Published August 5, 2008 by PublicAffairs. 398 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, Political & Social Sciences, History. Non-fiction

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Seinfeld's language betrays "a distinctly urban and distinctly Jewish approach to dealing with anxiety," and the show's title made no attempt to hide his Jewish name, Epstein states, hinting that the "longstanding tension between Jewish and American identities" is partly overcome because the char...

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Rather than the story of an ethnic group's assimilation into the wider American culture, Epstein sees the success of the Jewish comic a tale of acculturation, as elements of Jewish life become an inseparable part the overall American experience, even creating hybrid Yiddish/English words like "sc...

Jan 06 2002 | Read Full Review of The Haunted Smile: The Story ...

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