As an habitué of Ford’s Theater, John Wilkes Booth knew the line in Our American Cousin’s third act sure to get a laugh so huge it would drown out the crack of a Derringer in the presidential box. “Well,” the play’s plain-spoken protagonist sneers at a shameless social climber, “I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal—you sockdologizing old man-trap.”

How much has American humor changed from that time to this? The kind of joke that once made a theater full of sophisticates roar is found today, if anywhere, on reruns of Hee Haw.

So what happened? Simple—with the rise of mass culture, Jews took over the humor business. As noted Steve Allen, who many would be surprised to learn was not Jewish, in today’s...

 
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