In My Interfaith Marriage, I'm Raising My Daughter With Jewish Humor – Kveller
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In My Interfaith Marriage, I’m Raising My Daughter With Jewish Humor

Of the many cultural differences between me and my husband, our sense of humor might be the biggest one.

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“Jenna will develop my Jewish New York sense of humor,” I insisted about our 2.5-half-year-old who seemed to perk up one day when I turned on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Larry David is not appropriate for our toddler,” retorted my husband, Bill. “She might prefer Will Ferrell or Tina Fey. Plus, you can’t force a sense of humor upon our little girl!” 

My rational husband, the attorney, had a point, although I did not want to admit it. At the same time, I felt strongly that my sense of humor was the superior of our two styles. As someone who relishes the wondrous wit that comes from puns and plays on words, I felt determined to school my daughter in the subtleties of intellectual banter.

“Falling down a flight of stairs is not at all funny,” I insisted. “Jenna already understands this; she is a super sophisticated 2.5-year-old!” 

“She sure is, Cara, but your snobbery about humor is becoming unbearable. Teaching and writing about comedy in literature does not qualify you to earn the title of superior comedian.” 

Again, Bill was onto something. As an English professor, I am interested in what makes stories funny and equally intrigued by why, only now, studying humor has become a serious thing. This professional focus does not make me an expert on laughter, though, and of course comic moments really are subjective.

Still, there is some universality to humor and comedy, like good timing for example. In his foundational 1987 book “The Philosophy of Laughter and Humor,” John Moreall identifies three key theories: Superiority; Relief; and Incongruity. We chuckle because we want to feel better about ourselves, of course. Furthermore, there have been studies about laughter as a neurological release of sorts. Finally, so much humor comes from surprise and irony, which are both at the heart of Incongruity or chaos. We laugh a lot at the absurd lack of logic in our world. Above all, I would say that humor and comedy are about relatability. 

“‘Christmas Vacation’ is so hilarious because I can relate to Chevy Chase’s conundrum of putting up and taking down lights,” says Bill all the time. He grew up Catholic, on Long Island, and seems to appreciate suburban comedies more than urban humor.

Bill feels that I force feed our toddler Fran Leibowitz, but I cannot bear the thought of Jenna in our basement with the guys howling at some John Candy flick.

Still, I try to embrace the comic clichés. “OK, I’ll try watching all that Christmas comedy again,” I responded, trying to be diplomatic.

Any marriage requires compromise, but I have found that an interfaith union poses unique challenges. Humor and expression go hand in hand, so when a couple does not communicate in the same way it can pose long-time hurdles.

Although we are both New Yorkers, Bill and I grew up in vastly different families with distinct styles of communication. In my house, we discussed our feelings and expressed our love in excess; we still do! My parents instilled in my sister and me an early love for Woody Allen films; I recall watching and learning to appreciate “Annie Hall” while still in middle school. Bill’s family is far less effusive. Rather than howl with hysteria at a quirky New York moment, they prefer sharp one-liners and some degree of physical comedy.

“Your sense of humor is so concrete,” I often say when Bill chuckles at a suburban dad joke or laughs at Ghostbusters.

“I do not obsess over slapstick as much as you think I do,” he retorts. “Plus, you always laugh hard when we watch ‘Coming to America’ and ‘Back to School.’”

Bill is correct that I have grown to appreciate Eddie Murphy and Rodney Dangerfield, two of his favorites, over the years. I have kept an open mind by trying to expose our daughter to different forms of play. Jenna will find out what is funny on her own, I muse. She will develop a beautiful blend of both styles, just as she shares in our Jewish and Christian traditions.

In our interfaith family, we have tried to use huumor as a coping mechanism and a means of persevering through tough times. I often remind Bill of Mark Twain’s words that “comedy equals tragedy plus time,” and he agrees.

“The best comedy takes courage,” I exclaimed one day, “and Jenna should never feel afraid to voice her views.”

“On this we can agree,” said Bill.

I allowed him the last word, while secretly believing that mine would have contained some more wisdom and wit.

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