It's no secret that Jewish comedians have had a significant influence on American pop culture. And as the new documentary "When Comedy Went to School" points out, a lot of classic Jewish comedians, from Danny Kaye to Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar to Woody Allen, honed their craft playing Grossinger's, Kutsher's and the many other hotels that used to cover the Catskill Mountains, an area once known as the Borscht Belt.
Jewish humor involves "the idea of poking fun at those in power," says Lawrence Richards, the film's writer/producer. "Trying to look at a bad situation, and make light of it, try to get through. Using humor as a survival tool."
Richards notes that all ethnic groups use humor in a wide variety of ways. And, he adds, the Catskill comics influenced today's standups in terms of "learning craft, how to change your material to suit the audience, timing, watching your predecessors to learn from them. Looking at the past and seeing how they were successful, and why. The effects today reverberate through the generations."
The documentary opens Friday at the Malverne Cinema and the Kew Gardens Cinemas.
There are literally dozens of top Jewish comics. Here are a dozen of the best, in a somewhat chronological order.
Groucho Marx He and brothers Chico and Harpo composed probably the funniest, and most surreal, comic team ever. Way ahead of their time.
Sid Caesar His "Your Shows of Shows" was one of early television's comic masterpieces, featuring Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner and Neil Simon as writers.
Mel Brooks "Blazing Saddles," "Young Frankenstein," "The 2,000 Year Old Man" (with Reiner). Total genius.
Lenny Bruce Groundbreaking comic and satirist, known for his controversial political and cultural humor.
Jerry Lewis Half of the Martin-Lewis duo, but really came into his own as director and star of classics like "The Nutty Professor" and "The Bellboy."
Don Rickles Mr. Warmth. The original insult comic.
Joan Rivers Smart, caustic, sometimes filthy, but always a master of her craft.
Billy Crystal From "Saturday Night Live" to "When Harry Met Sally" and the Oscars, a master of comic timing.
Albert Brooks Low-keyed, cerebral humorist, and director of classic comedies like "Lost In America."
Rodney Dangerfield Give the man some respect. Will ya? Please?
Jon Stewart Star of "The Daily Show," a top-rank political satirist.
Lewis Black Another brilliant political and cultural comic, with a jittery style.