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My dad says that every good joke has some layer of truth to it. In the ongoing cultural pursuit to determine what makes “funny” things funny, he argues that the most effective jokes are those rooted in real human experiences and emotions. Usually, this comment is in reference to an unreasonably offensive comment made by me that I attempt to write off as a joke out of guilt and/or embarrassment. But not always, and fortunately, not in this piece. 

I’ve always wondered if my dad is right, so let’s test it out with a very small and very unprofessional case study of a joke from Comedy Central’s “Broad City” that is somewhat realistic yet absolutely ridiculous. And a little, let’s say, intimate. That’s your warning!

One of “Broad City’s” many running gags is that one of its protagonists, Ilana, sneaks weed through airport security by putting it up her vagina — as one does. When the drug-sniffing dog senses what’s going on, Ilana already has a plan in motion: She wears white pants stained with old-period blood and cries that the dog is sexually harassing her in a voice eminent of the quintessential helpless woman. It’s hard to describe with words without making it seem wildly disgusting and uncomfortable, but it’s never failed to make me laugh. And so I ask myself: If the truth theory is applicable, where are the roots of this bit?

I believe it can be boiled down into three relatively simple truths:

  1. Before weed was legal in much of the United States, people had to get pretty creative to move it around.
  2. Even though half the world experiences them, periods are a taboo enough subject to make a well-meaning TSA officer run back to his podium, no questions asked. 
  3. Someone who bled through their pants in a public place would typically feel embarrassed and defenseless.

Ilana uses the last two truths to her advantage, subverting cultural expectations for women in order to accomplish her goal. If I could ever get my dad to watch enough of “Broad City” to get to this episode, I think he’d appreciate the joke. Ilana, in all her boldness and over-the-top scheming, brings to the forefront a piece of womanhood we often quietly tiptoe around.

So it seems that my dad’s theory, in this scenario, checks out. We laugh with Ilana not only because she’s funny, but because her ideas come from the well-known lived experience of her and her audience. The entirety of “Broad City” follows this trend, telling the story of two late-20s Jewish women living in a very real — and often very demeaning — New York City. The show’s creators and stars, Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, are the modern iteration of a somewhat particular but extremely necessary niche; the professional truth-teller.

In the midst of a post-war obsession with the G-rated, obedient housewife, a slew of Jewish women worked to tell the tales of an honest, realistic and thought-provoking female experience. In her discourse, “One Clove Away From a Pomander Ball: The Subversive Tradition of Jewish Female Comedians,” historian Joyce Antler chronicles the cultural space occupied by these comedians since the mid-20th century. 

“Fanny Brice, Molly Picon, and Gilda Radner mugging it up may not seem dignified, and certainly Joan Rivers clowning about fallen vaginas is anything but,” Antler wrote. “However, these comedians’ performances show that Jewish women can be proud of the comic tradition in which they have been trailblazers.”

The success of these comedic pioneers, Antler suggests, can be partially attributed to their connections to, and commentary on, womens’ liberation. In a media landscape where women were often restricted in self-expression to only what men could tolerate, Jewish female comedians forced their audiences to reconsider their perceptions of the female body and mind. 

“Perhaps this is because women’s humor often deals with the incongruities and inequities of a world founded on gender distinctions,” Antler continued. “Their humor challenges the structures that keep women from power by turning our attention to things that matter to women.”

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that another common trait among these women is their unapologetic boldness. They’re the women who can’t be kept down or silenced or asked to keep their content clean. 

“In every successive generation, Jewish female comedians helped shape the contours of American comedy,” Antler wrote. “These comic pioneers were followed by a new cohort, schooled in the academy of improv clubs, and liberated by feminism, which led them to invent new forms of comedy, more satirical and openly rebellious than their predecessors.” 

After asking my dad more about his “truth theory,” he added that comedy is often a safe space for discussing scary or controversial topics because of its detachable nature. Comedy can be taken seriously, but it doesn’t need to be. Sometimes, it’s a little bit of both. 

Ilana, Abbi and the many other Jewish women I grew up watching are able to make positive change and spark important, difficult conversations by allowing audiences to laugh along with them. Researchers at Rutgers University found that socially informed comedy is not a distraction, but a mechanism for seamlessly engaging audiences in discussions about underlying social issues. 

Period Pants and Me 

As an adolescent who felt a lot but knew virtually nothing, these women were my saving grace. I’ve always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve (hence my love of writing for the Statement), but in the few moments in which I found myself truly speechless, these comedians gracefully took the reins.

In the aforementioned tradition of Jewish female comics, the modern generation of this cohort provided me with the space to learn to understand my mind and body without the invasive discomfort of taboo conversation topics. These women present their audiences with vital knowledge and perspective, make them laugh, and give them the time to process on their own until viewers are ready to incorporate the provided information into their own lives. 

Their comedy is educational in the sense that it reminds viewers like me that the pieces of ourselves we think are weird or uncomfortable or out of place are actually pretty normal. Because it’s the things we don’t say, we think we can’t say, we are petrified to say, that the right people, the bold and brave and powerful people, can say to us, and then for us, and then with us.

I’ll give you my favorite, history-shattering example. The first time the word clitoris was ever spoken on live-action network television was in 2017 on the CW’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” The show’s creator and star, Rachel Bloom (Jewish, if you couldn’t guess), argued back and forth with the CW’s legal team until the show’s cast was allowed to mention what is really just a body part — a body part that has, for centuries, been weaponized to diminish and ignore the female desire for pleasure. 

“All [society] tells you is: ‘this is how sex works, the penis goes into the vagina.’ So then you’re like, ‘That’s not how I get to the place where I go oh my god, oh my god like the women in the movies.’ Really, no one fucking talks about it. It’s not graphic, it’s science,” said Bloom. 

In a different vein is the example of HBO’s fairly new comedy “Hacks,” which features Jewish stand-up comedian Hannah Einbinder playing the role of Ava Daniels, a young comedy writer. Though not the focus of the majority of the show, Ava’s identity as a bisexual woman opens the door for conversations about navigating the complex nature of sexual orientation. In season 2, Ava and her boss, fictional stand-up comedian Deborah Vance, travel on a lesbian cruise for Deborah to perform on. In a sea of satire and laughs surrounding Deborah’s complicated relationship with lesbian audiences, Ava introduces to both Deborah and to viewers the idea of compulsive heterosexuality

“I’m not saying you’re wrong to like men,” she tells her boss, Deborah. “I’m into men too, sadly. But I’ve realized that sometimes I conflate the rush I feel when a man shows interest in me with actual feelings of attraction. Which makes sense because it feels good to get attention from the group that’s held up as, like, the leader-gods of society or whatever.”

In talking to Deborah, who is around 40 years older than her employee, Ava also touches on the ways in which discovering your sexuality is a lifelong journey and often doesn’t reflect the simplistic binaries prior generations have grown up believing in. 

“Not every queer person arrives into existence and feels like they arrive into existence with an attraction to a specific kind of person, and that’s okay,” Ava explains to Deborah. “Your sexuality isn’t a choice, but whether or not you examine it, I think, is.”

Though far from the first discussion of sexual attraction on television, Hannah Einbinder’s role within the cultural group of Jewish female comedians allows her easy access to a demographic that may not normally engage in these types of conversations. Take my parents, for example, who started “Hacks” for Jean Smart and passed it on to me because of Einbinder. Though I continue to be at a somewhat loss for words when it comes to talking about my own identity, I continue to seek comfort in the knowledge and hilarity of Einbinder’s character. 

I can surely acknowledge that these women hold a special place in my heart partially because of the many identities we share. But that doesn’t dismiss their importance in our culture more broadly. In these women and many others, we can see the power of a trait our society is still working to normalize: honesty.

Sharing somewhat intimate parts of myself via The Daily feels easy, especially in the summer when many of the people reading this will be either related to me and/or people who already know enough about me to be less than surprised by whatever I write here. But there’s always a piece of me that wonders what a certain broader group of people thinks about a girl who eagerly publishes the same thoughts that keep her awake at night. 

And then I remember Ilana Glazer’s period pants, Abbi Jacobson’s yellow hat and Rachel Bloom waxing her asshole while singing a TLC-style musical spoof. You could say it’s cheesy, or maybe a little bizarre, but it’s immensely true: Life is messy. Attempting to hide that fact only makes it more and more difficult to find ourselves in all the clutter. 

If you’re not being honest, you’re not doing it right. If you’re not reaching deep into your own discomfort, then what you’re about to say has been said already, and we’re all tired of it, and none of us can really relate anymore. If you want to make a change in this world, you’re going to have to wear fake period pants to the airport and let a security dog sniff your weed-filled vagina. 

It is the ideas we are too afraid to share that are the most necessary to our progress. The words we are afraid to say, the stories that haunt us in the middle of the night as we toss and turn; that is what writing is about. It is human and raw and real and refuses to submit to what society gnaws at us to repress.

By hiding inside a pressurized shell of silence, we lose the opportunity to help each other and ourselves. We lose the chance for real human connection. Just because something doesn’t fit with your resume doesn’t mean it doesn’t help create a world in which everyone can feel safe in their own minds and bodies. If comedy is the truth, it is the power tool for building a world in which nobody really knows what’s going on, and that’s okay. A world in which there is room to explore, love, grieve and hope. 

As these generations of hilarious Jewish women have come to know: What we say (and what we don’t say) makes a difference far beyond those sitting directly in front of us. There is a larger audience than the people we are putting on a show for. 

Statement Correspondent Emily Blumberg can be reached at