Courtesy of HBO
When Larry David joked about chatting up women in Nazi concentration camps recently he caused a minor storm of outrage. As part of a monologue on Saturday Night Live, David mused:
I’ve always been obsessed with women – and I’ve always wondered: If I’d grown up in Poland when Hitler came to power and was sent to a concentration camp, would I still be checking out women in the camp? I think I would.
“Of course,” he continued, “the problem is there are no good opening lines in a concentration camp. ‘How’s it going? They treating you OK? You know, if we ever get out of here, I’d love to take you out for some latkes. You like latkes?’”
David has joked about the Holocaust before. In the comedy show he co-created, Seinfeld, an entire episode is devoted to Schindler’s List. In his own show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, he plays Wagner (a favourite composer of Adolf Hitler) to a co-religionist who accuses him of being a self-hater. He invites a cast member of the reality show Survivor to meet a Holocaust survivor and they proceed to argue over who had it worse off. Many suggested David’s jokes weren’t in good taste, that he had crossed a line this time. But had he?
David is building upon a tradition of Holocaust humour which is nothing new. In the early 1960s, following the kidnap, trial, and execution of Adolf Eichmann, legendary Jewish comic, Lenny Bruce, had a joke in which he’d say in a redneck used car salesman’s voice: “Here’s a Volkswagen pickup truck that was just used slightly during the war carrying the people back and forth to the furnaces.” Or he held up a newspaper with the headline: “Six Million Jews Found Alive in Argentina.”