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Characters and Caricatures

March 10, 1997

There was a slight error in Lew Irwin's "Lighten Up, It's Comedy After All" (Counterpunch, March 3). Al Smith was defeated in the presidential election of 1928, not 1936. That year was my introduction to Democratic politics, when we were taught the following ditty:

Smith played the fiddle

Hoover played the drum

Smith is a gentleman

Hoover is a bum.

They started us young in those days.


Palm Desert


Lew Irwin suggests that comedy should not be taken so seriously, and that we should not overreact to stereotypes in comedy. He then goes on to mention that "Amos 'n' Andy" may have played a part in Al Smith's defeat in his presidential bid. Should we stop taking elections so seriously, or Mr. Irwin?




Seeing Lew Irwin's Counterpunch piece, I recalled strolling along Allen's Alley one day and running into Mrs. Nussbaum, who said she was delighted to have an Irish-Jewish act on television. She couldn't recall such a team since Gallagher and Shean were stars of vaudeville.

"An Irish-Jewish act," I asked. "You are referring, of course to . . . ?"

"Cohen 'n' O'Brien," she said. "They come on right after Jake Leno. And it's nice to see the Jewish comedian get top billing for a change."

"A Jewish-Irish act," I said. "Yes, Cohen must be very happy with the billing."

"Come to think of it," she mused, "there was once a Scottish-Jewish act on radio, where the Jewish name came first."

"A Jewish-Scottish act, then? Where the Jewish name came first? You mean . . . "

"Yes," she said, "Amos 'n' Andy!"


Los Angeles


Lew Irwin proves himself to be woefully misguided when he laments the passing of a "time when this country could laugh at racial and ethnic stereotypes without feeling guilty, when it was assumed that most people were smart enough to know the difference between real characters and caricatures."

When exactly was this shining era of American enlightenment and tolerance? Surely it was not the 1920s and '30s "golden age" of vaudeville and radio--that was the height of Jim Crow and lynching.

Stereotypes should be afforded no quarter just because they hide behind the grinning mask of comedy. Indeed, offensive racial and ethnic caricatures that invite laughter may, in the long run, be the most injurious of all because they wrap false, mean-spirited perceptions in pretty packaging and allow people to feel comfortable with their prejudices.



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