Larry David managed to get through jokes about the homeless, the blind, the ugly and Jewish sex predators last night — and had his “Saturday Night Live” monologue ended there, you might not be reading this article.
“I think I’m doing quite well,” David said to himself after a joke about the Hunchback of Notre Dame’s dating standards. Some of the critics watching thought the legendary comedy writer was already bombing, but the audience cheered David on.
Nearly through with his routine, David clasped his hands together on the stage and segued from the topic of sexual assaulters to Holocaust victims.
“I’ve always, always, been obsessed with women, and I’ve often 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?” said David, whose family is Jewish.
Titters in the darkened studio.
“I think I would!” David said, and launched into an impression that the Times of Israel would later summarize as “picking up women in concentration camps during the Holocaust.”
“How’s it going?” David-as-prisoner asked an imaginary woman from the next barracks over. “They treating you okay?”
“You know,” he said, “if we ever get out of here, I’d love to take you out for some latkes. You like latkes?
“What? What did I say? Is it me, or is it the whole thing? It’s because I’m bald, isn’t it?”
That was enough.
“Not a good segue,” remarked the husband of Jean Edelstein as they watched this. Edelstein subsequently wrote a critique of the monologue for the Guardian and wondered whether — after co-creating “Seinfeld” and starring in “Curb Your Enthusiasm” for nine seasons — David simply wasn’t funny anymore.
“He managed to be offensive, insensitive and unfunny all at same time,” wrote the Anti-Defamation League’s chief executive, Jonathan Greenblatt. “Quite a feat.”
Some loved the joke, of course. And some at least defended a comedian’s prerogative to tell it:
I am disgusted by Larry David’s mildly provocative joke. What happened to the nice clean comedy that made Carlin and Pryor and Bruce famous?
— Ben Pobjie (@benpobjie) November 5, 2017
A few went digging into the archives and recalled that David has gone to the Holocaust comedy well before.
He did so in the fourth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, in which David’s character asked: “Do survivors like seeing each other; do they like to talk about old times?”
The rest of the segment involved David setting a Holocaust survivor up for dinner with a star of the TV show “Survivor,” which ended in a screaming match.
Long before “Curb Your Enthusiasm” existed, David was still show-running “Seinfeld.” In a 1994 episode of that hit comedy, Jerry Seinfeld and his girlfriend make out in a theater to “Schindler’s List,” which is also parodied later in the show.
And as would happen a quarter-century later, not every viewer appreciated the humor.
“How dare they debase Steven Spielberg’s epic film about the Holocaust, possibly the most tragic period in the history of the Jewish people, with such scum?” a “Seinfeld” viewer wrote to the Columbus Dispatch. “I will never view this program again. I hope there are others who agree with me.”
So far there haven’t been any wide-scale calls to boycott “SNL” in the wake of last night’s monologue — just a lot of viewers who aren’t sure what David thought was funny about the idea of a randy concentration camp prisoner.
“Nothing is off limits in comedy, or for comedy. Nothing,” the AV Club wrote. “The best comedians turn s— into laughs.”
But, the writer continued: “This concentration camp joke wasn’t well crafted, imaginative, or skillfully delivered, all of which turned it into a cringe-worthy exercise in bad taste without the confidence in either his material or his delivery to make anything more of it.”
Or as the Inquirer put it more briefly:
“David’s problem wasn’t deciding to tell a joke about the Holocaust on Saturday Night Live — it was telling a Holocaust joke that many people didn’t find particularly funny.”
The article has been updated.