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"Borscht Belt" is a style of Jewish comedy. The actual Borscht Belt is a region in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York that was a popular resort destination from 1920s to the 1960s for Jews who were excluded from other resorts. Due to the heavily Ashkenazi ancestry of New York Jews, the area was nicknamed for borscht, a type of beet soup popular in Central and Eastern Europe.
The Jewish comedians who performed at these resorts developed a style of humor that became very popular in the entertainment industry. Borscht Belt humor is characterized by stereotypical Jewish traits such as Self-Deprecation, insults, complaints, hypochondria, wordplay and liberal use of Yiddish.
Comedians who have worked in the Borscht Belt or have used the style of comedy include:
- Woody Allen
- Benny Bell
- Mel Blanc
- Mel Brooks
- Lenny Bruce
- George Burns
- Rodney Dangerfield
- Phyllis Diller
- Estelle Getty
- Buddy Hackett
- Mickey Katz
- Jerry Lewis
- Jackie Mason
- Carl Reiner
- Don Rickles
- Coming to America features Eddie Murphy performing as an old New York Jew who tells a classic Borscht Belt joke: An old Jew asks a waiter to taste his soup, refusing to elaborate further. The waiter finally agrees to taste it and asks where the spoon is. The Jew smiles and says, "Ah ha!"
- In Goodfellas, Henry and Karen watch Henny Youngman after their famous steady-cam walk into the theater. He tells the classic joke, "I take my wife everywhere, but she finds her way home!" Youngman's trouble with his lines was the biggest obstacle to getting the shot.
- Any role played by Mel Brooks in his own movies is most likely an example. Most notable though is the Rabbi in Robin Hood: Men in Tights.
- In The Princess Bride, Miracle Max and his wife are borscht belt-style characters, with their shrill bickering, haggling over money, complaining, and Yiddish accents.
- Dirty Dancing is set in the Borscht Belt during the 1960s, and over the course of the film we get brief glimpses of Borscht Belt comedy in its native habitat.
Live Action Television
- Alan interviewed a Borscht Belt-style comedian in the Las Vegas episode of Knowing Me, Knowing You... with Alan Partridge. This being Alan, he failed to get most of the comedian's humor and then told an offensive Jewish joke.
- Buddy on The Dick Van Dyke Show is a former Borscht Belt comedian turned comedy scriptwriter.
- Fallout: New Vegas features Borscht Belt style comedian Billy Knight, complete with an inexplicable New York accent.
- Dr. Zoidberg in Futurama is a thinly-veiled Space Jew of a Borscht Belt-style mooch.
- Boris and Minka, Tommy's maternal grandparents in Rugrats