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Viral and profane pro-Obama ads channel tradition of Jewish humor
Sarah Silverman in her 2008 video "The Great Schlep."
October 1st, 2012
02:24 PM ET

Viral and profane pro-Obama ads channel tradition of Jewish humor

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – When it comes to reaching voters, the co-founders of a Jewish super PAC aimed at re-electing President Barack Obama have this tip for you: Use humor, even if it isn’t kosher.

Two campaign videos produced by the Jewish Council for Education and Research – one featuring actor Samuel L. Jackson, the other comedian Sarah Silverman – have received a flood of attention over the past few weeks. A foul-mouthed Silverman pushes people to do whatever it takes to make it to the polls in spite of voter ID laws, while an uncensored Jackson orders disenchanted Obama supporters to “wake the f*** up” and get to work.

While Silverman warns viewers about being kept out of the polls, introducing herself as “your Jewish friend Sarah," Jackson, who voiced the recent bedtime story for parents “Go the F**k to Sleep,” rhymes his warning to voters, in a video that's been seen over a million times on YouTube.

“We're all on our way if Romney has his way; he's against safety nets. If you fall, tough luck; so I strongly suggest that you wake the f*** up.”

The unique approach is rooted in a “tradition of Jewish humor,” said Mik Moore, co-founder of the super PAC, which has raised over $200,000 so far this election cycle and has dedicated itself to advancing issues that Jewish voters are concerned about. He added that these ads were “trying to tap into” that tradition.

Moore, a political and communications campaign strategist, launched the group in 2008 with Ari Wallach, a consultant and social entrepreneur. It was in response to what they saw as a distortion of then-candidate Obama’s character and record, particularly on issues that were important to Jewish voters.

The group’s signature has been its comedic productions. In 2008, Silverman got on board, becoming the face and attitude behind “The Great Schlep,” a viral video aimed at getting Jewish grandchildren to travel to Florida, visit their grandparents and persuade them to vote for Obama.

In the video, Silverman jokes about the large concentration of older Jews in Florida, playing up the stereotypes associated with Jewish grandparents living there, a love for tracksuits being just one of them.

“If you knew that visiting your grandparents could change the world, would you do it?” asks Silverman, who writes her own videos. “Of course you would. You’d have to be a douchenozzle not to.”

Moore and Wallach know Silverman’s humor is, in many ways, self-deprecating to Jews. But according to the duo, that is a staple of Jewish humor.

“This is the humor that we were raised on; it resonates with us,” Wallach said. “Jewish humor is inherently never mean or vindictive or about making fun of anyone. It is about the kind of absurdity that is life.”

Jewish humor traces its roots to some of the religion’s founding documents.

In an essay on biblical humor, Hershey H. Friedman, a professor of marketing at the City University of New York, outlines this deep-rooted tradition.

“The Hebrew Bible employs many sorts of humor, but its purpose is not to entertain,” writes Friedman. “Much of the humor found in the Hebrew Bible has a purpose: To demonstrate that evil is wrong and even ludicrous, at times. The punishments meted out to wrongdoers are often designed to mock them and to hoist them by their own petards.”

In the Book of Proverbs, for example, fools, lazy people and senseless women are all openly made fun of.

“Like snow in the summer and like rain at harvest, so is honor unbefitting for a fool,” reads Proverbs 26:3. “It is better to live on a corner of a roof than in a house of companionship with a quarrelsome wife,” Proverbs 25:24 says.

Jewish humor has changed a great deal from the time of Moses, but the principles of being self-deprecating and absurd remain. Moore says the thing that separates Jewish comedy is the way such comedians play up their identities.

“Some Jewish performers hide their Jewishness to fit in,” Moore said. “Jewish comics do the opposite. It is the nature of their comedy. You accept whatever it is you are.”

And that’s what made Silverman a perfect partner in this super PAC venture.

Her language may not be kosher for all, but Wallach says the decision to stick with Silverman and work with Jackson was a calculated one. The group isn't not making these ads for children or seniors but rather for the millions who have made its videos viral.

Going forward, Moore says, the group plans to build websites around issues it views as important, possibly venture into print advertising and, of course, roll out more videos. Already, he says, it has about half a dozen more in mind.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: 2012 Election • Barack Obama • Florida • Judaism • Mitt Romney • Politics

soundoff (1,039 Responses)
  1. clarke

    Well, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. We will have to wait and see what happens.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm |
  2. 1amazed2u

    Romney and Ryan ..... Laurel and Hardy of the 21st century

    October 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
    • sally

      I know. But thank zeus the poor Rummy pirate ship is sinking faster than a whale that just swallowed Chris Christie. Poooor Rummy.

      October 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  3. 1amazed2u

    Romneyhood ..... Give to the Rich take from the poor

    October 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  4. 1amazed2u

    Romney ..... No honesty no integrity

    October 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm |
  5. rh

    Sarah Silverman is disgusting, which as far as I can tell is on target for what she is trying for.

    And isn't it a little racist/discriminatory to call it "Jewish humor"? Can we call other humor "African-American humor" or "Catholic humor" or "gay humor"?

    October 1, 2012 at 6:48 pm |
  6. Chuck in Jasper Ga.

    I watched the Samuel L. Jackson video a few days ago. It was pretty dang funny while still putting out a message.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm |
  7. Chuck in Jasper Ga.

    You might consider getting an education so that it might be possible to write a coherent diatribe. Then you might want to pull your head out of your backside. You obviously not only have no education, you have no sense either.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:44 pm |
  8. Michael

    So who do we vote for, the devil we know or the one we don't? Neither! I've written in Colin Powell the last 3 presidential elections; the only guy in this country who is truly capable of running this country. Some might call it a "throw-away" vote but at least I'm not a lemming and just following the masses. Wake up America!

    October 1, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
    • Bill

      why not vote 3rd party?

      Our election laws are based around a 5% threshold. Only those parties that get 5% of the popular vote get federal election funds & debate invites in the NEXT election.

      No more write-ins please. Vote 3rd party.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:41 pm |
    • Wow

      Honestly, Michael, you made my day with this comment. At least least someone else knows Mr. Powell is so far beyond these guys and so fully capable of being president. Well done.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:43 pm |
  9. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    The story of Ann Frank is no laughing matter so thank God the Jewish people are free to laugh today. Republicans haven't done themselves any favors by attacking other ethnic groups and then expect Jewish people to support them. Obama stands with Israel because he stands with the people in the USA, you can't stand with Israel if you can't stand with the people in your own country.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:35 pm |
    • Knucklecheese

      The Republican Party hasn't "attacked" any ethnic groups. Get real, would ya?

      October 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
    • rh

      What if the Holocaust was 25 million short of the biggest genocide in the 20th century?

      October 1, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  10. Big_D

    The right wing has fear and the left has humor. Only one is meant to be a joke but both are.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:32 pm |
  11. Cheeseburger

    Most Jews will vote for Obama. Go figure. Most unfriendly President toward Israel in decades. But hey, a lot of them drive Mercedes too.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • See Novak

      Jews have hated Republicans since the blacklisting days of 1950's Hollywood. Also, many famous actors/actresses exaggerate
      their liberalism in order to get "steady work". There's a reason why every movie or TV show mocking Sara Palin wins an award....

      October 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm |
  12. steve

    Sure, vote for Obama if you want Israel nuked by Iran. Obama is throwing Israel under the bus, abandoning her to Iran's nukes. Only Jews who hate Israel would vote for Obama.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • hinduMithraism Christianity baseofhindufilthyracism.

      He is not but it is very good idea Iran to Nuke hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, CON MEN to eliminate hindu Judaism, criminal Magi ism trickster ism from face of earth, for humanity to live in peace, Islam. visit limiti sthetruth.com to learn more about hinduism, criminality of hindu Jew's, criminal self centered, CON MAN.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:22 pm |
    • DJones

      Agreed

      October 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
    • senselesspillowfight

      Well sarah silverman is a beacon of liberal intelligence. That's what I want, a horrible comedian steering my choice for the future of the country. Might as well ask carrot top for retirement advice while I'm at it.

      October 1, 2012 at 7:00 pm |
  13. John

    Well, I'm Jewish and there's no way in hell I would ever vote for Obama.

    October 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • Mittens Robme

      Well, I'm not Jewish and there is no way in purgatory that I would vote for Romney.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Big_D

      Remember they don't like gays either.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  14. Bob

    Think,people,think. See the Press bias in this? What if it were a Romney ad?

    October 1, 2012 at 6:17 pm |
    • tarlton

      This could't happen. Republicans are incapable either of producing wit or appreciating wit.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
  15. Steve

    Why is Samuel L. Jackson ordering Obama supporters to "get to work"? Doesn't he know the reason they support Obama is so that they can get handouts without having to work for them? Take this Obama supporter, for example:

    "I won't have to worry about putting gas in my car. I won't have to worry about paying my mortgage. You know, if I help [Obama], he's gonna help me." – Peggy Joseph, aka Peggy the Moocher

    October 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      One woman says something stupid and of course, that's all Democrats. But the Tea Partiers with the racist signs didn't represent the Republican party, noooo.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm |
    • Nutones

      I guess you view the bailouts to the big banksters and tax breaks for the wealthy are not handouts.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm |
  16. dscon

    Obama's gonna win!
    This dem will sit at home and laugh at the creaming of Romney............
    no need for me to go out and vote 😉

    October 1, 2012 at 6:13 pm |
    • Wow

      Pathetic comment

      October 1, 2012 at 6:46 pm |
    • sally

      Wow is the pathetic one. Rummy pirate ship is sinking FAST! Soon we'll be hearing about a mutiny and key people jumping ship to get away from him (although they'll try to call it a "shek-up"). Lol Awww – poor Rummy pirate.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:51 pm |
  17. Scott Brinton

    These commercials are pathetic!

    October 1, 2012 at 5:59 pm |
    • Walter Shmitt

      Just like you and every one of your sad little republican friends.

      October 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm |
  18. Tom in ATL

    @Steve - there's plenty of evidence to support each of the claims I made. by bowing to Muslim leaders, by supporting Morsi, by approving the aid he sends to the Muslim countries, by neglecting Netanyahu – oh, maybe he can fit in a phone call with him.

    As for your last question, I don't think we need to help Israel at all. They're not expecting our help, they're not going to wait for Obama on anything. So, I agree, we don't need to send in troops to help.

    By the way, did you hear Netanyahu's speech at the UN? That's a leader!

    October 1, 2012 at 5:56 pm |
  19. BurnNotice

    This essay is either setting a record, or some kind of mistake.

    An article about Jews, the media, and politics, that Doesn't mention "The Hebrew South-Africa"?

    October 1, 2012 at 5:48 pm |
  20. Saboth

    Is this the point where I'm supposed to express mock outrage at "profanity?" Sorry, I'm not a conservative, so I wear big-boy pants and won't toss my bible at someone for using "bad words". Also...I hope all the mor*nic conservatives on here do not untie the chairs they hung in their yards and off themselves with the noose when Obama wins this Fall. Just arrange a big deal with a cruise lines, and all you guys pack your bags and head off to China. I think you'll be happy there. No EPA or regulations to hold down businesses, no minimum wage or unions...you'll all have a blast.

    October 1, 2012 at 5:42 pm |
    • Patricia

      And, with China's television news channel that spouts propaganda all the time a la Fox, they'll feel right at home!

      October 1, 2012 at 5:58 pm |
    • MrsFizzy

      😀 Yep, every cloud's got a silver lining!

      October 1, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
    • senselesspillowfight

      Oh here's an idea, let's tear down corporate america so we will have no jobs, then we can bathe in patchouli and sing songs about how "everyones just awesome" until a third world country realizes you liberals have decimated our nation from within and invades us with small arms ( you hippies aren't about your guns you know. Take your kumbaya and shove it. It takes an independent to see straight anymore. Take that last comment however you want

      October 1, 2012 at 6:25 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.