Funny Boys: Those Fabulous Jewish Comedians

Not all ideas for my novels have come in a flash. Some have grown in my imagination over a long period of time, more like dripping water that becomes a flood. It was that way with Funny Boys.

Set in the 1930s in Brownsville, N.Y., and the Catskills, Funny Boys follows the story of Mickey Fine whose ambition is to be a comedian, and follow in the footsteps of the great names of the era; Eddie Cantor, George Jessel, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Sid Ceasar, Danny Kaye, Groucho Marx, Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, George Burns and scores of others who got their start in the many Borscht Belt resorts that catered to an exclusively Jewish clientele in those days.

Humor has always been the safety valve of the Jewish people, and Mickey is no exception. He is recruited as a "tummler" at a Catskill hotel where coincidentally, members of the most notorious gangs in New York, "Murder Inc.," pack away their families or paramours for the summer. Leaving them at the hotel during the week, they pursue their various rackets and killings in the city, and return to their families for the weekend.

It was the job of the tummler to keep these guests happy, titillating them with jokes, wisecracks, imitations, and stand up comedy. The tummler wore several different hats -- skit producer, games supervisor, for e.g. "Simon Sez," (part) social director, (part) performer, (part) dancing partner, and all-around comedian.

Those Catskill mountain resorts, now long gone, were the spawning grounds for American comedy, its influence now profoundly felt in every form of contemporary entertainment. Seinfeld, for example, one of the most successful comedy shows of all time, is easily recognizable as classic Catskill "schtick."

Mickey falls in love with Mutzie Feder, a Jean Harlow lookalike from Brownsville, and "number one girl" of Pep, principal hit man of the mob. Brownsville, Brooklyn, in those days, was a bustling neighborhood made up of immigrants -- refugees from the pogroms of Eastern Europe -- consisting of working class people, small shop owners, pushcart peddlers, and gangsters. They were second-generation aspirants seeking traction in the brutal climate of their new land. Mickey and Mutzie soon pursue a scandalous love affair, but it is not long before the lovers are discovered.

My early life was all the research I needed to express the customs and nuances of that world; I know the turf, the atmosphere, the food, the dialects. I hope that Funny Boys has captured the era in all its glory and authenticity, for it is a period that has an indelible mark on American culture. Funny Boys was also optioned by Jami Gertz's Lime Orchard Productions. Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Alan Grant, I was reminded of some of the jewels from those fabulous Jewish Comedians!

  • "I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport."
  • "Someone stole all my credit cards but I won't be reporting it. The thief spends less than my wife did."
  • "She was at the beauty shop for two hours. That was only for the estimate. She got a mudpack and looked great for two days. Then the mud fell off."
  • "The Doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn't pay his bill so the doctor gave him another six months."
  • The Doctor called Mrs. Cohen saying, "Mrs. Cohen, your check came back." Mrs. Cohen answered, "So did my arthritis!"
  • A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says, "You've been brought here for drinking." The drunk says "Okay, let's get started."
  • Q: Why don't Jewish mothers drink? A: Alcohol interferes with their suffering.
  • Q: Why do Jewish mothers make great parole officers? A: They never let anyone finish a sentence!
  • A Jewish boy comes home from school and tells his mother he has a part in the play. She asks, "What part is it?" The boy says, "I play the part of the Jewish husband." The mother scowls and says, "Go back and tell the teacher you want a speaking part."
  • Q: Why are Jewish men circumcised? A: Because Jewish women don't like anything that isn't 20% off.

Warren Adler has recently released Cult, a psychological thriller about the global phenomena of sects built up on tactics of manipulation, brainwashing, and violence. Best known for The War of the Roses, his masterpiece fictionalization of a macabre divorce turned into the Golden Globe and BAFTA nominated dark comedy starring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, Adler has optioned and sold film rights to more than a dozen of his novels and short stories to Hollywood and major television networks. Random Hearts (starring Harrison Ford and Kristen Scott Thomas), The Sunset Gang (starring Jerry Stiller, Uta Hagen, Harold Gould and Doris Roberts), Private Lies, Funny Boys, Madeline's Miracles, Trans-Siberian Express and his Fiona Fitzgerald mystery series are only a few titles that have forever left Adler's mark on contemporary American authorship from page to stage and screen. The Sunset Gang also premiered Off-Broadway as a musical with music composed by the noted composer L. Russell Brown and lyrics by Adler himself. The New York Times called it, "A bittersweet musical about aging and desire... a deeper examination of love and loyalty among people over 60."

For more information on Warren Adler visit