What Makes a Great Jewish Viral Video?

You would think with 65,000 new videos a day, trying to find popular YouTube videos aimed directly at Jewcy’s sweet spot wouldn’t be an arduous task, but the vast majority is about as original, thought-provoking and funny as a 2 … Read More

By / February 12, 2007

You would think with 65,000 new videos a day, trying to find popular YouTube videos aimed directly at Jewcy’s sweet spot wouldn’t be an arduous task, but the vast majority is about as original, thought-provoking and funny as a 2 Live Jews tribute band. They all tend to involve the same tired formats (parodies of movies, ads, hip-hop, and TV shows) with the same tired material: Rabbis, Hebrew slang, circumcisions, the Holocaust, bagels, guilt-inducing mothers, Hank Greenberg, Juice Newton. Researching what’s out and about in the YouTube world helps prove a hypothesis I’ve long held: Ethnic humor, by and large, sucks.

Or, to put it kindly, ethnic humor is utterly predictable. It’s not that a well-timed ethnic gag can’t be funny but 99% of the time, the joke is so obvious that you can spit out the punchline before the bit even begins. If the gangsta stylings of the rapper 50 Shekel sounds like something that will make you laugh, then it will.

Jews aren’t the only ones out there who love the easy stuff. If you look up my people, the Irish, you’ll find the usual lame-o staples: Whiskey, Guinness, fighting, bagpipes, hugging, crying, Notre Dame, Michael Flatley, kilts, the Kennedys, shamrocks, Angela’s Ashes, the Lucky Charms leprechaun and every pub on Third Avenue. Given the fact that YouTube is taking down copyrighted material, it should be a glorious time for amateur filmmakers. Unfortunately, amateurs recognize what the professionals have known all along. People love spreading re-affirming comedy.

So what makes a Jewish video “viral”? It’s as subjective as any slice of pop culture, but there is one golden rule: The minute it’s over, you should immediately want to watch it again and send it to everyone you know. A great viral video should be a pleasantly unforeseen break in the day, a welcome addition to the Inbox and not the you-know-what’s-coming Saturday Night Live trailer for Apocalypto. To that end, shorter is better. And although it seems that viral videos aren’t meant to have a long shelf life, they live on forever, so a timeless quality certainly helps.

I have selected five popular Jewish-themed viral videos and evaluated them on Jewishness, re-watchability and viral impact (basically, whether you would be proud to forward it). Some are predictable and funny, some predictable and lame, but none of them match up to this hard-hitting news report, which, for my 50 shekels, is the funniest of all.

1) Wassup – Jewish

The epitome of ethnic humor gone wrong can be summed up with the tagline: Whitefish: Oy! Ostensibly, this is a parody of the Budweiser “True” ad campaign that debuted during the 2000 Super Bowl, back when we were all getting over our Y2K fears. I don’t know when it was created, but it was still DOA at the start of the millennium. It’s as broad as Ariel Sharon’s ass and I was bored halfway through the first time, even though it only runs 1:11. A general rule of comedic thumb: you shouldn’t know exactly what is going to happen based on the title, especially six years after the fact. Also, the main character in the piece sounds like Jackie Mason, which is a deterrent to belly laughs like a Joan Rivers sex tape is to erections. The production quality is professional, but that suggests an origin in a brainstorming session for marketing geeks. Yet somehow it’s managed to average 4.5 stars on YouTube —apparently the elderly are becoming a lot more tech savvy.

2)Who Let the Jews Out?

Ahead of the viral video curve, Sam Apple and Dan Meth devised this video to serve two purposes: Cornering the woefully underserved market of on-line animated Passover greeting cards while promoting Apple's book, Schlepping Through the Alps. The strategy worked like a 14K gold Mogen David pendant, garnering upwards of three million site hits and moving the book from an Amazon rank in the six-figure range to one in the top 1,000.

I dreaded yet another version of the 2000 hit Who Let the Dogs Out? by the Baha Men (so named because the lead vocal dude recently served me a chicken taquito at Baja Fresh), but it turns out that watching cartoon Chosen People bouncing convertibles (one with a “Promised Land or Bust” bumper sticker) through a parted Red Sea while guzzling Manischewitz is quirky fun.

3) Yiddish with Dick and Jane

This is yet another promotion for a book: A spot-on recreation of the repetitive children’s Dick and Jane primers that ruled grade schools from the 1930s to the 1970s. It’s a simple idea done with panache, unlike so many viral videos that try (and fail) to create a graphics-laden, special-effects-driven masterpiece. It’s educational too: I learned the definitions for less familiar terms like shpilkes, mispocha, ibbledick and alter kocker from a dude with a frightening moustache. Sure, it’s a naked sales pitch, but it made me think of buying a copy of Yiddish Fun with Dick and Jane for my half-Jewish nephew and niece, Ben and Sophie.

4) Matzah

You would think the novelty of a Jewish rapper would have been played out by Paul’s Boutique, but Smooth-E is staking out new territory as the definitive “Weird” Al Yankovic meets M.C. Serch of Judaism. JibJab has animated his ode to everyone’s favorite yeastless bread with its familiar bobbleheads and the yuks come so fast and furious that it demands a third viewing. Watch carefully to catch references to Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Cribs, The Brady Bunch, a “Wailing” Wal-Mart and Charlton Heston (which, coincidentally, rhymes with indigestion.)

5) Make Love, Not Terror

I am the Noam Chomsky of the “9/11 never would’ve happened if young Arab men got some ass” theory of global affairs, and this honest-to-goodness tourism promo goes a long way towards elucidating my argument. It’s as focused as a guided missile—no extraneous chatter, just an arousing rendition of “Sex Bomb.”

Absence makes the heart grow harder, so clearly the answer to the Middle East conundrum is for more hotties and jihadi to make love as sweet as Al-Nur honey. I enjoyed this video the most because it shows suicide bombers as human beings with human penises, and has numerous close-ups of a four-star caboose. (The only major drawback is that in close-up, the betty resembles a transsexual Tyra Banks.) Plus, it gets points for at least attempting to derive humor from terrorism, which takes a lot more stones than gags about whitefish.

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