Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What if Muhammad Ali Had Converted to Judaism in 1977?

A generic post was going around on Facebook this week: Jewish Top 10s: Contemporary Comedians. I wouldn't normally bother reading such a generic post, but I have a soft spot for Jewish comedians. A couple of the choices just didn't make sense to me. If we're going to profile Jewish comedians, it only seems reasonable to profile people who actually affiliate as a Jew. Crazy, I know. 

The post isn't that great, honestly. But there was one real gem, and to boot, it was about orthodox conversion!

This 1977 Tonight Show skit addresses an interesting question: what if Muhammad Ali, one of the most famous American converts to Islam, had converted to chassidic Judaism thirteen years after publicly announcing his Muslim conversion and name change in 1964.

Billy Crystal: From tonight on, I want to be known as Izzy Yiskowitz.
Harry Shearer: It has a, has a Jewish kind of ring to it, you know what I mean?
Billy Crystal: Kind of. I'm a chassidic Jew. Izzy Chayim Yiskowitz.
Harry Shearer: Hayim?
Billy Crystal: Chayim. It stands for chai-am the greatest. [Cue crazy eyes]
I found the entire skit hilarious.

My parents really should have expected that I would explore Judaism. They spent a long time indoctrinating me in Jewish comedians, especially Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld. One of the great joys of my adult life has been rediscovering these Jewish comedians. Now I can get both the sex jokes and the Jewish jokes! It's a whole new world.

As an added bonus from this article, an old Woody Allen stand-up skit was included. I've never seen Woody Allen at such a young age, and the first part of his material seems pretty risque for 1965!

After watching this video, I'm going to add "He's not as alert as the average tree stump" to my polite insult repertoire. (I embrace my Southern roots.) "Tree swinger" will join "mouth breather" in the less-than-polite insult repertoire. I honestly believe 90% of my sense of humor comes from Woody Allen, especially the talent to reframe bad events in the most hilariously pathetic way possible.

I sincerely mourn the decay and death of the Borsht Belt. I coulda been a contenda! As my friends and husband know well, I'm a "Murphy's Law Machine." I am stuffed to the gills with comedic gold but have no bungalow colony to employ me.


  1. For a moment I misread the title as "What if Muhammad Had Converted to Judaism?", which would have had much wider historical consequences!

    I've only heard a few of Woody Allen's stand-up routines, but have you read his prose pieces? They're hilarious! You should check out Hasidic Tales, with a Guide to Their Interpretation by the Noted Scholar, collected in Getting Even.

    1. Ooooo...all new to me! I'll have to get around to that.

  2. "I am stuffed to the gills with comedic gold but have no bungalow colony to employ me."

    At today's bungalow colonies, women are not to be heard from.

    1. Just a week or two ago, I read about how Park Slope Co-Op hipsters have bought the colonies and turned them into housing co-ops. Considering the going rate of where they profiled, I was tempted. $25k for a house with all the community amenities? Now I understand how normal people can do that!

  3. I am *dying* over that Muhammad Ali sketch!

    1. Over a day later, phrases pop into my head and I break out laughing! People think I'm crazy, of course.