Is Diss a System? A Milt Gross Comic Reader

Is Diss a System? A Milt Gross Comic Reader

Is Diss a System? A Milt Gross Comic Reader

Is Diss a System? A Milt Gross Comic Reader


Milt Gross (1895-1953), a Bronx-born cartoonist and animator, first found fame in the late 1920s, writing comic strips and newspaper columns in the unmistakable accent of Jewish immigrants. By the end of the 1920s, Gross had become one of the most famous humorists in the United States, his work drawing praise from writers like H. L. Mencken and Constance Roarke, even while some of his Jewish colleagues found Gross' extreme renderings of Jewish accents to be more crass than comical. Working during the decline of vaudeville and the rise of the newspaper cartoon strip, Gross captured American humour in transition. Gross adapted the sounds of ethnic humour from the stage to the page and developed both a sound and a sensibility that grew out of an intimate knowledge of immigrant life. His parodies of beloved poetry sounded like reading primers set loose on the Lower East Side, while his accounts of Jewish tenement residents echoed with the mistakes and malapropisms born of the immigrant experience. Introduced by an historical essay,Is Diss a System'presents some of the most outstanding and hilarious examples of Jewish dialect humour drawn from the five books Gross published between 1926 and 1928 -Nize Baby, De Night in de Front from Chreesmas, Hiawatta, Dunt Esk, and Famous Fimmales- providing a fresh opportunity to look, read, and laugh at this nearly forgotten forefather of American Jewish humour.


Ari Y. Kelman

Milt Gross had an ear for comedy. He could hear humor in the recessed corners of American poetry, in great myths, in historical tales, and in the airshafts of Bronx tenements. in classic slapstick style, Gross created a comic universe in which nobody could avoid a pratfall, a malapropism, or a well-placed anachronism that lowered the gods to human status and humans a bit lower still. Nothing escaped his comic ear or his sharp pen, both of which he showcased in an avalanche of cartoons and newspaper columns steeped in the sounds and culture of immigrant Jews.

Whether readers considered him a linguistic innovator or a peddler of derogatory stereotypes, Gross’s popularity during the 1920s and 1930s indicates how widely his work resonated with American audiences. in his columns and cartoons, Gross captured the comedy of tensions between immigrant Jews and their American-born children during a period in which radio and movies began to speak, cartoons began to reach maturity, and ethnic comedy crested. His work from the late 1920s amplified these transitions and the attendant negotiations among sound, cartoons, humor, and ethnic identity in the United States.

From the late 1910s until the mid-1940s, Milt Gross turned his gift for hearing the humorous overtones of well-worn . . .

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