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Is Diss a System?

A Milt Gross Comic Reader

Ari Kelman

Publication Year: 2010

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 humor in transition. Gross adapted the sounds of ethnic humor 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 humor 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 humor.

Published by: NYU Press

Contents

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pp. vi-vii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. viii-ix

This book began while I was working at the American Jewish Historical Society, where the executive director, David Solomon, not only supported the project but advocated for it as well. He mentioned it to Professor Hasia Diner, who...

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Introduction: GEEVE A LEESTEN!

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pp. 1-54

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...

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Nize Baby (1926) (excerpts)

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pp. 55-106

By 1926, “Gross Exaggerations” had become so successful that Gross collected some of his more popular columns and published them under the title Nize Baby. Like his columns, the book focuses on the families of a four-story New York...

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Dunt Esk! (1927)

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pp. 107-162

Gross extended the narrative form of Nize Baby in Dunt Esk!. It elaborated on the same characters and themes but with a few changes, including the migration of the Feitlebaums to the second floor and the Yifnifs to the first. Also, Looy dot dope...

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De Night in de Front from Chreesmas (1927)

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pp. 163-186

This is perhaps Gross’s most popular and well-known work, next to He Done Her Wrong. It is a masterful retelling of the Clement Clark Moore original. The short verses and cartoon illustrations reimagine the poem from the perspective of the...

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Hiawatta (1926)

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pp. 187-210

Somehow, Gross managed to hold on to Longfellow’s characteristic rhythm while still translating the story into broken, Yiddish-inflected English. Unlike other popular parodies of the poem (it is one of the most beloved and parodied poems in...

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Famous Fimmales (1928)

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pp. 211-272

Originally written for Cosmopolitan, the stories in this book find Gross nearly at his best. His illustrations are increasingly delicate and detailed, and they predict the intensity that would soon reach its full development in...

Assorted Milt Gross Images

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pp. 273-288

Bibliography

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pp. 289-292

About the Editor

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pp. 293-


E-ISBN-13: 9780814749142
E-ISBN-10: 0814749143
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814748237
Print-ISBN-10: 0814748236

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2010

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Subject Headings

  • Jewish wit and humor, Pictorial.
  • Gross, Milt, 1895-1953 -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Comic books, strips, etc. -- United States.
  • American wit and humor, Pictorial.
  • Caricatures and cartoons -- United States.
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