On a Mission for the UJA

Published: August 25th 2010
in News » Local

Dan Aykroyd at the UJA Campaign 2011 launch
Pic: UJA
(l to r) Chair, UJA Women’s Philanthropy, Sarena Koschitzky, Dan Aykroyd and UJA Campaign 2011 Chairs Sherry Firestone and Jeff Rosenthal.
Pic: UJA
Shlichim returning to Israel and just arriving in Canada.
Pic: UJA

Dan Aykroyd owes his career to the Jewish people’s 35 centuries of Jewish humour – “Among the oldest known to man.”


Aykroyd, a comedic institution who was raised a Roman Catholic in Hull, Quebec, told the sold out UJA Campain 2011 Launch crowd at the Carlu in Toronto on the evening of August 24th that if not for the likes of Henny Youngman, Jerry Lewis and the Three Stooges, he and other comedians of his faith would have been left with the only joke they had:


A man in a Christian Science reading room is sitting on a chair. The chair breaks. He goes up to the librarian. “I’m sorry, my chair broke,” he tells her. She replies, “Don’t worry, the chair will heal itself.”


Thus began one of the funniest speeches at a UJA even in recent memory.


The Canadian funny man, known to audiences for the last 35 years for his hilarious characters on Saturday Night Live and later in classic movies, including Ghostbusters, The Blues Brothers (where he famously uttered the catchphrase “We’re on a mission from God”) and Coneheads, gave a rousing keynote address that touched on the history of Jewish comedy in the 20th Century until the present day that left the audience in stitches.


He was introduced as a “great friend of Israel” by the event’s co-chair, Dahra Gronovsky, who said that “a friend of Israel is a friend of mine.”


Aykroyd began by noting that he was proud to be speaking at the launch as the UJA is one of the world’s superior philanthropic organizations that funds “universal positive initiatives” that help Jews and non-Jews alike.


His address included impersonations, a veritable who’s who of famous Jewish comedians, including Youngman, Lewis and others. He also demonstrated his proficiency with several comedic facial contortions necessary to make it as a comic. His “spit take” (Akyroyd takes a sip of water, turns around, pretends to be startled, then spits out a stream of water) was one of the highlights of the evening and had the audience rolling in the aisles.


The Jewish people have made disproportionately huge contributions to this planet, including winning many Nobel Prizes. But out of all Jewish contributions to the world, humour rises above all else, said Aykroyd. “There is none more valuable than that which has been made by the comedians.”


Akyroyd, who will be starring in the upcoming Ghostbusters III (to be released in 2012) surprised the crowd with his knowledge of the Sages of Chelm stories, which he explained have been continuously reinterpreted in American humour over the years. He even did an excellent job at pronouncing the “ch” in Chelm.


“The entire fabric of cotemporary North American comedy is woven from the artistic tradition cultivated by Jews,” he said. He explained that the “fertility of the Yiddish language with all of its vocabulary” has a lot to do with Jewish humour’s universal appeal.


He went through the history of comedy, from the ‘40s to today, making note of the profound influence of Yiddish and Jewish humour.


“The Jewish comedic constitution has no other component in any other faith-based society,” he said.


He reminisced about his Jewish colleagues at Saturday Night Live in the ‘70s, including writer Harry Miler who created the world’s shortest joke: “A skeleton walks into a bar, says, ‘Give me a beer and a mop.’”


“Am I a Jew? No. But I play one on TV. And I’m proud to do so,” joked Aykroyd who thanked the Jewish people for being a foremost influence on him as a comedian.


The capacity audience truly laughed until they plotzed.


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