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There are many Jews in America who publicly engage in comedy, whether as a career path or as a way of expressing themselves (blogs, art, etc.). Is there historical precedent to this? Are there any religious and/or historical texts that point us towards finding humor in life as a coping mechanism?

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As far as comedy in Jewish history goes: the Gemara, in Taanis (22a), has a story where Eliyahu Hanavi tells Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah that two particular men would merit the world to come. Upon asking them, the two men said that they were comedians, and that when they see someone who is depressed they try to cheer them up. Also, they said, that they always try hard to make peace between quarreling parties.

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    Porn stars also cheer people up and make peace. Would they get a share in the word to come? I hope that's true because otherwise, heaven will be too boring with all the porn stars in the other place right? +1 – user4951 Dec 24 '11 at 10:04
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    @jimthio. I think many would disagree that they create peace in any way. Just the opposite. In any event, it's irrelevant. If I could (theoretically) create peace by murdering innocent people (or some other sin), I would not end up in heaven. In Judaism, the ends do not always justify the means. Also, your conception of heaven is distinctly non-Jewish. Heaven is not some country-club where you go to relax after a hard life. Perhaps you should ask a question here about this. – HodofHod Dec 24 '11 at 23:09
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    Jim, pornographers do not make peace or cheer people up any more than your neighborhood crack dealer. Also note that what's not mentioned, but perhaps implied, in the Ta'anit passage. Comedy can be destructive when it's mean-spirited and used to denigrate and mock good people and ideals (Elsewhere the Talmud frowns on mocking). The point seems to me, that even a seemingly frivolous talent can be sublimated into something righteous. – Ephraim Oct 18 '13 at 7:04
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The Gemara (Bab. Pes 117a) reports that Rabbah used to open his Shi'ur with a joke to put everyone in a good mood before starting to learn in earnest and with fear of Heaven.

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    It's also in Shabbos (around daf 30) – Shmuel Brin Oct 17 '13 at 15:26
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IIRC, Rabbi Neil Fleischmann, the funniest rabbi in New York, taught us that when the B'nai Israel asked Hashem why He had to take them out of Mitzrayim to die in the Midbar as if there were not enough graves for Him to bury them in Mitzrayim, it was the B'nai Israel who were trying to alleviate their situation by finding some comic relief.

This was a teaching of Rabbi SR Hirsch, and Rabbi Fleischmann had expanded on it.

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