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   INTERVIEWS > ARTICLES  > MENASHA SKULNIK > MENASHA HAS A THEORY....

MENASHA HAS A THEORY REGARDING HIS COMEDY APPEAL
from a New York Post article of 14 February 1947

 

The great comedian Menasha Skulnik was interviewed by a New York Post reporter during the time he was performing at the Second Avenue Theatre on the Lower Side in the Yiddish play, "Leave it to Me!", or "Farlozt zikh oyf mir!" in Yiddish. Menasha tells the reporter his theory on comedy, which I think is interesting to read (even if one is not a comedian.) So here we go:

Down on Second Av., there is a little man with hats too small and jackets too big, who nightly supplies ample proof that laughter has no language barrier. At present he is cavorting in a Yiddish musical, “Leave it to Me,” at the Second Av. Theatre, and his mere presence upon the stage is enough to set off loud roars of laughter. His name, should there be anyone who hasn’t guessed it by this time, is Menasha Skulnik.


 

At first glance both on and off the stage, Skulnik’s serious face, his slight, short body and his bewildered expression deny the fact that he makes or wants to make people laugh. His appearance suggests that he would like nothing better than to go off under a shady tree, and let the world carry on without him.

Instead, he must put up with completely baffling situations in which he finds himself embroiled and which are certainly not hilarious to him, though people, whether they understand Yiddish or not, may howl at him and at them.

Mr. Skulnik has a partial explanation why the non-Yiddish speaking contingent of his audience understands him and in understanding him, laugh at him. He has seen to it that about 40 per cent of the dialogue in his Second Av. Musicals contains English words and phrases.

“People who speak Yiddish,” said the comedian in an accent that is neither Yiddish, nor his native Polish, buy pure Skulnik, “insert idiomatic English phrases into their speech, so why shouldn’t the Yiddish theatre do the same?

“When my audiences began to include people who had no knowledge of the Yiddish language, the managers of the theatres in which I played wanted to include English notes and synopses in the programs, but I didn’t want to have this done. I want people to understand what I am doing at the time I do something funny and not beforehand or later as they would if program notes were used.”

Skulnik feels, too, that all comedians have to be good actors to be good comics. In mastering his acting craft, a comedian gets to know the value of pantomime and how to get the most out of the characterizations and situations. He thinks that if a man knows his business as an actor then he can be funny in any language.

In an unknown role, circa 1924
from the Museum of the City of New York

 

From "The Baby Sitter"
cir 1948

From the Museum of the City of New York

   Listen to the Skulnik song "Baby Sitter."
(warning: crying baby starts song...)

You can read the earlier of two versions of Menasha Skulnik's biography in Zalmen Zylbercweig's "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre," which was published in 1934.
 

You can also visit the Museum's page about one his his 1948 productions, "What a Guy!", which includes photographs and a cast listing.

 

 

 


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