Is Stand-Up Comedy Kosher?

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The question of stand-up comedy’s propriety comes from the same source as its benefits. Humor, we are told, is the best medicine. It relieves stress, spreads joy and serves as a break from our busy lives. At its best, it can also serve as social commentary and political criticism, sometimes sparking positive change. In theory, comedy can inspire teshuvah by highlighting religious inconsistency.

Crude comedy, which encompasses most of it, is surely improper. The forbidden language and sexual innuendo are the most obvious points of criticism. However, mockery and satire can be equally improper, denigrating people, institutions and beliefs. When everything is subject to mockery, nothing is sacred, not even that which is literally sacred. Faith falls to the side when mockery runs rampant. Tanach repeatedly attests to this. But what about comedy that lacks all of these elements? What about stand-up comedy with completely clean language that pokes fun without mocking or denigrating?

In an article in Jewish Action, R. Daniel Z. Feldman notes the existence of jokes within the Talmud and the statement that Rabbah would begin his lectures with a joke (Shabbos 30b). He goes further, quoting R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik as saying that humor reflects an appreciation of what is important in life and what is not. We must maintain perspective, laughing at the trivial and worrying about the serious.

On the other hand, too much of a good thing is bad. Life is serious. If we spend all our time in levity, if we immerse ourselves in leisure rather than dip our toes in it, we have deviated from the lifestyle required by the Torah. The Baraisa (Avos 6:5) states that one of the paths to acquiring Torah is “a little joking.” The Gemara (Sotah 25b) includes among those who do not receive the Divine Presence a group of mockers. On the citation of this passage in the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (30:6), R. Shlomo Aviner (commentary, ad loc., vol. 1 p. 324) states that a little comedy is acceptable but not too much. Earlier (29:2, p. 308), he wrote his brief guideline for comedy: “a little with kosher content.” Here, he adds that a few (approximately 5 to 15) minutes of stand-up is fine. However, when people gather together for longer periods of stand-up comedy, they are engaging as a group in an extended waste of time. That is forbidden (see also 31:3, p. 328).

Some might argue that R. Aviner’s limit is arbitrary. Who defines how much is too much? I suspect he would agree. The key is the need for balance, the focus on a life devoted to God and man, enhanced with some lighthearted joy. Imbalance is the enemy of mental and religious health. Too much stand-up, no matter how pure, is still unkosher.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.


  1. R’ Aviner’s time limit reminds me of a comment from R Asher Weiss :
    Rav Asher Weiss-Parshat Miketz

    Chanukah candles being lit timing – fascinating how R’Weiss’s psak on when and how long to light given cultural changes (e.g. electricity) is based on a “reasonability” test without a clear halachic precedent (AIUI). Even more fascinating is his insight on how the current generation expects an exact psak on everything (ad shetichleh regel must be reducible to a railroad timetable chart). [Me – but is this need a function of trends in the general society?]


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