Jewish joke book turns 25 &mdash and people are still laughing

brookline, mass. | Here’s one: Michael Bloomberg walks into a diner and orders coffee and a Danish. When the bill comes in at $14, the flummoxed billionaire mayor asks, “What, are Danishes so rare in these parts?” 

“No,” replies the waiter, “but Bloombergs are.” 

The story is a variation on a joke about Rothschild and 20-ruble eggs made famous in the “Big Book of Jewish Humor,” first published a quarter of a century ago. 

The story also is partly true. Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser — an avid devotee of the “Big Book of Jewish Humor” — was sharing the joke about Rothschild with Bloomberg when Loeser and the mayor were overcharged for Danish and coffee at a New York diner. Before Loeser got to the punchline, however, the Jewish mayor finished the joke for him. 

Whether that’s a sign of the diffusion of Jewish humor into the national consciousness, the success of the 25-year-old compilation by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks or simply a telling anecdote about the mayor’s sense of humor, is anybody’s guess. 

What’s certain is that since the publication of the “Big Book,” Jews are still laughing at themselves — and Americans are laughing along with them. 

“Although many of the people listed on the cover are no longer around,” Novak and Waldoks write in their introduction to the 25-year anniversary edition, which HarperCollins released in November, “and Sholom Aleichem is still dead, ‘The Big Book of Jewish Humor’ is still very much alive.” 

The authors sat down recently over a pair of pastrami sandwiches at Rubin’s kosher delicatessen in Brookline, Mass., to talk about the book — and to trade jibes and wisecracks. 

A lot has changed in 25 years, they said. 

“When we first put the book together in 1981, we were not sure Jewish humor would continue,” Waldoks said. “But Jewish humor is still active. It’s more self-conscious, much more knowledgeable. It goes beyond the stereotypes.”

The pair cited TV programs like Comedy Central’s “South Park” and “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart, both mainstream shows laced with Jewish references and jokes. They noted that the central character on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David, creator of “Seinfeld,” goes beyond stereotypical portrayals of Jews. 

No longer are television references to Jews limited to bar mitzvahs. There were the esoteric references Stewart made to obscure Shabbat prohibitions when Sen. Joseph Lieberman was running for vice president in 2000. There are the unabashedly Jewish themes in shows from “Will and Grace” to “The Simpsons.” 

“Are there still more goyim in America?” Waldoks quips between bites of pastrami on rye. 

What there isn’t anymore, Novak says, are Jewish joke-tellers in the tradition of the Borscht Belt and Henny Youngman (“Take my wife, please!”). Those kinds of jokes have all but disappeared. 

What’s left is Jewish humor that is much more knowledgeable, and much more popular. 

And the “Big Book” authors may be a little grayer and perhaps a little paunchier, but not much worse for wear. 

Waldoks has become a rabbi at a nondenominational synagogue, Brookline’s Temple Beth Zion, which he has transformed from a moribund Conservative temple into a popular “egalitarian Chassidic” house of prayer and song. 

Novak, who 25 years ago had but one book to his name, the rather obscure “High Culture: Marijuana in the Lives of Americans,” has since become a best-selling author and ghostwriter, co-authoring books with high-profile people such as Nancy Reagan, Lee Iacocca and Oliver North.