Do we see the world differently &mdash or is that just comical

It’s rare that I get to be in the presence of one of my heroes. OK, so Robert Mankoff, the cartoon editor for the New Yorker, isn’t exactly one of my heroes, but I’ve definitely looked up to him for much of my life — even if I didn’t know it.

When I was a kid, my dad and I used to go to the local library together, and after our browsing we’d meet up at the periodical racks behind the checkout desk. One day when I was 9, I found my dad sitting on one of the chairs next to the periodicals, laughing. I sat down next to him and he pointed to something in the magazine he was reading.

It was a New Yorker cartoon depicting a man standing in an office. The caption — you’ve undoubtedly seen it — read: “No, Thursday’s out. How about never — is never good for you?”

Boom. Instant classic — and instant inside joke for my dad and me. So it was fitting that on the evening of July 17, my parents — visiting that week from Maryland — and I found ourselves at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, listening to Robert Mankoff explain exactly why that cartoon is so funny.

As it turns out, Mankoff drew that cartoon — something I didn’t even realize until it was blown up 100 times on a projector screen. Fifteen years after first reading it, I was finally meeting the man behind my favorite cartoon of all time.

Mankoff’s unique sense of humor permeated the room as he showed slides of laugh-response charts to explain why certain cartoons elicit certain responses. I don’t know if these charts were real or not, but they were funny. I was laughing at a joke about jokes — how very meta.

Most of the cartoons made me giggle, but one in particular had me in stitches: William Steig’s wordless cartoon of a therapy patient asleep on the couch — and the therapist asleep, too.

Judaism wasn’t a major topic in Mankoff’s talk, but it was in the forefront of my mind as I sat in the audience. Sure, there are great cartoonists and comic artists who aren’t Jewish, I thought. But the Jewish artists always seem to have the craziest and funniest outlooks on what would normally be mundane situations — the office, the doctor, the therapist.

Why is that? I wondered. Is it just coincidence — or is there something about being Jewish that makes you see the world differently?

To gain more insight, I called Vanessa Davis, a local comic artist. Vanessa is the author of “Spaniel Rage,” a diary comic published in 2005, and “Purimpalooza,” a hilarious update of the Purim story published this year in Nextbook.

“You can make anything that’s boring into something beautiful,” Vanessa told me when I asked how she pulls such great stories out of her everyday routine. As an example, she related to me a story she’s thinking of turning into a comic — about seeing a gorgeous woman in a coffee shop, then noticing that she had “absolutely disgusting feet.”

Living in Santa Rosa, Vanessa explained, she sometimes feels like an outsider — both as a comic artist and as a Jew. In her previous life in Brooklyn, “everyone was really hip and tied in with the arts … In the real world, in a regular place, it’s not like that.”

But all of that outsiderism makes for great comic fodder. Like visiting her best friend in Millersville, Md., complete with crab cakes and pickup trucks. Or going to Jewish overnight camp — and liking fat camp a lot better.

So, I asked, do you see things differently because you’re Jewish?

“I definitely think so,” Vanessa said. “[Judaism] is a really big part of my upbringing and how I look at the world. For me it seems natural, but it’s not necessarily the way other people see things.”

After hanging up the phone, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of being an outsider — that maybe it’s the feeling that we don’t quite fit in ourselves that makes Jews so attuned to the idiosyncrasies of others. Maybe if we fit in better, we wouldn’t be able to see the world for how ridiculous it really is.

For artists like Robert Mankoff, William Steig and Vanessa Davis, the world is a pretty crazy place. Thank goodness we have them around to remind us of it.

Rachel Freedenberg is a copy editor at j. You can reach her at [email protected]