My People in Cartoons
Excerpted from Have I Got a Cartoon for You!: The Moment Magazine Book of Jewish Cartoons, edited by and with an introduction by former New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff with a foreword by Roz Chast. Available at online retailers, bookstores and at momentmag.com/shop.
Here are a few things about My People: we are fatalists, i.e., we tend to expect the worst. If you know anything about our history, you can see why we believe this. And when the worst does not happen, we don’t celebrate our good fortune, because we know that it’s just a matter of time before the flowerpot on the 16th floor falls off the windowsill and onto our head and kills us. My parents actually knew someone who was killed by a falling flowerpot. On the bright side, the widow sued the flowerpot owner, won and bought a fancy apartment. If the dangers didn’t come from windowsills, they’d come from within: gangrene; diphtheria; whooping cough; lockjaw; rabies; appendicitis; sudden blindness or deafness; mysterious “conditions;” the disease that starts with a C…
If there is a gene for anxiety, we have it bigtime. We ask a lot of questions, many of which are annoying. You can be an atheist or an agnostic and still be a Jew. We like to argue, because we are generally right. We do not feel shy about asking a waiter for another table because there’s a draft, and also this chicken is raw. There’s no such thing as chicken sushi, so please take it back.
Fighting with our fists is not our strong suit. If, or should I say when, we are confronted by a galoot, words are our weapons of choice. Maybe not at the time…but later, in a cartoon. The self-deprecating joke is our true specialty, i.e., you can’t insult me by calling me an unattractive, self-centered, no-talent nitwit, because A) I already know that, and B) I can hurt my feelings far, far better than you can. After all, I’ve had a lifetime of practice.
Anxiety (how can a person not be anxious?!?), depression (ditto), aggression (passive or otherwise), the incessant need to question everything, a sense of the absurd, being interested in a wide range of subjects without knowing too much about any of them, knowing in your heart of hearts that you have always been and always will be an outsider, that you will never fit in no matter what you do or how “successful” you are, a combination of misanthropy and compassion for your fellow humans, and at least some ability to draw and write—this is what makes a cartoonist. —Roz Chast