A show airing on Netflix has drawn the ire of Australian Holocaust survivors after a recent episode made distasteful jokes about Anne Frank and Adolf Hitler.
Historical Roasts, a series by US stand-up comic Jeff Ross, was released last month and is currently available on the global streaming service.
In each episode, cast members – mostly comedians – dress up as real-life historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Freddie Mercury and Cleopatra, and go on stage to exchange insults with others who are also in character.
One episode, written and performed entirely by Jewish people and featuring actors portraying Anne and Hitler, crosses the line, says a group of Melbourne-based Holocaust survivors.
The skit includes jokes such as Hitler’s character telling Anne’s: “Everyone knows you as a hero and best-selling author, but to me, you’ll always be little number 825060”.
I’m okay with this. Sure it is offensive to some or even many, but humour has its place, even with terrible events.
Mark Baker, an associate professor at Monash University who has written a book on his parent’s experience with the Holocaust, said that while he didn’t want to defend the quality of the Netflix series, there has been a “long tradition” of Holocaust humour both during and after the genocide.
“It’s a tool of survival,” he said. “To laugh is to be human and in a situation where the Nazis tried to rob Jews of their humanity, humour resisted their dehumanisation. That’s why you’ll find an impulse to laugh about atrocity in all cultures.”
Dr Baker said there was a “fine line” between subverting Nazi ideology and trivialising genocide and anti-Semitism.
“What matters is intent,” he said. “What makes the Anne Frank episode challenging is that the humour is being directed not only at the perpetrators but at the victim – someone who has become a universal symbol of adolescent innocence.”
I think it is clear the intent is not anti-Semitic.