"Take my mother-in-law — please," isn't a joke you're likely to hear often these days from Sunda Croonquist. The veteran comic is being sued by her mother-in-law after making her the punchline of too many jokes.Here's one of Croonquist's routines. She's sorta funny I guess, but she ain't no Sheryl Underwood, that's for sure.
The mother-in-law is accusing Croonquist of spreading false, defamatory and racist lies with in-law jokes that have become a staple of her routine in nightclubs and on television channels like Comedy Central.
To Croonquist, the in-law jokes seemed like a natural routine after living through one comical culture-clash moment after another: She is half-black, half-Swedish, grew up Roman Catholic and married into a Jewish family. And she's not shy about making the in-laws the butt of her jokes.
Take the one about her mother-in-law's reaction to news she was pregnant with her first child: "OK, now that we know you're having a little girl I want to know what you're naming that little tchotchke. Now we don't want a name that's difficult to pronounce like Shaniqua. We're thinking a name short but delicious. Like Hadassah or Goldie."
Croonquist said there was a time when her in-laws would laugh with everyone else at the black-member-of-a-Jewish-family jokes. "They played my tape at Passover one year, and they loved it!" she said.
But things changed after Croonquist, promoting upcoming gigs in New Jersey, posted information on her Web site that, according to her in-laws, allowed pretty much anyone to figure out the identities of her in-laws.
They sued in April in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, where they live. The action seeks unspecified damages and demands that Croonquist remove any offensive statements from her Web site, routines and recordings.
Croonquist says she would drop any language her family finds offensive, but refuses to pay any settlement. Her lawyer has filed a motion to have the suit dismissed, and a judge is scheduled to hear it on Sept. 8.
"They're nice jokes. There's nothing bad, nothing defamatory," says Croonquist, whose own voice carries traces of her upbringing in Paterson, N.J., where she says she was always the cut-up in Catholic school.
It should be obvious to her in-laws, she says, that she's not anti-Jewish. She converted to Judaism before she met her husband and keeps a kosher house.
The lawsuit was filed by mother-in-law Ruth Zafrin, her daughter, Shelley Edelman, and Shelley's husband, Neil. Neither Zafrin, the Edelmans nor their attorney, Lawrence H. Wertheim, returned calls for comment.
Attorney Gary L. Bostwick, an expert in First Amendment law who isn't involved in the case, said suing a comedian is often difficult because courts tend to rule that it should be obvious they are joking.
Since the lawsuit was filed, Croonquist has bounced back and forth between anger and humor. She's angry the action has estranged her husband and their two daughters from his family, noting bitterly, "This could have broken up my marriage."
This story is pretty puzzling on many fronts. Croonquist is being sued, but keeps popping up on talk shows explaining her side of the story, which would seem like a no-no to any wise advising attorney. It's strange that a man would allow his wife to be sued by his mom, without having the common sense and decency to intervene and squash the beef. Besides, aren't comedians more or less protected from such legal action because they're saying what they say under the guise of humor? And finally, some part of me wonders if just maybe the mom-in-law doesn't like the woman her son married and finds this a convenient method of getback.
Question: Do you think Croonquist's jokes went over the line and warranted legal action? Is grandma being a real jackass? Is there a subtle racial undertone to this whole thing? How well do you get along with your in-laws? Got any good mother-in-law jokes?
No joke, comedian sued over mother-in-law humor [AP]