Comedian’s mother-in-law sues over jokes

By Calvin Palmer

Veteran comic Sunda Croonquist is being sued by her mother-in-law after making her the butt of too many jokes.

Ruth Zafrin 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.

Zafrin, her daughter, Shelley Edelman, and Shelley’s husband, Neil, have filed a lawsuit with the 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.

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.

First Amendment law expert Gary L. Bostwick said suing a comedian is often difficult because courts tend to rule that it should be obvious they are joking.

In one of the most prominent such cases, the Rev Jerry Falwell lost when he sued Hustler magazine in the 1980s for stating in an ad parody that the preacher had lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse.

“Most people who sue under these kinds of circumstances are way too sensitive,” Bostwick said. “If they contact a lawyer like me I would tell them that, without seeing the script and the blog I have no idea who is right and who is wrong, but I do know there is a very strong defense. It’s very difficult to prove that it was not just a joke.”

British comedian Les Dawson’s laugh must be echoing around Heaven at this moment. His entire career was built upon mother-in-law and wife jokes.

“There was a knock at the front door, I knew it was the mother-in-law because all the mice were throwing themselves on the traps.”

“I went to the pub the other night and when I got there, six big men were setting about my mother-in-law. My neighbor asked me if I was going to help. I said: ‘No, six should be enough.’”

Cynic that I am, I cannot help thinking that this lawsuit may well be an orchestrated publicity stunt to bring Croonquist media attention. And it has suceeded.

[Based on a report by the Associated Press.]

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