This is no joke

US comedian and convert to Judaism sued over mother-in-law humor.

Sunda Croonquist 248 ap (photo credit: AP)
Sunda Croonquist 248 ap
(photo credit: AP)
"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-inlaw after making her the punch line of too many jokes. 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 the 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." Or her first visit to her mother-in-law's house: "I walk in, I say, ' Thank you so much for having me here, Ruthie.' She says, ' The pleasure's all mine, have a seat.'" Then, in a loud aside, 'Harriet, put my pocketbook away.'" Croonquist said there was a time when her in-laws would laugh with everyone else at the black-member-of-a-Jewishfamily 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 US 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 September 8. In the meantime, Croonquist, who lives in Beverly Hills and is a regular on the Hollywood comedy circuit, was at the Laugh Factory on open-mic night recently, eager to test some new non-mother-in-law material. This time the butt of her jokes would be herself, her lawyer husband (his firm is representing her in the lawsuit) and entertainer Jennifer Lopez. "My father is Swedish, my mother is African-American. You know what that made me growing up?" she asks the audience. "A Puerto Rican! That works for me, honey... After having two babies in two years, I look like J-Lo." Croonquist says it should be obvious to her in-laws of 15 years 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 Wertheim, returned calls for comment. Croonquist is upset that the legal action has estranged her husband and their two daughters from his family, adding: "This could have broken up my marriage."