Mother-in-law jokes OK, court rules

May 13, 2010
Comedian Sunda Croonquist was sued by her in-laws over her gags

Comedian Sunda Croonquist was sued by her in-laws over her gags

An American federal court judge has defended one woman's right to make jokes about her mother-in-law.

Comic Sunda Croonquist, who is a regular on the Hollywood comedy circuit, was taken to court by her husband's mother, Ruth Zafrin, for allegedly spreading false, defamatory and racist lies about her.

Ms Croonquist, who is half-Swedish and half-black, converted to Judaism before she met her husband, and regularly jokes about her relationship with her mother-in law and sister-in-law.

But last week, US District Judge Mary Cooper of New Jersey concluded that Ms Croonquist's jokes were statements of opinion, not fact, and therefore fell under the category of protected speech.

A joke in which she said her sister-in-law's voice sounded like a cat on heat "was colourful, figurative rhetoric that reasonable minds would not take to be factual".

Other gags by Ms Croonquist included her mother-in-law's reaction to the revelation she was pregnant: "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."

Initially, the family found her jokes funny.

"They played my tape at Passover one year, and they loved it," she said.

But Mrs Zafrin and daughter Shelley Edelman decided to sue when Ms Croonquist posted jokes on her website which allegedly allowed the public to work out the identity of her in-laws.

Caught between a warring wife and mother, Ms Croonquist's husband, Mark Zafrin, came down on the side of his wife.

The law firm in which he is a partner represented her in the lawsuit.

"He's excited that I won, but he's not happy about the legal fees that his firm had to incur," said Ms Croonquist.

Ms Croonquist told ABC-TV that she was devastated to have been sued by members of her own family.

"I felt dirty, I felt sick, I felt so bad. I felt betrayed," she said.

She added that she felt under significant pressure to win the case for the sake of the industry.

"Can you imagine, Rodney Dangerfield not being able to make a mother-in-law joke. I was petrified. Suppose I lost, there would be no mother-in-law jokes," she said.

Ms Croonquist, who is already back on the Los Angeles comedy circuit, has pledged to continue making mother-in-law jokes.

Last updated: 3:03pm, November 2 2010