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Ever Hear the One About...?
more than 30 years Mel Horst ’57
by Amy M. Buzinski ’03
Mix the traditional Amish navy shirt, pants and suspenders with a straw hat, throw in a long peppered beard and top it off with a very long flowered tie and the normally mild-mannered Mel Horst ’57 is transformed into his alter ego, "Jakey Budderschnip." An Amish comedian who tells stories and jokes about the Pennsylvania Dutch way of life, "Jakey" is indeed a character.
Horst grew up surrounded by the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. His father and many of his relatives, he says, were, "Old Order horse and buggy people." As one of four children, Horst was the only one to take interest in the unique dialect spoken by his relatives and their friends. "I would sit and listen to them tell stories while the other kids went off and played," he says. From those experiences Horst learned to speak Pennsylvania Dutch. "I guess I was 11 or 12 years old before I told my parents I could speak Dutch," he says.
Horst’s family ties introduced him to a unique brand of Pennsylvania Dutch humor not known to many outside the culture. Pennsylvania Dutch humor is often risqué, or what Horst refers to as "earthy." "These people’s lives are based in agriculture. There are no secrets about life and reproduction. It’s only natural that it eventually found its way into the humor," he says.
Double entendres are plentiful, with the usual puns involving the Dutch country towns of Bird in Hand, Mount Joy, Blue Ball and Intercourse. "They’re never stories that are degrading in any way, but they have mild sexual connotations.
That type of humor is common among most of the conservative Old Order Mennonite groups, and among many of the conservative Old Order Amish groups," he says.
Horst grew up listening to local radio programs and comedians performing Pennsylvania Dutch humor. "There was a man who performed a Pennsylvania Dutch act who called himself Professor Schnitzel. I really loved his humor and stories," he says. When Professor Schnitzel died, Horst says, he felt that someone should carry on the tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch humorists. In 1968 with his children growing up and middle age setting in, Horst decided to plunge into show business.
His character, "Jakey," is a combination of traits taken from neighbors, friends and grandparents, and is named after a Pennsylvania Dutch newspaper columnist who wrote for the Ephrata Review back in the 1890s," he says.
Although you probably won’t see "Jakey" on an HBO special, his humor and stories appeal to many. He even jokes about the pronunciation of Lancaster. Onstage, "Jakey" explains that many tourists pronounce it as LAN-caster. So, he tells his audiences, when two locals in a restaurant overhear some tourists pronounce it incorrectly, a debate begins.
One of the tourists says, "Let’s ask the waitress." A waitress walks over and the tourist says, "Please tell us where we are and say it slowly." The waitress responds, "Bur-ger, King." And the audience roars with laughter.
Horst first appeared as "Jakey" on WIOV-FM, a country music station in Ephrata, Pa., one day a week. "The deejay and I would clown around and I would tell my jokes. From there I started doing standup comedy," he says. Many of the jokes in "Jakey’s" routine play on the language and dialect of the Pennsylvania Dutch or they may mention the locale.
"Jakey" tells the story of two farmer boys who took a job in a pantyhose factory out on the New Holland Pike. After a time, they were laid off and headed to the state unemployment office. A woman at the office asked what the boys did at the factory and they replied, "We were diesel fitters." The woman told the boys that there was no such thing as "diesel fitters" at the plant and asked them to describe what they did. One boy said, "When the finished pantyhose came down, I’d inspect them to make sure there were no runs in them. If they were all right, I’d hand them over to Noah. Noah would hold them up and if they were the right size he would say, ‘Yep, dese’ll fit her.’"
Horst performs a 45-minute comedy routine as "Jakey" about 50 times a year. While many of his performances are in Pennsylvania, Horst has appeared at dinner theaters and comedy clubs up and down the east coast including Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida. But he may be best known for his nightly performances at the Kutztown Folk Festival where, in 1980, he was named the official Pennsylvania Dutch folk humorist for the festival. From the main stage at the festival Jakey jokes, "I’m probably the most modern Pennsylvania Dutchman in the whole Pennsylvania Dutch country. I have a CB radio in my buggy."
Even at age 74, Horst still loves being onstage. "The greatest part of performing is getting to meet people from different walks of life that you couldn’t meet any other way," he says.
He also loves the Pennsylvania Dutch culture that has surrounded him his whole life. In addition to making audiences laugh, Horst owns Applied Arts Publishers, a company that has published more than 40 titles highlighting various aspects of Pennsylvania Dutch culture. "Our first booklet, Among the Amish, is now in its 32nd printing," he says. As an advertising and commercial photographer, Horst has also been taking pictures of the Amish and Mennonites for more than 40 years, and has assembled quiet a collection.
In 1972 he opened the Folk Craft Center and Museum located in Witmer, Pa. as a way to house his growing collection. The center occupies five buildings where he displays his antiques, crafts and folk art, all of which interpret the Pennsylvania Dutch way of life. "Theirs is a life of honesty, integrity and hard work," he says. For the tourists there are a few typical Lancaster County souvenirs, but the authentic farm equipment, early needlework, working fireplace and tools show an era that is far removed from today. "We even have Amish neighbors," he says.
“The greatest part of performing is getting to meet people from different walks of life that you couldn’t meet any other way.”
-- Mel Horst ’57
Those neighbors tend to be some of "Jakey’s" biggest fans. "The groups of people that enjoy ‘Jakey’s’ humor are the ones that are the most Dutch. They recognize the authenticity," he says. Most of his stories, Horst says, come directly from Amish and Mennonite people themselves.
While you won’t find a real Amish man onstage telling jokes, Horst is happy to let "Jakey" do it for them
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