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Hate Your Mother-in-Law? You Could Get Sued!

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A yearlong joke has finally ended with a pretty good punch line: On Tuesday, comedian Sunda Croonquist was given the legal right to skewer her in-laws in her stand-up routine.
   
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The lawsuit, filed last year, claimed that the Jersey-born comic made false, defamatory and racist jokes about her mother-in-law, Ruth Zafrin. It became a litigious family affair: Not only did Zafrin sue, but so did her daughter, Shelley Edelman, and Edelman's husband, Neil.

The bicoastal Croonquist, who is also biracial --- her mother is African-American and her father is Swedish -- converted to Judaism when she married Zafrin's son, Mark, an attorney who represented her in the suit.

When we spoke to her last year, Croonquist said she was baffled by her relatives' inability to take a joke. "I didn't see it coming," she told us. "It's not over jewelry or money; it's over a joke" -- a joke like the ones she's been telling for more than 10 years, without complaint from anyone in her immediate family. (Not even her husband was concerned about his mom being used as comedic fodder.)

One of the jokes Croonquist believed was a catalyst for the suit is the story she tells about the first time she met her mother-in-law. "I walk in, I say, 'Thank you so much for having me here, Ruthie.' She says, 'The pleasure's all mine. Have a seat.'" Croonquist (in character as her mother-in-law) then delivers the punch line in comic sotto voce: "'Harriet, put my pocketbook away.'"

If Croonquist's mother-in-law got her way, the hardworking comic would have had to remove all references to her in-laws from all her comedy routines, blogs and recordings -- decades of material she's been performing in comedy clubs all over the country and on national television.

Ironically, Croonquist is really a Jewish mother-in-law's dream come true: When she married into the Zafrin family, she converted to Judaism, and she keeps a kosher home. Both of her children -- Aviva, 8, and Tovah, 6 -- attend Jewish schools.

What's no laughing matter is the toll that the rift has taken on her children. Croonquist told momlogic, "I'm a mom, and that comes first. For me to have to explain it to my kids, why we're not in touch with aunt and grandmother and brother-in-law, is painful. Ruth Zafrin is my children's only living grandparent."

Not only has her family been torn apart, but so has Croonquist's business. "It's affecting my work," she said. "All the stuff I do about my family is clean. It's family stuff. I get hired to do family shows."

Now that the suit has been dropped, you can bet that Croonquist will be performing her, "Take my mother-in-law, please" jokes at a comedy stage near you.

Would you be furious if a relative made jokes about YOU in their stand-up routine?


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