Monday, November 21, 2005


Is one of America's funniest people actually just an anti-Semite in Jew's clothing?

In one of the early classic Seinfeld episodes entitled "The Yada Yada," Jerry suspects that his dentist Tim Whatley converted to Judaism just so he could make Jewish jokes. The jokes aren't all that offensive, but the concept behind the episode is an age-old dilemma; do we, as members of a "club," have carte blanche to point out our own faults through mean-spirited and self-deprecating jokes?

Over the past five seasons of the hit show Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David has tested this weighty question on a weekly basis. David exemplifies the worst qualities in the Jewish stereotype and displays them unabashedly, as if they were badges of honor. But what made David¹s show so brilliant was that for the most part, it was funny. That is, until now...

In his most recent season the fifth and perhaps weakest, David has been teetering on the tightrope that separates humor from self-hatred. "The Seder," an episode that ran last week, was almost respectful of the age-old tradition... except for the fact that the villain of the episode, a snitch, is also the only man at the table wearing a yarmulke. Traditionally, during the Seder, the host hides a piece of matza known as the afikomen for the children to find. David, as the host, conceals the afikomen in an armoire, but upon leaving the bathroom, the skullcapped Jew (David's agent Jeff's brother-in-law) spies David putting the matza in his carefully considered hiding place. Not coincidentally, the son of the yarmulke-wearer later finds the matza an wins the prize (a whopping dollar bill). David becomes suspicious and refuses payment, making wild accusations. "Hilarity" ensues.

The most recent episode, "Skiing," is not only unfunny but also wildly inaccurate. David not only makes fun of his own religion, he also makes up half of its customs, thereby misinforming unfamiliar viewers. His gross portrayal of Orthodox Jews (who feature prominently in this episode) is reminiscent of the cartoons published by the Germans and French during World War II (the only thing missing were the grossly exaggerated noses). Not only does David ridicule religious observance, he also succeeds in making Jewish people sound like aliens throughout the episode. When the actors were quoting Yiddishisms, they were mostly clearing their throats, rarely saying anything decipherable. If you tried translating the guttural "chuh chuh chuh" you would find that it means "chuh chuh chuh."

The Orthodox girl in "Skiing," named Rachel, keeps her hair covered, but with a little research you would find that single girls do not cover their hair; only married women do. Moreover, her character is dismissive, angry, judgmental, antagonistic and ungrateful. While such people do exist, I can't help but wonder if this is how David sees all Orthodox females. Similarly, a couple of seasons back, David cast Gina Gershon as an Orthodox dry cleaner who would willingly have sex with David, despite being married, as long as it was done through a hole in the sheet (which is also a myth). Gershon's character, which must have been based on a shtetl whore from the 1920s, acts morally bankrupt, speaking in an awful faux-Yiddish accent that further re-enforces David¹s apparently low opinion of observant women (Incidentally, I won't even bother nitpicking at events of the last ten minutes of "Skiing" which was as close to representing Jewish law as Christmas would).

So why take offense at Curb Your Enthusiasm when, after all, it's just a half-hour comedy?

A few years ago, I remember meeting someone in Australia who insisted that all New York Jews act like Seinfeld. While the titular comedian was a disarmingly funny man, he was also a whiner, a frequent complainer, an unethical character, paranoid, selfish and uncaring. Not the sort of person you want representing a population of 11,000,000. Watching the most recent Curb, one might walk away with similar impressions. I was saddened by David's obvious self-hatred and disrespect for his own tradition, but even sadder for the viewers who watch the show (albeit with a grain of salt) and are left with a false impression of Orthodoxy. A friend says we should not take the show so seriously. David's misrepresentation of Judaism, he says, is a warped, misguided love letter to his own tradition. And besides, David is consistently offensive to all religions and conditions.

True to an extent, but if one took a closer look at the show's cast of characters, you would find that Judaism is the most poorly represented. The cast, which features Susie Essman, Jeff Garlin, Larry David, and Richard Lewis, is overtly and predominately Jewish. All four characters have similar traits, mostly of them unflattering (with the occasional exception of Garlin, who can be a well-intentioned individual) and generally confrontational personalities. The one non-Jew Cheryl Hines is the voice of reason to the aforementioned actors' voices of insanity. Interesting.

A few weeks back, New York magazine had a cover story about the genetic research done in regard to the high intelligence of Jews. The cover headline, "The Jewish Brain" was plastered across the bald head of Larry David. Unfortunately, the cover choice suggested that David represents the paradigmatic Jew. All I could do was mutter that old Jewish expression of disgust: chuh chuh chuh


Blogger heebnvegan said...

I read a great article shortly after the 2000 election that talked about how Larry David's mother (intentionally) voted for Pat Buchanan. He was infuriated and thought that it was impossible for a Jew to consciously support his positions. But then when he gave examples of Buchanan saying anti-Semitic comments, she countered, "What, there are never any offensive comments on your shows?" (not a direct quote)

We're comparing apples and oranges, but it's still an interesting point

11:16 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I've heard people say the same things about Woody Allen. What's with these Jewish comedians giving us a bad image? Guess they all can't be Rabbi Fleischmann...

10:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

they make fun of their religon cuz they're ashamed of it

2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is interesting because of the rather unique state of being "Jewish." From what I can tell, Larry David is a non-religious Jew. Yet he is still identified as Jewish because being a Jew is not solely related to the religion, or at least its not perceived that way by us outsiders.

I was raised in the Catholic religion, but am non-religious today. I make fun of the Catholic religion all the time, if I had my own show, I could poke fun at Catholicism, portarying drunk Irish priests and funny hat wearing pontiffs, without being seen as a "bad Catholic" or as a person who should be representing the Catholic religion just because my parents happen to be Catholic.

So from my outsider perspective on this issue, therein lies the dilemma. I really have no idea why I'm even piping in here, just feeling chatty on a Friday perhaps, and was led here via Krucoff's new thing. Carry on.


11:29 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Nice post. It's difficult to explain (especially to goyim) why Larry David's portrayal of religious/traditional Jews is harsh. And it's tough to find that line between his comedic craziness and truly being anti-Jewish.

But this past season has been focused so much on Jewish identity (putting up a mezuzah, the sedar, skiing with the frum Jews, the breast implants of the daughter, etc.) that he seems to have run out of ideas besides trashing on religious Jews.

It's nice to see someone else who feels that his comedy has gone a little too far, instead of these puff pieces in the Jewish newspapers proclaiming him the best Jewish comic since Seinfeld.

12:47 PM  
Blogger Lowell Goodman said...

Interesting that you would write this in the middle of the season, when the worst was yet to come. I write about the anti-semitism of last Sunday's finale at I hope you'll take a look.

9:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What, jews can make fun of everyone else but not themselves? I guess Marlon Brando was right...not that I had doubt.

10:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LD only thought he needed to do it thorugh the sheet, gershon got mad when he even suggested it.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"A few years ago, I remember meeting someone in Australia who insisted that all New York Jews act like Seinfeld. While the titular comedian was a disarmingly funny man, he was also a whiner, a frequent complainer, an unethical character, paranoid, selfish and uncaring. Not the sort of person you want representing a population of 11,000,000."

There are eleven million New York Jews? More even than New Yorkers? It would make for a great anti-Semitic fear, but it's kind of, well, impossible.

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

meh, i think its Hilarious. i watch those eps about jewish customs but i dont think they're real.
I think your all being just like Larry David, Paranoid jews. haha

5:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As someone who was not brought up to be religious, I didn't see the events of the 5th season of CYE or any past episodes as anti-Semitic; instead I think Larry David is merely pointing out the absurdities of religion and religious superstition in general, perhaps in an exaggerated and satirical way, and using Judaism as his point of reference as it is the most familiar to him.
Other religions are made the object of ridicule in the show; Christian scienists in The Benadryl Brownie and the burka-clad woman in The Blind Date are two examples.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry is not religious;he is spiritual-there in lies the difference; he has a caring soul; he's a humanitarian.

2:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's funny. The skiing video was hilarious! After watching Curb Your Enthusiasm I want to CONVERT to Judiasm just because Larry David is so funny. I think you're thinking too much. It's not supposed to be offensive. Let's face it. Religion is weird. We should be able to laugh at it without being offended (unless it goes too far). It's just funny. The End.

10:20 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home