November 30th, 2006

Now for a little comic relief (?): Michael Richards

I’ve ignored the idiotic brouhaha over actor Michael Richards’ bigoted outbursts, but this story I just couldn’t ignore.

It turns out that Richards’s publicist said that Richards isn’t anti-Semitic after all–he’s Jewish! Leaving aside the question of whether one can be both Jewish and anti-Semitic (answer: absolutely), it turns out that Richards isn’t even Jewish.

I must confess right now that I thought he was. Not that I really thought about it; but if I had thought about it, I would have thought he was (is that perfectly clear? Good.) His role on “Seinfeld” conveyed that notion, although it’s always difficult (if not impossible) to explain what makes a person seem Jewish and what does not.

Anti-Semites the world over have myriad answers, of course. But we won’t worry about what they think right now. For me, it’s a certain sardonic and sharp sense of humor, usually of urban origin, but mostly a je ne sais quoi. And the perception of Jewishness can often be very, very incorrect, as in the case of Richards, who is most definitely not Jewish, whatever he says. Neither of his parents were, and he has not converted. That’s pretty definitive.

Richards is laying low right now and keeping his mouth shut for a change–an excellent idea, I’d say (although apparently he’s been talking to his psychiatrist–always a dangerous thing).

15 Responses to “Now for a little comic relief (?): Michael Richards”

  1. bugs Says:

    For some real cognitive dissonance, how about William Shatner?

  2. Steve Says:

    Since I have been around Jewish people for much of my life, I also play the parlor game vis-a-vis celebrities, the one where you suddenly ask, “Is that person Jewish?” I don’t know how the game got started, but it’s a game that people play.

    A Jewish friend of mine was disappointed to find out that Cecil B. DeMille was not Jewish. I was surprised to find out that Ray Bolger wasn’t.

    Actually, it’s kind of a tedious game, because it easily descends into apologetics. For example, Karl Marx was often cited as Jewish, but I note that wikipedia says nothing about that in its profile. Of course, both of Marx’s parents were born Jewish, but converted to Christianity, and he was baptized at birth.

    On the other hand, Felix Mendelssohn’s parents followed the exact same trajectory, and Felix was baptized at birth, but he is frequently mentioned as a Jewish composer, and he himself considered himself to be a Jew, albeit only in the ethnic sense (He was a devout Christian.)

    But let’s ask the really important question. Is Ward Churchill really a Native American? ;-)

  3. mizpants Says:

    Funny — Kramer was the only Seinfeld character I DIDN’T take to be Jewish. His comedy was largely physical and there was nothing self-aware or analytical about him. He was very much out of the vein of humor I think of as quintessentially Jewish.
    As far as Richards’ racist outburst is concerned, haven’t you noticed that roughly since 9/11, there’s been a reaction against PC pieties on the left? Racist invective has been one of the few ways left to be transgressive, and now that taboo has been breached, in the reflexive and automatic way that EVERY boundary is breached. I don’t think Richards’ outburst revealed much of anything about his true attitudes — though it did reveal a lot about him.
    Even in his rage, he was just being fashionable.
    The only PC taboo that remains, of course, is the taboo against pointing out what’s wrong with Islam.

  4. Steve Says:


    Kramer was the only Seinfeld character I DIDN’T take to be Jewish. His comedy was largely physical and there was nothing self-aware or analytical about him. He was very much out of the vein of humor I think of as quintessentially Jewish.

    Yes, thank you for reminding me of that Catholic comedy troupe, The Three Stooges …….

  5. Ymarsakar Says:

    Very, very, dangerous talking to the shrinks, Neo ; )

    Look how I turned out talking on this blog with you!

    People who are urbane and liberal, are Jewish to me. Sourced from how many Jews vote Democrat world over.

  6. mishu Says:

    I always thought Elaine was Catholic.

  7. mishu Says:

    I just remembered one episode. Elaine had ‘schicksappeal’.

  8. mizpants Says:

    Mishu: Yes, Elaine was a shiksa, and George Costanza was presumably not intended to be Jewish, but the general shtick of Seinfeld was so thoroughly Jewish that I never quite believed that they were anything but.

    Except for Kramer, as I said above. And — pace Steve — it wasn’t just that his comedy was physical. It was also that he was a completely unselfconscious and unreflective character, a kind of magical simpleton.

    Is it possible to be Jewish and all of the above? Of course, but it’s just plain intellectually dishonest to insist that any stereotyping is illegitimate. We all carry stereotypes in our heads and they make for useful shorthand and good screenwriting.

  9. Steve Says:

    I liked Seinfeld, but I wouldn’t call it a monument to Jewish humor. In that respect, the prize still goes to the original “In Laws”.

  10. Isaiah Hunahun Says:

    I never liked that show. I could watch about a minutes of it at best. :

  11. Isaiah Hunahun Says:

    I’m not Jewish either — it’s was just a funny name I made up. :

  12. Isaiah Hunahun Says:

    I hate it when you can’t delete it :

  13. Steve Rosenbach Says:

    This reminds me of that amazing sketch quite a long time ago on SNL, “Jew or Not A Jew.” I didn’t know whether to be insulted or burst out laughing. I finally burst out laughing… because “Jew or Not a Jew” is something we Jews do all the time when we socialize with each other! Sort of a Jewish version of Charades.

    Michael Richards is not, despite what his agent says, Jewish – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    Elaine Benis? I never thought her character was supposed to be Jewish, although a lot of the humor is very New York City – which means a Jewish-style sort of humor even if the person involved is Italian or Puerto Rican…. Like “George Costanza.”

    Julia Louis-Dreyfus is probably not Jewish, although her French paternal grandparents probably were. After all, “Julia Elizabeth Scarlett Louis-Dreyfus” is one and a half too many names for a Jew.

    The whole “Cosmo Kramer” question is still up in the air, as far as I’m concerned. Like Elaine, I don’t think his character was supposed to be exlicitly Jewish, but I’m not sure.

    Of course, the inspiration for Cosmo Kramer, Kenny Cramer is Jewish. (Kenny was Larry David’s across-the-hall neighbor when they both lived in the same apartment building in the West 40′s some years before the show.)

  14. Victor Krueger Says:

    William Shatner is Canadian.

  15. Ariel Says:

    A Jewish Canadian.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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