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The Top 20 Jewish Comedians of All-Time

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Picking only 20 was hard. Comedy is just something Jews do well. I once asked Jon Lovitz, one of many comedians left off the list, why the comedy circuit was dominated by Jews, a people who only make up 2% of the American population and 0.227% of the world's population. He said, "To be funny, you have to suffer, suffer, suffer. Jews, blacks, we've suffered a lot in the past. That makes us funny, I guess."

N.B. This Top 20 is not in order. It was just too hard to decide who was no. 1, who was no. 4 or 14, etc. But it would be fun if you all wanted to vote on the number 1 of all-time. At the very bottom of this post, I've inserted a poll, so you can be the judges, and even nominate your own comedian.

1. Jon Stewart

Born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, America's foremost political satirist is also a crossword puzzle enthusiast. He even proposed to his future wife, a shicksa (that's Yiddish for a female non-Jew), through a personalized puzzle created with the help of the crossword editor at The New York Times. Who said being the host of a cable talk show doesn't have its perks?

Jon Stewart on how his wife's Catholicism balances with his Judaism: "We're raising the children to be sad."

2. Groucho Marx

lib.GROUCHO FILES.B1047Born Julius Henry Marx, the most famous Marx brother will always be known for his thick greasepaint mustache, which has been parodied in countless movies and TV shows. According to lore, the mustache originated during a vaudeville performance when the young performer did not have the time to paste on a fake one. He grew a real mustache prior to hosing You Bet Your Life, which he kept for the rest of his life.

Groucho's retort when his daughter was restricted access into a country club pool (Jews were not allowed in most country clubs at the time): "But my daughter's only half-Jewish. Can she go in up to her waist?"

3. Billy Crystal

billy-crystalA lifelong Yankees fan, Billy Crystal signed a one-day minor league contract with the club in March of 2008 and played in a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Crystal struck out in his only at bat, but managed to foul off a couple of fastballs. You think his teammates gave him tsuris (Yiddish for trouble) for wearing a Mets cap in City Slickers?

Billy Crystal on being Jewish: "I'm comfortable being old... being black... being Jewish."

4. Adam Sandler

adam_sandler-thumb-500x343-586The story of You Don't Mess with the Zohan, about a former Israeli assassin who fakes his own death to pursue a career as a hairdresser, is one Adam Sandler knows well. The character was loosely based on a hairstylist and former Israeli soldier the actor once knew. (Want to hear Sandler sing in Hebrew? Check out our post here and listen to his version of "Hine Ma Tov.")

You no sé?: Although Adam Sandler is a vocal supporter of Israel, and although You Don't Mess with the Zohan is supposed to be set in Israel, the production barely set foot in the Holy Land. Only one exterior shot was filmed in Tel Aviv. When Sandler was in the shot, it was filmed in Mexico.

5. Jackie Mason

JackieMasonThis famously outspoken comedian, born Yacov Moshe Maza, never shied away from controversy. His most famous outburst occurred in 1964 when he was banned from The Ed Sullivan Show after allegedly giving the host the finger during a live broadcast. At the time, Sullivan's weekly variety show was the most popular program on television and it took nearly a decade for Mason's career to recover.

Jackie Mason on being Jewish: "I am as Jewish as a matzo ball or kosher salami."

6. Sarah Silverman

sarah-silverman-cc08Some call her the female Lenny Bruce. But to those who know her best, she's just Sarah. Silverman was fired via fax after her first year as a writer/performer on Saturday Night Live and eventually moved on to stand-up. Her on-stage persona of a naïve yet bigoted Jewish girl gives her permission to go against the grain with jokes like: "Of course the best time to get pregnant is when you're a black teenager."

Sarah Silverman on her religion: "I have no religion. But culturally I can't escape it; I'm very Jewish."

7. Jerry Seinfeld

Jerry_SeinfeldThe creator of the most popular sitcom on America television is also an avid automobile enthusiast. He owns one of the most extensive Porsche collections in the world and even rented a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport to store some of the vehicles in collection. Money may not buy you happiness, but it could certainly help with rising gas prices.

Jerry Seinfeld on what he would call himself if he changed his Jewish sounding name: "Well, I would keep my last name, so as not to offend my parents and I would have to go with Jesus."

8. Larry David

Larry-DavidTo Seinfeld aficionados he's the voice of George Steinbrenner, but to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm, he's just Larry—neurotic, misanthropic and incredibly self-centered. The show's popularity has even spawned the term "Larry David moment," meaning one who inadvertently causes a socially awkward situation.

Larry David on being a self-loathing Jew: "Hey, I may loathe myself, but it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm Jewish."

9. Sacha Baron Cohen

cohenA graduate of Cambridge University, Sacha Baron Cohen wrote his thesis on Jewish involvement in the American Civil Rights movement and often juxtaposes his own Jewish lineage with his Borat character, an anti-Semitic reporter from Kazakhstan. For instance, throughout the Borat movie the character is not speaking Kazakh, as one might think, but Hebrew, which Cohen speaks fluently.

If I were a rich man: He acted in a stage version of Fiddler on the Roof while attending Cambridge.

10. Mel Brooks

brooksLike Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky, started out as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. He eventually moved on to film where he wrote, directed and starred in some of the most revered comedies of the last half-century, including 1981's History of the World Part I, which spawned the unlikely dance hit, "It's Good to Be King."

3 Reichs and you're out: His directorial debut, 1968's The Producers, is about the staging of a play called "Springtime for Hitler".

11. Lenny Bruce

Lenny_BruceThe most obscene comic of his day covered a variety of themes, but mostly anything deemed inappropriate. Born Leonard Alfred Schneider, Lenny Bruce was never far from controversy and was arrested on obscenity charges several times throughout his career. By the time of his death of a drug overdose in 1966, nearly every nightclub in the country had blacklisted Bruce. He's lately received somewhat of a resurgence and in 2003 was granted the first posthumous pardon in New York history.

Lenny Bruce on being Jewish and living in New York: "If you live in New York, you're Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you're going to be goyish even if you're Jewish."

12. George Burns

burns1cAt the spry young age of 79, George Burns, born Nathan Birnbaum, enjoyed a career resurrection few performers ever experience. He won an Oscar in 1975 for Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, and followed that with Oh God! in 1977. Although Burns had not acted in a film since 1939, Neil Simon was adamant about having a Jewish comedian in the role. Clearly the gamble paid off.

Shame, shame, shame: His 1926 marriage to Gracie Allen, who was Irish Catholic, was considered daring for those times and had to be done in secrecy.

13. Gilda Radner

gildThe Detroit native became famous as one of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Player," on the first season of Saturday Night Live. Throughout her five-year run on the show, Radner created such memorable characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Baba Wawa, and Rhonda Weiss, the "Jewish American Princess." Although few details were made public at the time, Radner had a brief fling with fellow SNL cast mate Bill Murray. Details of the failed relationship are recounted in her autobiography, It's Always Something.

Gilda Radner as Rhonda Weiss: "You don't have to be Jewish to wear Jewess Jeans"¦ But it wouldn't hurt."

14. Bette Midler

10039369Bette Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she was one of the few Jewish girls in a mostly Asian neighborhood. At the age of 20, Bette relocated to New York, where she would go on to play Tzeitel in the Broadway version of Fiddler on the Roof. She would later hone her comedic acting chops in Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Ruthless People.

Bette Midler on childhood: "I grew up an ugly, fat little Jewish girl with problems."

15. Moe Howard

moe-howard-7Born Moses Harry Horwitz, Moe Howard became famous as the helmet-headed member of the greatest slapstick comedy team of all time. He acquired his unusual bowl cut hairstyle as a boy when he impulsively clipped off his curls. The Stooges just wouldn't be the Stooges with two Curlys.

N'yuck, N'yuck, N'yuck: His favorite Stooges film, You Nazty Spy!, was one of several topical anti-Nazi movies they made during the 1940s.

16. Seth Rogen

seth-rogan-1At 16 Seth Rogen landed a supporting role on Judd Apatow's short-lived series, Freaks and Geeks. It was the beginning of a professional relationship that would pair the two in nearly every Apatow-produced movie since. He is even rumored to play Curly Howard in the upcoming Three Stooges movies. Strangely enough, Judd Apatow has no involvement in the project.

Seth's character in the 2005 film, The 40 Year Old Virgin: "I touched a guy's balls at Hebrew school once."

17. Andy Samberg

andy-sambergAndy Samberg, born David Andrew, cites Mel Brooks as his inspiration for becoming a comedian. In 2005, shortly after becoming a featured player on Saturday Night Live, his hip hop parody, Lazy Sunday, became such a sensation on the Internet that his digital shorts are now a show standard.

Andy Samberg on his Judaism: "I'm going home for Passover, but I don't really go balls out with it."

18. Peter Sellers

sellersHe may be best known for playing Chief Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. But Peter Sellers, born Richard Henry Sellers, was also a master at playing multiple characters. He played three roles in the black comedy Dr. Strangelove, and was even scheduled to play a fourth role as Air Force Major T.J. "King" Kong. However, Sellers bowed out after failing to capture the character's Texas accent.

But was he kosher? Although Sellers was half Jewish, he defended Hitler's favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl, and even championed her documentary on the dictator titled Triumph of the Will.

19. Woody Allen

woody-allenBorn Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the comedic prodigy began writing jokes for Sid Caeser at the age of 15. He recently scored $5 million from American Apparel from a lawsuit after the company placed several billboards and online ads using an image of Allen dressed as a Hasidic Jew in his 1977 movie "Annie Hall."

Woody Allen on the three things all Jewish people worship: "God, Chinese food and wall-to-wall carpeting."

20. Howard Stern

HowardStern.jpgThe self-described "King of All Media" has made an entire career out of exploiting strippers and midgets, setting the bar low for radio shock jocks. Since moving to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006, Stern has become the highest paid radio personality in the United States and was even named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine. Although both of his parents are Jewish, Stern often tells his listeners he's "half-Jewish" - the other half being Italian.

Stern on why he tells people he's half Jewish: "It's very hard to be Jewish in this country. My half Jewish side has been beaten with chains."

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Hot Pie From Game of Thrones Opened a Real-Life Bakery in London
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Deliveroo

Ben Hawkey is best known for playing Hot Pie, Arya Stark’s Direwolf bread-baking companion on Games of Thrones. The actor recently got the chance to demonstrate his baking skills in the real world with the opening of You Know Nothing John Dough, a pop-up London bakery inspired by the HBO series.

A venture between Hawkey and the UK-based food delivery service Deliveroo, You Know Nothing John Dough launched for Deliveroo members on July 17, to coincide with the series' seventh season premiere. The menu consisted entirely of Direwolf-shaped loaves made with whole wheat cornbread and orange zest. According to Digital Spy, the treats were meant to be eaten warm with soft butter.

Dire wolf loaves on a cookie sheet.
Deliveroo

"It's brilliant that we have been able to help Ben realize his dream of opening a real-world bakery, bringing a classic piece of on-screen cuisine to the real world," a spokesperson for Deliveroo told Digital Spy of the culinary collaboration.

Ben Hawkey holds tray of Dire Wolf bread.
Deliveroo

Fans snatched the treats up quickly, which was no surprise considering that they were selling for just £1 (about $1.30) a pop. That’s a bargain compared to some Game of Thrones-themed desserts. While the bakery was meant as a one-time tie-in to the new season premiere, don't be surprised to see it pop up again; you can keep an eye on its Deliveroo page here.

[h/t Digital Spy]

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© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
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10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite
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© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that last year Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. Here are 10 sweet facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. DEB IS BASED ON JERUSHA HESS.

Jared Hess’ wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.’” 

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. “The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me,” she told Rolling Stone. “Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before.”

2. NAPOLEON'S FAMOUS DANCE SCENE MANIFESTED FROM THE SHORT FILM.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.” 

Heder told The Huffington Post he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt “pressure” to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. FANS STILL FLOCK TO PRESTON, IDAHO TO TOUR THE MOVIE’S LOCATIONS.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. IDAHO ADOPTED A RESOLUTION COMMENDING THE FILMMAKERS.

Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. NAPOLEON WAS A DIFFERENT KIND OF NERD. 

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told The Huffington Post. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. THE TITLE SEQUENCE FEATURED SEVERAL DIFFERENT SETS OF HANDS.

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. THE MOVIE MESSED UP NETFLIX’S ALGORITHMS.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. NAPOLEON ACCIDENTLY GOT A BAD PERM.

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LAFAWNDUH’S REAL-LIFE FAMILY STARRED IN THE MOVIE.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A SHORT-LIVED ANIMATED SERIES ACTED AS A SEQUEL.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

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