Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central
Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central

The Top 20 Jewish Comedians of All-Time

Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central
Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central

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."

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

Julius 'Groucho' Marx
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born 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 hosting 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

A 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

The 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.")

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

This 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

Actress Sarah Silverman speaks onstage
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Trevor Project

Some 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 naive 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

The 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

To 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

A 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

Mel Brooks attends a 'Young Frankenstein' 40th anniversary celebration
Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Like 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

The 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

At 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

The 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

Bette Midler
Central Press/Getty Images

Bette 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

Born 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

At 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 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

He 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

Born 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

The 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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The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases
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Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?

1. BY THE SAME TOKEN

Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”

2. GET ON A SOAPBOX

1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
Express/Express/Getty Images

The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.

3. TOMFOOLERY

The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.

4. GO BANANAS

chimp eating banana
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The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”

5. RUN OF THE MILL

If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.

6. READ THE RIOT ACT

The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.

7. HANDS DOWN

Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.

8. SILVER LINING

The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.

9. HAVE YOUR WORK CUT OUT

The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!

10. THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE

A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.

11. THE WHOLE SHEBANG

The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.

12. PUSH THE ENVELOPE

Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.

13. CAN’T HOLD A CANDLE

We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.

14. THE ACID TEST

Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.

15. GO HAYWIRE

What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.

16. CALLED ON THE CARPET

Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”

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15 Facts About the Summer Solstice
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It's the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, so soak up some of those direct sunrays (safely, of course) and celebrate the start of summer with these solstice facts.

1. THIS YEAR IT'S JUNE 21.

June 21 date against a yellow background
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The summer solstice always occurs between June 20 and June 22, but because the calendar doesn't exactly reflect the Earth's rotation, the precise time shifts slightly each year. For 2018, the sun will reach its greatest height in the sky for the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 at 6:07 a.m. Eastern Time.

2. THE SUN WILL BE DIRECTLY OVERHEAD AT THE TROPIC OF CANCER.

A vintage mapped globe showing the Tropic of Cancer
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While the entire Northern Hemisphere will see its longest day of the year on the summer solstice, the sun is only directly overhead at the Tropic of Cancer (23 degrees 27 minutes north latitude).

3. THE NAME COMES FROM THE FACT THAT THE SUN APPEARS TO STAND STILL.

Stonehenge at sunrise.
CARL DE SOUZA, AFP/Getty Images

The term "solstice" is derived from the Latin words sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still), because the sun's relative position in the sky at noon does not appear to change much during the solstice and its surrounding days. The rest of the year, the Earth's tilt on its axis—roughly 23.5 degrees—causes the sun's path in the sky to rise and fall from one day to the next.

4. THE WORLD'S BIGGEST BONFIRE WAS PART OF A SOLSTICE CELEBRATION.

A large bonfire
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Celebrations have been held in conjunction with the solstice in cultures around the world for hundreds of years. Among these is Sankthans, or "Midsummer," which is celebrated on June 24 in Scandinavian countries. In 2016, the people of Ålesund, Norway, set a world record for the tallest bonfire with their 155.5-foot celebratory bonfire.

5. THE HOT WEATHER FOLLOWS THE SUN BY A FEW WEEKS.

Colorful picture of the sun hitting ocean waves.
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You may wonder why, if the solstice is the longest day of the year—and thus gets the most sunlight—the temperature usually doesn't reach its annual peak until a month or two later. It's because water, which makes up most of the Earth's surface, has a high specific heat, meaning it takes a while to both heat up and cool down. Because of this, the Earth's temperature takes about six weeks to catch up to the sun.

6. THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE GATHER AT STONEHENGE TO CELEBRATE.

Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Rollo Maughfling, the Archdruid of Glastonbury and Stonehenge, conducts a Solstice celebration service for revelers as they wait for the midsummer sunrise at Stonehenge on June 21, 2012, near Salisbury, England.
Matt Cardy, Getty Images

People have long believed that Stonehenge was the site of ancient druid solstice celebrations because of the way the sun lines up with the stones on the winter and summer solstices. While there's no proven connection between Celtic solstice celebrations and Stonehenge, these days, thousands of modern pagans gather at the landmark to watch the sunrise on the solstice.

7. PAGANS CELEBRATE THE SOLSTICE WITH SYMBOLS OF FIRE AND WATER.

Arty image of fire and water colliding.
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In Paganism and Wicca, Midsummer is celebrated with a festival known as Litha. In ancient Europe, the festival involved rolling giant wheels lit on fire into bodies of water to symbolize the balance between fire and water.

8. IN ANCIENT EGYPT, THE SOLSTICE HERALDED THE NEW YEAR.

Stars in the night sky.
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In Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice preceded the appearance of the Sirius star, which the Egyptians believed was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile that they relied upon for agriculture. Because of this, the Egyptian calendar was set so that the start of the year coincided with the appearance of Sirius, just after the solstice.

9. THE ANCIENT CHINESE HONORED THE YIN ON THE SOLSTICE.

Yin and yang symbol on textured sand.
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In ancient China, the summer solstice was the yin to the winter solstice's yang—literally. Throughout the year, the Chinese believed, the powers of yin and yang waxed and waned in reverse proportion to each other. At the summer solstice, the influence of yang was at its height, but the celebration centered on the impending switch to yin. At the winter solstice, the opposite switch was honored.

10. IN ALASKA, THE SOLSTICE IS CELEBRATED WITH A MIDNIGHT BASEBALL GAME.

Silhouette of a baseball player.
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Each year on the summer solstice, the Alaska Goldpanners of Fairbanks celebrate their status as the most northerly baseball team on the planet with a game that starts at 10:00 p.m. and stretches well into the following morning—without the need for artificial light—known as the Midnight Sun Game. The tradition originated in 1906 and was taken over by the Goldpanners in their first year of existence, 1960.

11. THE EARTH IS ACTUALLY AT ITS FARTHEST FROM THE SUN DURING THE SOLSTICE.

The Earth tilted on its axis.
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You might think that because the solstice occurs in summer that it means the Earth is closest to the sun in its elliptical revolution. However, the Earth is actually closest to the sun when the Northern Hemisphere experiences winter and is farthest away during the summer solstice. The warmth of summer comes exclusively from the tilt of the Earth's axis, and not from how close it is to the sun at any given time. 

12. IRONICALLY, THE SOLSTICE MARKS A DARK TIME IN SCIENCE HISTORY.

Galileo working on a book.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Legend has it that it was on the summer solstice in 1633 that Galileo was forced to recant his declaration that the Earth revolves around the Sun; even with doing so, he still spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

13. AN ALTERNATIVE CALENDAR HAD AN EXTRA MONTH NAMED AFTER THE SOLSTICE.

Pages of a calendar
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In 1902, a British railway system employee named Moses B. Cotsworth attempted to institute a new calendar system that would standardize the months into even four-week segments. To do so, he needed to add an extra month to the year. The additional month was inserted between June and July and named Sol because the summer solstice would always fall during this time. Despite Cotsworth's traveling campaign to promote his new calendar, it failed to catch on.

14. IN ANCIENT GREECE, THE SOLSTICE FESTIVAL MARKED A TIME OF SOCIAL EQUALITY.

Ancient Greek sculpture in stone.
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The Greek festival of Kronia, which honored Cronus, the god of agriculture, coincided with the solstice. The festival was distinguished from other annual feasts and celebrations in that slaves and freemen participated in the festivities as equals.

15. ANCIENT ROME HONORED THE GODDESS VESTA ON THE SOLSTICE.

Roman statue of a vestal virgin
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In Rome, midsummer coincided with the festival of Vestalia, which honored Vesta, the Roman goddess who guarded virginity and was considered the patron of the domestic sphere. On the first day of this festival, married women were allowed to enter the temple of the Vestal virgins, from which they were barred the rest of the year.

A version of this list originally ran in 2015.

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