Jon Stewart’s Jewish problem

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Hurty Sanchez
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

— Ilan Chaim

Comedian Jon Stewart made headlines last week when CNN anchor Rick Sanchez was fired for making disparaging remarks about Jews in general and about one Jew, Stewart, in particular.

Sanchez’s firing was a just punishment for the crime of anti-Semitism, but Stewart of all Jewish people should appreciate the irony of the situation.

As Stewart commented on Sanchez: “Finally, a guy who says what people who aren’t thinking are thinking.” Unfortunately, this statement applies to Stewart himself.

First of all, full disclosure: I have watched The Daily Show for years and am a great fan of Jon Stewart as a comedian who happens to be Jewish, but certainly not as a Jewish comedian. Stewart displays great wit and the show is a constant delight skewering easy targets, such as the Fox channel. There is also a serious side to the show in many of his interviews, whose subjects are not allowed merely to plug their books, but also deal with serious issues that are a showcase for Stewart’s considerable intellect.

More after the jump.
It is when he plays his very tenuous Jewish affiliation for laughs that bothers me. Stewart has every right to be a secular, assimilated, or unaffiliated Jew. But he cannot have it both ways. When he plays Jews for laughs by affecting a faux-Borscht Belt Yiddish accent and makes accompanying cowering gestures, he does more of a disservice to his avowed people than a news anchor being snidely anti-Semitic.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
International House of Handshakes
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Rally to Restore Sanity

When Stewart does what he supposes to be a funny “Jewish” shtick, he is performing nothing less than the equivalent of a black comedian playing Stepin Fetchit. Playing the Jew as schlemiel has a proud and funny history from vaudeville to the present, but for someone with Stewart’s intellect to present such a crude caricature is demeaning.

It is Stewart’s own exceptional talent and obvious intellectual curiosity that make his vulgar Jewish references all the more embarrassing. This was particularly acute most recently when he did a bit about the Israeli UN delegation not being present for President Barack Obama’s General Assembly speech. The Daily Show camera focused on the empty Israeli seats as Stewart proceeded to make a mocking-not self-mocking-reference to some obscure Jewish holiday called Succot, which was dripping with unenlightening sarcasm.

Contrary to his even cursory preparation for book interviews, his Jewish references display Jewish illiteracy.

Stewart regularly plays Jewish holidays, Holy Days, and observances for laughs, which he draws from an always easily amused studio audience. He seems to think these supposedly comic references show the gentile world what a regular funny guy he is-and he is often brilliantly funny. What is not a laughing matter, however, is seeing a comedian who happens to be Jewish portray Jews by the worst kind of stereotype.

Ilan Chaim is a former chief copy editor of The Jerusalem Post.


Leave a Reply