A New Kind of Schlemiel

Max Greenfield Plays a Caring Clown on Fox's 'New Girl'

Fool’s Gold: Max Greenfield shines as Schmidt in “New Girl,” also starring Zooey Deschanel.
Greg Gayne/FOX
Fool’s Gold: Max Greenfield shines as Schmidt in “New Girl,” also starring Zooey Deschanel.

By Elissa Strauss

Published January 17, 2013, issue of January 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Schmidt’s backstory on the show is that he was Nick’s overweight, slightly desperate college friend who majored in marketing and theater studies. Fast-forward to present day, and Schmidt has washboard abs, which he displayed by dressing up for Halloween as a character from “Magic Mike” (a recent movie about male strippers), along with a closet filled with perfectly tailored suits. He loves cleanliness so much that he sometimes sneaks into the others’ bedrooms just to tidy up. Indeed, his concern for himself matches his concern for others.

Schmidt is not Jewish in the Jerry Seinfeld sense, in which it is inferred but never explicitly stated. Nor is he Jewish in the Larry David, Judd Apatow or Adam Sandler sense. For them, Judaism serves as a punch line at best, and at worst a source of self-hatred.

Nope, Schmidt loves being Jewish. He corrects someone for mistaking his Purim costume for a Halloween costume and calls himself the “Jewish Peter Pan.” He speaks tenderly about his zayde’s egg salad and kreplach. And during the recent Christmas episode, he tells his friends how hard it is for Jewish children to keep the truth about Santa to themselves; by the end of the episode, he expresses his need to stick with his people during the holiday season.

“I am so sick of hanging out with Christians. This is my last Christian Christmas,” he tells a car full of friends after they drunkenly convince themselves that the kind, African-American cop that pulled them over was actually Santa.

Another thing that sets apart Schmidt from his schlemiel forerunners is his happy embrace of his feminine side. Besides his love of grooming and emotional vulnerability, he understands that once women-only activities like cooking and chatting are what today can make a man.

Indeed, Schmidt’s feminine side has made him more adaptable in this economy, which, according to Hanna Rosin in her recent book, “The End of Men: And the Rise of Women,” favors typically feminine traits, like communicating and multitasking. Of the four roommates, Schmidt is the only one who seems to be going somewhere professionally.

Earlier this season he has a competition with his cousin for the exclusive usage of the nickname “Schmidt.” They begin with typical masculine stuff, like strength-testing exercises that give his ex-Marine cousin the advantage. But ultimately they end up in the kitchen, where Schmidt explains: “Your caveman ideas about manhood are so over. Manhood today is about exfoliation, and cheese courses, and emotional honesty and Paxil.”

Maybe his sensitivity and relentless caring have to do with the fact that Schmidt was raised by his mom, and, later, her female partner, while his dad went off and had three kids with another woman.

Previous memorable schlemiels, guys like Philip Roth’s Alexander Portnoy or Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer, have been characterized by their struggle with women, namely their mothers. But Schmidt is a guy who loves his Jewish mother just fine.

Elissa Strauss, a contributing editor to The Sisterhood blog, is a journalist living in Brooklyn.



The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.