VH1 Goes Jewish

By Anthony Weiss

Published December 16, 2005, issue of December 16, 2005.
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A Lenny Bruce sketch for the present day: Jack Black is Jewish; Ali G is Jewish; Madonna is goyish but pretends to be Jewish.

Suddenly it’s hip to be Jewish. Or so says the new VH1 special, “So Jewtastic,” which examines Jews in pop culture with all the insight and subtlety its title would imply. The show’s thesis is that Jews today are wearing their Judaism with new pride, but “So Jewtastic” then nimbly sidesteps this thesis to offer a series of groundbreaking revelations, including:

• Jews are neurotic

• Actor Adam Brody is Jewish and attractive

• Jews are funny, but bad at sports

The special, which premieres December 19, examines (or rather, breezes through) a series of topics: Jews in music, Jews in comedy, Jews in sports. Each topic catalogs the triumphs of Jews in that field, interspersed with some light commentary. Some segments are revelatory; the one on hip hop traces the contributions of Jewish producers, record executives and — in cases like that of the Beastie Boys — artists in the genre’s early days. Others segments are bizarrely spotty; the section on Jews in stand-up comedy fails to mention pioneers Mort Sahl and Bruce.

When Bruce said, “I’m Jewish. Count Basie’s Jewish, Ray Charles is Jewish,” he was suggesting that Judaism was something more than a religious affiliation, or even an ethnicity. It was a state of being.

“So Jewtastic” offers no such subtlety. The show trots out various Jewish stereotypes (Jews love money, Jewish mothers smother). Ostensibly this is to dissect them, but it really only rehashes them.

Nonetheless, executive producer Danielle Gelfand insists that a new day has dawned for the famous Jews of today. “They have a different way of owning it,” she told the Forward. “Jon Stewart constantly talks about being Jewish on ‘The Daily Show,’ as opposed to ‘Seinfeld,’ which was clearly about Jews but it was never brought up.”

So, for now at least, Jewish is in.

How Jewtastic.

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