Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
The Schmooze

Justin Bieber and the Most Jewish Drag Race

Drag Racer: Justin Bieber?s recent antics call to mind those of Fonzie and the cast of ?Happy Days.? Image by Getty Images

Unless you lost power during the recent snowstorm, there was no escaping the recent story of Justin Bieber’s arrest, which flooded the airwaves with a barrage of breaking updates and speculation about the troubled (and possible retired) pop star. An MSNBC anchor even preempted an interview with a California congresswoman about NSA domestic spying to deliver important breaking news about the drag race, the possible alcohol use, and other minutia surrounding Bieber’s arrest.

In order to escape Biebergate, I decided do a little digging into the drag race that had the most lasting impact on me as a child: In a first season episode of “Happy Days” that aired almost exactly forty years ago to the day, The Fonz agrees to race Ralph Malph’s souped up car against the hated Skizzy in what Ralph calls “the greatest drag race of the century!” To my surprise, I found that this race, in the episode, “Guess Who’s Coming to Visit?” easily qualifies as the most Jewish drag race of all time.

First of all, the episode was authored by two Jewish screenwriters – Mark Rothman and Lowell Ganz. The two met at Queens College, and set out for LA together after securing a writing job on the “Odd Couple.” After being fired and briefly living in their car, the friends and writing partners were rehired by producer Garry Marshall, which led to their work on “Happy Days,” where Ganz would eventually assume the role of head writer (and also co-creator of two of its spinoffs, “Laverne and Shirley” and “Joanie Loves Chachi”).

The episode was directed by veteran Jewish actor and director Jerry Paris, who would go on to direct over 200 episodes of Happy Days over the next ten years. Paris’ daughter was quoted in a 2010 Jewish Journal article as affirming that Jerry and his family were all “very proud of our Jewish heritage.”

And, of course, nearly all the participants in the “Happy Days” “drag race” scene were portrayed by Jewish actors. The owner of the car, Ralph Malph, was played by Jewish actor Donny Most, who was born in Brooklyn and graduated from the celebrated Erasmus Hall High School about ten years after Barbara Streisand. Of course, the legendary Arthur Herbert “The Fonz” Fonzarelli (who was way cooler than Bieber back in the day) was portrayed by none other than Henry Winkler, whose German refugee parents helped found a Conservative synagogue on Manhattan’s 66th street. Even rival drag racer Skizzy was played by a Jewish actor (Alan Abelew)!

But perhaps the most Jewish thing about the “Happy Days” drag race was that…it never happened. Right before the race was set to begin, Richie Cunningham’s father (played by Jewish actor Tom Bosley) runs breathlessly to the starting line to stop it. Then the police show up, and everyone gets a stern lecture from the rather rabbinic police chief back at the station on the dangers of drag racing. Richie winds up “grounded for life” (or at least two weeks), and the lesson is learned. If that’s not an ending to make a Jewish mother proud, I’m not sure what is.

So there you have it – the most Jewish drag race of all time, forty years before Bieber. Then again, Justin does say the shema before concerts (as taught to him by his Jewish manager Scott “Scooter” Braun), and his race did take place in Miami Beach. So, who knows? Maybe he was just in a hurry to get to Jerry’s Famous Deli. Ayyyyyyy…..

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.