Jonathan Ames Doesn’t Look Jewish

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OK, first up — HBO’s series Bored to Death just premiered. Here’s the whole first episode of the new season:

Jonathan Ames, the creator of the series, is a hilarious writer, and the author of a dozen or so books. (One of my favorite things about him: he recently told Stephen Elliott that the turning point in his career came when he stopped wanting to be a great writer and started wanting to tell great stories.) He’s Jewish, and doesn’t look it. This conversation comes from a recent interview with Powell’s:

Georgie: In your novels, and sometimes in your columns, you have mentioned being Jewish but looking fair and somewhat “Aryan.” Did you ever witness anti-Semitism by people who presumed you weren’t Jewish?

Ames: [I]n my youth, for a brief period, probably between nineteen to twenty-one, I probably didn’t look Jewish, my hair was very blonde from being at the beach a lot, from the ocean, so I think I made mention of not looking Jewish during that period. And I think it was during this period that people would make anti-Semitic remarks, assuming I wasn’t Jewish, and it had the effect on me that I wouldn’t say I was Jewish, because I think that I was embarrassed embarrassed for them, embarrassed for me, and wanting them to like me. But I was also hurt, and a little bit disgusted, and that, I think, has to do with the thing of the Aryan appearance.

It’s an interesting phenomenon of the Jew, who is a minority, and yet can sort of assimilate into the culture. Someone I was talking to, during an interview, was talking about the unusual place of the Jew, in the way of being this minority that isn’t necessarily visibly marked as a minority. Of course, if one is wearing the yarmulke or is Hassidic, then you know. But sometimes we can walk amongst you!

And then you watch the show and realize that Ames is being portrayed by Jason Schwartzman, who might be the most stereotypical-looking Jew west of the Mississippi. Which is kind of an awesome uber-commentary, and a kind of touching hat-tip to the idea that Jews own Hollywood.

Posted on September 28, 2010

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