Jews in Television: 1990s

From SNL to South Park.

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The following article is adapted with permission from Reform Judaism magazine.

"Hanukkah is the festival of lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights!
When you feel like the only kid in town without a Christmas tree,
Here's a list of people who are Jewish, just like you and me!"
--Adam Sandler, "Hanukkah Song"

In the '90s, Jewish parodies on Saturday Night Live reflected two contrasting comedic impulses: the audacious Lenny Bruce and the amiable Adam Sandler.

In the Brucian tradition, Jewish writer Hugh Fink satirized network TV's rush to air Christmas specials while ignoring Hanukkah. In his SNL sketch "And So This Is Hanukkah," Fink had pop icon Britney Spears (played by Christina Ricci) deliver the line: "Hanukkah is a special holiday, where we as Christians take time out to think about forgiving our Jewish friends for killing our Lord."

Reaction was swift. "The head of the Anti-Defamation League was all over the national press," recalls Fink, who attributes the backlash to the politically-correct climate of the '90s.

In contrast, Adam Sandler's ethnic-pride anthem "Hanukkah Song,"--a celebratory "who's a Jew" in song ("Some people think that Ebenezer Scrooge is / Well, he's not, but guess who is? / All Three Stooges!")--set off no alarms at the ADL.

Lenny's Legacy

"Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Don't eat pork. I'm sorry, what was that last one? Don't eat pork? Is that the word of God, or is that pigs trying to outsmart everybody?" --Jon Stewart

jon stewart

Jon Stewart

On January 11, 1999, Craig Kilborn, the smarmy host of Comedy Central's late-night news parody The Daily Show, turned over the reins to whip-smart writer/comedian Jon Stewart (a.k.a. Jon Stewart Liebowitz). Stewart, who is also executive producer, writes much of his own material for the revamped show, which was renamed The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

An adept and witty political satirist in the tradition of Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce, Stewart lampoons news media trends with a stream of wisecracks and a team of on-location correspondents whose buffoonery recalls the residents of Chelm, the fabled Jewish village of fools.

In one example, correspondent Stephen Colbert went to Maryland to interview homeowners who were being harassed by members of a gun club. "Why can't you live peacefully with the firing range?" Colbert asked. "They live peacefully with you, er...except for all the shooting."

Jon Stewart often refers to his Jewish identity on The Daily Show. He opened one show by saying:

"I had a discussion with a Southern gentleman today, and we were trying to find common ground... about legalizing drugs. And he said to me, 'I think ham should be legalized.' And I said, 'I think ham is legal. Now, I'm Jewish, when I eat it, I don't feel so good about myself, but I eat it.' And it turns out, he said, 'Hemp.' But in a way that made me say, 'Ham.' And I thought to myself, 'So that's how the Civil War started.' It's the misinterpretation."

Stewart's love of clever wordplay, a Jewish comedic tradition, also colors his prose fiction. Like many comics of the '90s, he wrote a book of short humorous pieces. Released in 1998, his Naked Pictures of Famous People includes a number of pieces in which protagonists wrestle with their Jewish identity.

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Arie Kaplan

Arie Kaplan is the author of the critically-acclaimed nonfiction book From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books (JPS). He's also a comic book writer and a screenwriter. Recently, Arie wrote the story and dialogue for the upcoming House M.D. videogame. Please check out his website,