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The Jewish humor television matrix

When Jon Stewart signed off from “The Daily Show” last week, American television lost its most Jewish comic figure. (Larry David, you say? He’s been off the air for years.) But in a medium that has long been fueled by Jewish writers and comedians, you can still find shades of the Borscht Belt in unexpected places — and a lack of Jewish humor where you might expect it.

What makes comedy Jewish? It’s less about ethnicity than sensibility: an outsider status, a sense of alienation, an overwhelming family life, a healthy dose of self-loathing. Here’s a non-comprehensive look at where today’s TV figures fall on a scale of Jewish humor. Disagree? Sue me.


Click on the faces to learn more about the comedians.

Anthony Anderson

He stars in “Black-ish,” which Tablet Magazine called “the best Jewish sitcom that was never made,” because it’s so much about being an outsider — sometimes, within your own family. (“I’m giving you the gift of hunger,” Anderson’s character tells his son. The reply: “Does it come with a receipt? Because I’d like to return it.”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Lena Dunham

It’s a coup, really, to be half-Jewish but denounced by the Anti-Defamation League. At issue: a New Yorker piece titled “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend? A Quiz.” (Sample item: “He has hair all over his body, like most males who share his background.”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Jimmy Fallon

He made a yeoman’s effort with last year’s “Tonight Show” medley of pop songs-turned-Hanukkah songs (“Hold me Kosher, tiny dancer.”) But the whole thing felt like . . . an impression. Alas, he’s no Adam Sandler. Click here to return to the matrix.

Jeff Foxworthy

“If you’ve ever made change in the offering plate, you might be a redneck.” Enough said. (And yes, Jeff, my son the doctor is smarter than a fifth grader.) Click here to return to the matrix.

Key and Peele

Their “Obama anger translator” sketch is sublime, but Jewish? Not really. Click here to return to the matrix.

Louis CK

He was raised Catholic, though his paternal grandfather was Jewish — and he carries himself like a schlemiel who’s self-aware. (“The meal isn’t over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Trevor Noah

He’s South African and black, so wry and alienated, he can do: “You have to work a bit harder to offend me because I’m from the home of some of the best racism in the world. I’m a snob when it comes to racism.” But oy, those unfortunate tweets . . . Click here to return to the matrix.

John Oliver

He gets his outsider cred from England and his dim worldview from . . . the Old Testament? (”New Year’s Eve is like the death of a pet. You know it’s going to happen, but somehow you’re never prepared for how truly awful it is.”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Amy Schumer

She’s Jewish on her father’s side, and her childhood rabbi compared her to people in the Talmud “who asked impertinent questions.” But she gets her comic mileage from skewering gender norms and the hypocrisy around them. (“It takes me 90 minutes to look this mediocre. Ninety minutes!”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Sarah Silverman

Her sister is a rabbi, she makes election-year appeals to bubbies in Florida, but her humor is more about attacking taboo subjects and privileged viewpoints. (“When God gives you AIDS — and God does give you AIDS — make lemon-AIDS!”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Jon Stewart

He’s the point of comparison, the bearer of tradition. The eyebrows. The shrug. The ever-present sense of the outsider looking in. It’s not about religion, though he gets that, too. (“Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.”) Click here to return to the matrix.

Sofia Vergara

She’s Colombian, like her “Modern Family” character, but the way she talks to her son and husband — “Why isn’t all your underwear good, Jay? You make a nice living” — she might as well be speaking Yiddish. Click here to return to the matrix.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JoannaWeiss.


The history of humor

Meta Wagner: ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ continues ABC’s ‘we’re just like you’ mission

2014 | Marcela García: Give Sofia Vergara a break (and some applause)

2011 | Q&A: Why our brains make us laugh

The Globe’s television coverage