The Top 20 Jewish Comedians of All-Time

Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central
Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central

Picking only 20 was hard. Comedy is just something Jews do well. I once asked Jon Lovitz, one of many comedians left off the list, why the comedy circuit was dominated by Jews, a people who only make up 2% of the American population and 0.227% of the world's population. He said, "To be funny, you have to suffer, suffer, suffer. Jews, blacks, we've suffered a lot in the past. That makes us funny, I guess."

1. Jon Stewart

Born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, America's foremost political satirist is also a crossword puzzle enthusiast. He even proposed to his future wife, a shicksa (that's Yiddish for a female non-Jew), through a personalized puzzle created with the help of the crossword editor at The New York Times. Who said being the host of a cable talk show doesn't have its perks?

Jon Stewart on how his wife's Catholicism balances with his Judaism: "We're raising the children to be sad."

2. Groucho Marx

Julius 'Groucho' Marx
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born Julius Henry Marx, the most famous Marx brother will always be known for his thick greasepaint mustache, which has been parodied in countless movies and TV shows. According to lore, the mustache originated during a vaudeville performance when the young performer did not have the time to paste on a fake one. He grew a real mustache prior to hosting You Bet Your Life, which he kept for the rest of his life.

Groucho's retort when his daughter was restricted access into a country club pool (Jews were not allowed in most country clubs at the time): "But my daughter's only half-Jewish. Can she go in up to her waist?"

3. Billy Crystal

A lifelong Yankees fan, Billy Crystal signed a one-day minor league contract with the club in March of 2008 and played in a spring training game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Crystal struck out in his only at bat, but managed to foul off a couple of fastballs. You think his teammates gave him tsuris (Yiddish for trouble) for wearing a Mets cap in City Slickers?

Billy Crystal on being Jewish: "I'm comfortable being old... being black... being Jewish."

4. Adam Sandler

The story of You Don't Mess with the Zohan, about a former Israeli assassin who fakes his own death to pursue a career as a hairdresser, is one Adam Sandler knows well. The character was loosely based on a hairstylist and former Israeli soldier the actor once knew. (Want to hear Sandler sing in Hebrew? Check out our post here and listen to his version of "Hine Ma Tov.")

Although Adam Sandler is a vocal supporter of Israel, and although You Don't Mess with the Zohan is supposed to be set in Israel, the production barely set foot in the Holy Land. Only one exterior shot was filmed in Tel Aviv. When Sandler was in the shot, it was filmed in Mexico.

5. Jackie Mason

This famously outspoken comedian, born Yacov Moshe Maza, never shied away from controversy. His most famous outburst occurred in 1964 when he was banned from The Ed Sullivan Show after allegedly giving the host the finger during a live broadcast. At the time, Sullivan's weekly variety show was the most popular program on television and it took nearly a decade for Mason's career to recover.

Jackie Mason on being Jewish: "I am as Jewish as a matzo ball or kosher salami."

6. Sarah Silverman

Actress Sarah Silverman speaks onstage
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Trevor Project

Some call her the female Lenny Bruce. But to those who know her best, she's just Sarah. Silverman was fired via fax after her first year as a writer/performer on Saturday Night Live and eventually moved on to stand-up. Her on-stage persona of a naive yet bigoted Jewish girl gives her permission to go against the grain with jokes like: "Of course the best time to get pregnant is when you're a black teenager."

Sarah Silverman on her religion: "I have no religion. But culturally I can't escape it; I'm very Jewish."

7. Jerry Seinfeld

The creator of the most popular sitcom on America television is also an avid automobile enthusiast. He owns one of the most extensive Porsche collections in the world and even rented a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport to store some of the vehicles in collection. Money may not buy you happiness, but it could certainly help with rising gas prices.

Jerry Seinfeld on what he would call himself if he changed his Jewish-sounding name: "Well, I would keep my last name, so as not to offend my parents and I would have to go with Jesus."

8. Larry David

To Seinfeld aficionados he's the voice of George Steinbrenner, but to fans of Curb Your Enthusiasm, he's just Larry—neurotic, misanthropic and incredibly self-centered. The show's popularity has even spawned the term "Larry David moment," meaning one who inadvertently causes a socially awkward situation.

Larry David on being a self-loathing Jew: "Hey, I may loathe myself, but it has nothing to do with the fact that I'm Jewish."

9. Sacha Baron Cohen

A graduate of Cambridge University, Sacha Baron Cohen wrote his thesis on Jewish involvement in the American Civil Rights movement and often juxtaposes his own Jewish lineage with his Borat character, an anti-Semitic reporter from Kazakhstan. For instance, throughout the Borat movie the character is not speaking Kazakh, as one might think, but Hebrew, which Cohen speaks fluently.

If I were a rich man: He acted in a stage version of Fiddler on the Roof while attending Cambridge.

10. Mel Brooks

Mel Brooks attends a 'Young Frankenstein' 40th anniversary celebration
Photo by Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Like Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky, started out as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows. He eventually moved on to film where he wrote, directed and starred in some of the most revered comedies of the last half-century, including 1981's History of the World Part I, which spawned the unlikely dance hit, "It's Good to Be King."

3 Reichs and you're out: His directorial debut, 1968's The Producers, is about the staging of a play called "Springtime for Hitler".

11. Lenny Bruce

The most obscene comic of his day covered a variety of themes, but mostly anything deemed inappropriate. Born Leonard Alfred Schneider, Lenny Bruce was never far from controversy and was arrested on obscenity charges several times throughout his career. By the time of his death of a drug overdose in 1966, nearly every nightclub in the country had blacklisted Bruce. He's lately received somewhat of a resurgence and in 2003 was granted the first posthumous pardon in New York history.

Lenny Bruce on being Jewish and living in New York: "If you live in New York, you're Jewish. If you live in Butte, Montana, you're going to be goyish even if you're Jewish."

12. George Burns

At the spry young age of 79, George Burns, born Nathan Birnbaum, enjoyed a career resurrection few performers ever experience. He won an Oscar in 1975 for Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, and followed that with Oh God! in 1977. Although Burns had not acted in a film since 1939, Neil Simon was adamant about having a Jewish comedian in the role. Clearly the gamble paid off.

Shame, shame, shame: His 1926 marriage to Gracie Allen, who was Irish Catholic, was considered daring for those times and had to be done in secrecy.

13. Gilda Radner

The Detroit native became famous as one of the original "Not Ready for Prime Time Player," on the first season of Saturday Night Live. Throughout her five-year run on the show, Radner created such memorable characters as Roseanne Roseannadanna, Baba Wawa, and Rhonda Weiss, the "Jewish American Princess." Although few details were made public at the time, Radner had a brief fling with fellow SNL cast mate Bill Murray. Details of the failed relationship are recounted in her autobiography, It's Always Something .

Gilda Radner as Rhonda Weiss: "You don't have to be Jewish to wear Jewess Jeans. But it wouldn't hurt."

14. Bette Midler

Bette Midler
Central Press/Getty Images

Bette Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she was one of the few Jewish girls in a mostly Asian neighborhood. At the age of 20, Bette relocated to New York, where she would go on to play Tzeitel in the Broadway version of Fiddler on the Roof. She would later hone her comedic acting chops in Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Ruthless People.

Bette Midler on childhood: "I grew up an ugly, fat little Jewish girl with problems."

15. Moe Howard

Born Moses Harry Horwitz, Moe Howard became famous as the helmet-headed member of the greatest slapstick comedy team of all time. He acquired his unusual bowl cut hairstyle as a boy when he impulsively clipped off his curls. The Stooges just wouldn't be the Stooges with two Curlys.

N'yuck, N'yuck, N'yuck: His favorite Stooges film, You Nazty Spy!, was one of several topical anti-Nazi movies they made during the 1940s.

16. Seth Rogen

At 16 Seth Rogen landed a supporting role on Judd Apatow's short-lived series, Freaks and Geeks. It was the beginning of a professional relationship that would pair the two in nearly every Apatow-produced movie since. He is even rumored to play Curly Howard in the upcoming Three Stooges movies. Strangely enough, Judd Apatow has no involvement in the project.

Seth's character in the 2005 film, The 40 Year Old Virgin: "I touched a guy's balls at Hebrew school once."

17. Andy Samberg

Andy Samberg, born David Andrew, cites Mel Brooks as his inspiration for becoming a comedian. In 2005, shortly after becoming a featured player on Saturday Night Live, his hip hop parody, Lazy Sunday, became such a sensation on the Internet that his digital shorts are now a show standard.

Andy Samberg on his Judaism: "I'm going home for Passover, but I don't really go balls out with it."

18. Peter Sellers

He may be best known for playing Chief Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther movies. But Peter Sellers, born Richard Henry Sellers, was also a master at playing multiple characters. He played three roles in the black comedy Dr. Strangelove, and was even scheduled to play a fourth role as Air Force Major T.J. "King" Kong. However, Sellers bowed out after failing to capture the character's Texas accent.

But was he kosher? Although Sellers was half Jewish, he defended Hitler's favorite director, Leni Riefenstahl, and even championed her documentary on the dictator titled Triumph of the Will.

19. Woody Allen

Born Allen Stewart Konigsberg, the comedic prodigy began writing jokes for Sid Caeser at the age of 15. He recently scored $5 million from American Apparel from a lawsuit after the company placed several billboards and online ads using an image of Allen dressed as a Hasidic Jew in his 1977 movie Annie Hall.

Woody Allen on the three things all Jewish people worship: "God, Chinese food and wall-to-wall carpeting."

20. Howard Stern

The self-described "King of All Media" has made an entire career out of exploiting strippers and midgets, setting the bar low for radio shock jocks. Since moving to Sirius Satellite Radio in 2006, Stern has become the highest paid radio personality in the United States and was even named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time Magazine. Although both of his parents are Jewish, Stern often tells his listeners he's "half-Jewish"—the other half being Italian.

Stern on why he tells people he's half Jewish: "It's very hard to be Jewish in this country. My half Jewish side has been beaten with chains."

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


Getty Images

Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


Getty Images

Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
Getty Images

In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

5 Facts About Edgar Allan Poe

You’ve read Edgar Allan Poe’s terrifying stories. You can quote "The Raven." But how well do you know the writer’s quirky sense of humor and code-cracking abilities? Let’s take a look at a few things you might not know about the acclaimed author, who was born on January 19, 1809.

1. Edgar Allan Poe was the original Balloon Boy.

You probably remember 2009’s infamous “Balloon Boy” hoax. Turns out the Heene family that perpetrated that fraud weren’t even being entirely original in their attempt at attention-grabbing. They were actually cribbing from Poe.

In 1844 Poe cooked up a similar aviation hoax in the pages of the New York Sun. The horror master cranked out a phony news item describing how a Mr. Monck Mason had flown a balloon flying machine called Victoria from England to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina in just 75 hours. According to Poe’s story, the balloon had also hauled seven passengers across the ocean.

No balloonist had ever crossed the Atlantic before, so this story quickly became a huge deal. Complete transatlantic travel in just three days? How exciting! Readers actually queued up outside the Sun’s headquarters to get their mitts on a copy of the day’s historic paper.

Poe’s report on the balloon was chock full of technical details. He devoted a whole paragraph to explaining how the balloon was filled with coal gas rather than “the more expensive and inconvenient hydrogen.” He listed the balloon’s equipment, which included “cordage, barometers, telescopes, barrels containing provision for a fortnight, water-casks, cloaks, carpet-bags, and various other indispensable matters, including a coffee-warmer, contrived for warming coffee by means of slack-lime, so as to dispense altogether with fire, if it should be judged prudent to do so.” He also included hundreds of words of excerpts from the passengers’ journals.

The only catch to Poe’s story was that it was entirely fictitious. The Sun’s editors quickly wised up to Poe’s hoax, and two days later they posted an understated retraction that noted, “We are inclined to believe that the intelligence is erroneous.”

2. Edgar Allan Poe dabbled in cryptography.

If you’ve read Poe’s story “The Gold-Bug,” you probably know that he had a working knowledge of cryptography. But you might not know that Poe was actually a pretty darn good cryptographer in his own right.

Poe’s first notable code-cracking began in 1839. He sent out a call for readers of his Philadelphia newspaper to send him encoded messages that he could decipher. Poe would then puzzle over the secret messages for hours. He published the results of his work in a wildly popular recurring feature. Poe also liked to toss his own codes out there to keep readers busy. Some of the codes were so difficult that Poe professed utter amazement when even a single reader would crack them.

Poe was so confident in his abilities as a cryptographer that he approached the Tyler administration in 1841 with an offer to work as a government code cracker. He modestly promised, “Nothing intelligible can be written which, with time, I cannot decipher.” Apparently there weren’t any openings for him, though.

3. The "Allan" came later for Edgar Allan Poe.

It would sound odd to just say “Edgar Poe,” but the famous “Allan” wasn’t originally part of the writer’s name. Poe was born in Boston on January 19, 1809 to professional actors, but his early childhood was fairly rotten. When Poe was just two years old, his father abandoned the family—leaving the toddler's mother, Elizabeth, to raise Edgar and his two siblings. Not long after that, Elizabeth died of tuberculosis.

Poe actually had a little luck at that point. John and Frances Allan, a well-to-do Richmond family, took the boy in and provided for his education. Although the Allans never formally adopted Poe, he added their surname to his own name.

Like a lot of Poe’s fiction, his story with the Allans didn't have a particularly happy ending. Poe and John Allan grew increasingly distant during the boy’s teenage years, and after Poe left for the University of Virginia, he and Allan became estranged. (Apparently the root of these problems involved Poe’s tendency to gamble away whatever money Allan sent him to subsidize his studies.)

4. Edgar Allan Poe had a nemesis.

Like a lot of writers, Poe had a rival. His was the poet, critic, and editor Rufus Griswold. Although Griswold had included Poe’s work in his 1842 anthology The Poets and Poetry of America, Poe held an extremely low opinion of Griswold’s intellect and literary integrity. Poe published an essay blasting Griswold’s selections for the anthology, and their rivalry began.

Things really heated up when Griswold succeeded Poe as the editor of Graham’s Magazine at a higher salary than Poe had been pulling in. Poe began publicly lambasting Griswold’s motivations; he even went so far as to claim that Griswold was something of a literary homer who puffed up New England poets.

Poe might have had a point about Griswold’s critical eye, but Griswold had the good fortune to outlive Poe. After Poe died, Griswold penned a mean-spirited obituary in which he stated that the writer’s death “will startle many, but few will be grieved by it” and generally portrayed Poe as an unhinged maniac.

Slamming a guy in his obituary is pretty low, but Griswold was just getting warmed up. He convinced Poe’s aunt, Maria Clemm, to make him Poe’s literary executor. Griswold then published a biography of Poe that made him out to be a drug-addled drunk, all while keeping the profits from a posthumous edition of Poe’s work.

5. Edgar Allan Poe's death was a mystery worth of his writing.

In 1849 Poe left New York for a visit to Richmond, but he never made it that far south. Instead, Poe turned up in front of a Baltimore bar deliriously raving and wearing clothes that didn’t fit. Passersby rushed Poe to the hospital, but he died a few days later without being able to explain what happened to him.

Poe’s rumored causes of death were “cerebral inflammation” and “congestion of the brain,” which were polite euphemisms for alcohol poisoning. Modern scholars don’t totally buy this explanation, though. The characterization of Poe as a raging drunk mostly comes from Griswold’s posthumous smear campaign, and his incoherent state of mind may have been the result of rabies or syphilis.

Some Poe fans subscribe to a more sinister theory about the writer’s death, though. They think he may have fallen victim to “cooping,” a sordid 19th century political practice. Gangs of political thugs would round up homeless or weak men and hold them captive in a safe place called a “coop” right before a major election. On election day—and there was an election in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, the day Poe was found—the gangs would then drug or beat the hostages before taking them around to vote at multiple polling places.

This story sounds like something straight out of Poe’s own writing, but it might actually be true. Poe’s crummy physical state and delirium would be consistent with a victim of cooping, and the ill-fitting clothes jibe with gangs’ practice of making their hostages change clothes so they could cast multiple votes. With no real evidence either way, though, Poe’s death remains one of literature’s most fascinating mysteries.

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