December 15, 2005
Too Jewish to Play Myself
People see me as your "typical Jewish woman," and maybe it's true: I've got curly hair, opinions on every subject and I do not go camping. Plus, even after years of speech classes, I still have an identifiable New York nasality in my voice. When I walk into a room, someone always greets me in a Yiddish accent: "Velkom, dollink hev a seat, enjoy!"
(The last person who did that was a Chinese friend, who ought to know better!)
This Jewishness has often been an obstacle in my professional life. My agent submits me for a movie, but the director -- Harold Shlomansky -- won't see me because he feels I'm too Jewish. I hear that all the time, but this is for the part of a rabbi. Shlomansky is only seeing non-Jewish actresses because -- as he puts it -- he wants to be sure that the character is likeable!
A while back, I read for a commercial, which I knew I would book. I had worked with the director, Stu Lefkowitz, before and my agent told me he was looking for an "Annie Korzen type!" Wow! Talk about a sure thing! Well guess what? I do not get the job. Stu Lefkowitz hires a perky little blonde. I am too Jewish to play myself!
So I guess I am a living stereotype, and the worst thing about it is having to suffer through the never-ending barrage of jokes about me and my kind. Some of them are funny, and relatively benign: Why do Jewish women watch porno films until the very end? Because they want to see if the couple gets married.
The jokes I object to are not so kind: "A guy has a heart attack. His doctor tells him to avoid any excitement, so he marries a Jewish woman.
The jokes are lies. And lies hurt.
And who is it that tells these lies? Who is it that has such loathing for Jewish women? Who is that writes the jokes? It's those nice Jewish boys I grew up with, that's who. They are the guys, like Philip Roth's Portnoy, who dream of a blonde goddess who will help them enter mainstream America, who will help them seem less "ethnic." It doesn't work. They still are who they are.
It's like the old joke about about Hymie Greenblatt, who changes his name to Standish Merriweather III to get into the country club, but on the application, when asked his religion, he fills in "Goy."
The great film director Sidney Lumet, who started out in Yiddish theater, proudly describes his wife as "WASP heaven ... whose people literally came over on the Mayflower." I've never understood what's so special about the Mayflower. My people also came over on a boat. But the Sidneys don't see it that way.
Last year I interrupted a comedy act because the Jewish comic was doing a bit about Anne Frank -- describing her as an "ugly little JAP." She was writing letters home from camp, complaining about the bad food and unflattering uniforms. The big joke was that the camp was called Auschwitz. Get it?
In the midst of all this hilarity I lost my cool and told the comic to get off the stage. I called him an "abomination," which is weird, because I didn't even know I knew that word. It sounds so biblical. The crowd shushed me, and someone told me not to be so rude. The comic finished his act to rousing applause and I crawled home, depressed and humiliated.
I got many hate mails the next day from the comic and his friends. One of them said, "You are the living personification of why Jewish men have contempt for Jewish women." Oh, great! So now it's all my fault!
There's only one thing that consoles me when I ponder how unfairly women like me are maligned by our own men. There was one piece of good news for Jewish women in the last century, and his name was William Jefferson Clinton. He risked his marriage, his career and the stability of the United States government: all for a sexual obsession with a dark-haired, zaftig, Jewish girl. For this reason alone, he got my vote!
Annie Korzen is a comedy writer-actress who is best known for her recurring role of Doris Klompus on "Seinfeld," and her humorous essays on NPR's "Morning Edition."