Jewish Journal

Live From Hillel—It’s Laraine!

by Naomi Pfefferman

Posted on Jan. 23, 2003 at 7:00 pm

Fans of the legendary first seasons of "Saturday Night Live" remember Laraine Newman sashaying with Gilda Radner in the hilarious faux commercial for "Jewess Jeans." They recall her Barbra Streisand impression and her angry beatnik character reciting bad poetry in nasal Brooklynese. But Newman, 50, will reveal one of her more serious roles when she's honored at Hillel at Pierce & Valley Colleges' Comedy Nite 2003 on Feb. 1: her involvement with the Jewish community. The granddaughter of an Arizona Jewish cattle rancher, Newman will describe how she grew up so assimilated that "all my Jewish friends went to Hess Kramer but I was shlepped off to Camp Trinity."

It wasn't until she enrolled her oldest daughter in Temple Isaiah's preschool around 1992 that she joined a temple (Isaiah), learned Hebrew and brought ritual home. "I never had that kind of pride in my heritage," she said. "At Beverly Hills High, all the Jewish boys liked [non-Jewish] girls and there was a pervasive Jewish anti-Semitism."

Newman skewered that kind of self-hatred when her "SNL" character, Connie Conehead -- the alien teen who longs to "pass" as human -- considers a "cone-job."

At Beverly, the actress said, she "had acne, braces and my nose was my adult size, although I wasn't." But she was also the class clown, and, after studying mime with Marcel Marceau, she was discovered at the improv troupe, the Groundlings, by "SNL" creator Lorne Michaels.

On "SNL" from 1975-1980, she made an impression with characters such as Sheri, the WASP Valley girl who complains about making peace cobbler for her Jewish in-laws to-be who said, "Look, the shiksa made a Presbyterian pie."

Yet, while her colleagues forged successful careers after "Saturday Night," Newman's post-"SNL" pickings were slim. It didn't help that "the press was really mean and took every chance to depict me as a loser," she said. Newman overcame that by taking modest film roles and forging a successful cartoon voiceover career. "My daughter's birth ... freed me to take ego out of the equation," said Newman, who also played Richard Lewis' rebbitzen on TV's "7th Heaven." So did rediscovering her Judaism: "It's kept me concerned with greater things than self-centeredness," she said.

For information about the tribute, call (818) 887-5901.

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