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Jewish Journal

Comedic Timing

by Esther D. Kustanowitz

July 24, 2003 | 8:00 pm

Occasionally someone -- usually my mother -- will ask me why I, a vibrant, intelligent, attractive and witty Jewish writer, am still single. And my answer has three parts: Jonathan Silverman, Ben Stiller and Jon Stewart. Each perfect for me in his own way: funny, cute, Jewish. Each fated to cross my path. And, after crossing my path, each moved on to be with another woman, outside our faith. The ones that got away.

Am I insulted? Not really. I have enough of a grasp on reality to know that I lack a certain Hollywood glamour. I don't have a posse of hair stylists and makeup artists following me around, nor are paparazzi staking out my health club, desperate for a mere glimpse of me in a pair of my unflattering spandex gym shorts. But I remain confident that if any one of these three had ever met me and really gotten to know me, he would have left his blonde girlfriend faster than my parents could say mazel tov. (Which these days, since I'm 32, is fairly fast.)

Jonathan Silverman was my first. He is the son of Jewish parents -- his father is a Conservative rabbi, as was his father's father. The cadence of his speech in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" stirred in me the neurotic heritage that was my birthright. Although I stopped watching his embarrassing show, "The Single Guy," I never closed the part of my heart that opened when I first saw him on-screen.

Nearly a decade ago, my journalist mother flew to Israel on business. Across the aisle, she spied Jonathan, approached and queried: "Am I looking at 'Weekend at Bernie's'?"

After a short interrogation, he revealed that he was going to Israel to meet up with his parents. My mother, of course, set up interviews with Jonathan and his parents as a rare "Celebrities in Israel" feature for the local Jewish paper.

At the time, I was mortified. But in retrospect, if only she had said, "I have a daughter..." we would be producing little Kustanowitz-Silvermans of our own. Our union would have also reinvigorated his flagging film career -- I would be Sharon to his Ozzy, managing his decisions, advising on scripts and TV projects -- my keen sense of the difference between drama and comedy could have redeemed him from the career hell to which his previous decisions had consigned him.

And then there was Ben. Ben Stiller: my neighbor, my co-star -- my destiny? In "Reality Bites," Gen-X audiences were supposed to identify and fall in love with Ethan Hawke, but there was something about Ben Stiller. His friendship and team projects with sarcastic brunettes like Janeane Garofalo gave me hope for a future with him. Even when he struggled with his zipper, writhing in agony in "There's Something About Mary," he had a noble, Semitic way about him. Why would his character waste time with perky, giggly non-Jewish Cameron Diaz when we could be making seder together with his parents on the Upper West Side?

Soon after I moved to New York, Ben began work on "Keeping the Faith," filming near my apartment. When a call went out for extras for a synagogue scene, I knew I was a natural. I went and stayed through the six hours of filming. He was so cute -- shorter than I had thought, but still so cute. But, after only an hour of filming, he vanished into the night.

Shortly after our film debut, any last vestige of hope disintegrated. I learned through my entertainment industry insiders (People magazine) that he had run off to Hawaii and tied the knot with Christine Taylor, best known for her role as Phoebe's alternately bald and blonde friend Bonnie on "Friends." Very unhaimish, Ben.

Two down, one to go.

With Jon Stewart, the betrayal hurt most of all. With his sarcastic, intelligent sense of humor in perfect sync with mine, our Jewish children would have been unstoppable. They would have become masters of wit, the life of every party, the most celebrated writers and performers of their generation. We could have built a home founded on smiles and laughter and cemented by our knowledge of Yiddish curse words.

Of course, part of this situation was my own denial; he was already off the dating market. But still I harbored hope that his heritage and generational guilt would persuade him to pursue love with a woman of the tribe (preferably, me). By the time he was helming "The Daily Show," where my brother was an intern, I had heard the devastating news: Jon was engaged. I lost my comic powers to heartbreak, for at least two or three hours.

But I recovered. I even learned to date again, looking for a Jewish male with a killer smile and a sense of humor that could send me into paroxysms of laughter and inspire my own comic creativity. It may take years to find him in the general dating population, but I am not perturbed. If I can't find him on my own, all I have to do is wait -- it doesn't take a VH1 special to remind me that Hollywood marriages are notoriously short; while I wouldn't say I was gunning for the collapse of these couplings, I do have my figurative ear to the ground. The other day, I thought I heard rumblings of trouble in a Hollywood marriage, but it turned out to be just the New York subway. No matter. I'll be patient. Statistically speaking, it's only a matter of time.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, a writer, editor and performer, lives in Manhattan where she waits for a Jewish funnyman to sweep her off her feet.

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