Irishman and a Jew

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I once heard Dave Belasco Say
You couldn't stage a play today

If it wasn't for the Irish and the Jews!
—From the song "If it Wasn't For the Irish and the Jews"

No, this isn't a place to list stale old jokes, though it does have a very important connection to them. An Irishman and a Jew is much subtler (and older) variation on Salt and Pepper (by comparison, think of the Irishman as the "black dude" and the Jew as the "white dude" -- although the Jew will usually have slightly darker skin); it is a fairly common but typically low-key form of Odd Couple pairing that largely originated in Vaudeville, making it Older Than Radio.

Simply put, it refers to any situation in which there is extensive collaboration or pairing between an Irishman or Irish-American (the latter is much more common) and a Jewish person. This can apply either to an onscreen pairing of two fictional characters or to a behind-the-scenes collaboration in Real Life. Interestingly, the latter seems to be far more common, and the full Odd Couple potential of this trope is rarely exploited, probably because the ethnicities are those of the performers themselves, and not so important to the characters they play.

You'll see this trope occur most often in Vaudeville and in works which originated there; both Irish-American and Jewish entertainers became quite successful on the Vaudeville circuit, and would have had contact with each other and collaborated together. Their real-life collaborations sometimes spilled over into the fictional characters they played and created. Another reason that these collaborations happen so often may be simpler - before World War II, anti-Semitism was virtually unknown in Ireland despite the fact that Dublin has been the home of a sizable Jewish community since at least the 13th century. Also, here's a Fun Fact - the Irish Constitution is one of only two in the world to mention the Jewish religion (it was also the first to mention it).

The trope is most common in the USA, but can be found in Britain as well and in any other place where both ethnic groups live.

When the trope is exploited for Odd Couple purposes, it usually hinges on the ways in which the two characters' respective upbringings and outlooks on the world affect their personalities. Newsday critic Frank Lovece outlined the two different traditions of Irish-American and Jewish humour; the former is said to be concerned with the sentimental bonds of blood family, while the latter uses laughter as a defensive technique to deal with a cruel and hostile world. Along similar lines, self-described "Bad Catholic" writer John Zmirak humourously contrasted Irish Catholic guilt over lust and concupiscence with Jewish guilt about race and inequality- note how Vienna-born Jewish attorney Felix Frankfurter helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, while Irish-born Archbishop John T. McNicholas founded the National Legion of Decency. (To put it more bluntly, Irishmen are thought of as conservative and Jews as liberal, although this is by no means always so cut-and-dried: there have been socialist and even communist Irish, and Orthodox Jews tend to have very puritanical social mores.)

It is hard to generalize, but the Irish character will probably be bolder and more self-assured, but also more naive and possibly ignorant; the Jewish character is more likely to be a bit nervous and unresisting, but probably smarter and more aware of how the world actually works, as well as willing to say exactly what he thinks of it. In a way, this could be an oblique allusion to Brains and Brawn, or Bully and Wimp Pairing, but it's usually much more subtle (if it is noticeable at all).

And of course, the Jew will most likely be a German or some kind of Slav (typically Russian) as far as nationhood goes, while the Irishman will always be a Roman Catholic.

Sometimes an Italian or Italian-American will be thrown into the mix, possibly because, other than Irish and Jews, the Italians were the most visible immigrant group in America between about 1870 and 1920. When this happens, the Italian will often be a kind of double agent: siding with the Irishman on matters of personal morality and community life, and with the Jew when it comes to issues regarding the wider world, especially politics. The Italian might even be mistaken for a Jew due to similar coloring and facial features, although he (or she) will be more likely to intermarry with the Irish because of religious compatibility.

This trope was fairly common in the golden age of Vaudeville and still persists in the theater today; nonetheless, it has become much less prominent in recent years, as younger generations of each ethnic group assimilate to local norms and lose their distinctiveness. (This is particularly true of Jews, who mix with other ethnic groups through marriage more than any other American group, although paradoxically U.S. Jewish identity politics have grown stronger in the past decade.

Examples of Irishman and a Jew include:


Film[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The great James Cagney got a lot of laughs in the 1932 film Taxi by launching into fluent Yiddish in the presence of an Irish cop; Cagney (an Irish-American) had learned the language in school and on the streets of New York.
  • Take Me Out To The Ball Game, starring Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly, features a musical number entitled "O'Brien to Ryan to Goldberg" on the subject of a double play; snippets of vaguely "ethnic" music are included.
  • Jim and Michelle in the American Pie movies. (Jim is a nerdy, repressed Jew, while the stereotypically red-haired Michelle is equally nerdy but outspoken and bawdy.)
  • Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara in Best in Show and A Mighty Wind.
  • Ben Stiller and Edward Norton in Keeping the Faith. For bonus points, one is a rabbi, the other is a priest, and there is a bar involved.
  • In The Last Hurrah, Mayor Frank Skeffington's Jewish assistant Sam asks the mayor to do the drawing at a raffle for the Jewish War Veterans' Committee. Skeffington agrees to show up for the drawing and even buy a book of tickets, but wisely refuses to do the drawing himself.

--"It'd be just my luck to pull a name like Paddy Murphy and then I'll have lost the Jewish vote- they'll say I palmed it".

  • Even though he doesn't always play Jewish characters in his movies (and certainly isn't in this one), Adam Sandler as the title character in Billy Madison is tormented by a family of Irish-American bullies (and by Irish-American we mean very Irish-American: red hair, freckles, boorish and obnoxious, etc.) named O'Doyle. This eventually resulted in a Mythology Gag in another Sandler film, Click.
  • Similarly, Max Keeble's Big Move has the titular Max, who is Ambiguously Jewish and even has a (somewhat) stereotypical Jewish Mother, get picked on by red-haired, freckled tough guy Troy McGinty.
  • There may be some Subtext along these lines in Weekend at Bernie's. While there is no indication from their Anglo-Saxon surnames "Wilson" and "Parker", the characters played by Andrew McCarthy and Jonathan Silverman conform to some extent to these stereotypes- McCarthy's character is a confident, outgoing, booze-swilling and not-too-bright merrymaker (who takes to praying the "Hail Mary" under duress), whilst Silverman's character is neurotic and constantly aghast at the horrible things happening around him. McCarthy's character's aggressive pursuit of the fairer sex seems like it is in contradiction to the usual stereotype of the prudish Irishman, but the sequel reveals that his private life may be more in keeping with expectations.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Kinky Friedman and his pal McGovern.
  • In J. D. Salinger's "Franny and Zooey" the characters' parents were once vaudeville performers. Their mother is Irish and their father is Jewish, the same as Salinger's own parents.
  • Robert Fulghum has a heartwarming story about this kind of wedding in It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, though it focuses more on their large extended families than the Odd Couple.
  • Leopold Bloom and the gentile Dubliners in James Joyce's Ulysses.

Live Action Television[edit | hide]

  • A late 1960s/early 1970s British sitcom, Never Mind The Quality, Feel the Width, used a fictional variant of this trope, with two tailors; one Irish and one Jewish, going into business together. A Rabbi and a Catholic priest were among the supporting cast. The Other Wiki mentions the series was not shown on all parts of the ITV network, but it was transmitted in Northern Ireland.
  • Used on one episode of Good Eats, of all things. A scene explaining how corned beef came (erroneously) to be associated with Irish cuisine employed a Jewish rabbi and and Irish priest sitting in a bar. After some dialogue and an explanation[1] from Alton's nutritional anthropologist, we get the set-up to a corny old-fashioned joke: "A priest, a rabbi, and a nutritional anthropologist walk into a bar..." Then Alton, the priest, and the rabbi all roll their eyes and get up to leave.
  • A rare modern-day example is found in Comedy Central's two fake news shows, The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Jon Stewart (born Jonathan Liebowitz) takes news stories heavily laden with corruption, stupidity, and disaster, and handles them with sarcasm and exasperated ranting kvetching. Stephen ColberT, despite the French-sounding pronunciation of his character's name, is predominantly Irish-American and unapologetically Catholic, and watching his onscreen persona is like watching every single patriotic George M. Cohan[2] musical all at the same time. He also shares Gracie Allen's obliviousness to reality.
  • Conan O'Brien and his former bandleader Max Weinberg would do a lot of comedy bits together on both Late Night and The Tonight Show. Inverted Trope because O'Brien was neurotic and self-deprecating while Weinberg was the morally-loose Casanova.
  • The two male leads of All in The Family were Caroll O'Connor and Rob Reiner. Although neither of their characters were written to match their real-life ethnicities (Archie Bunker was a WASP and Mike Stivic was Chicago Polish), there was a considerable amount of Subtext going on, which many viewers noticed; O'Connor modeled Bunker's mannerisms and speech patterns on many of the blue-collar Irish-Americans he had known growing up, while Reiner made no attempt whatsoever to sound like a Polish-American from Chicago.
  • This was the dynamic between William Shatner and James Spader on Boston Legal, at least to a degree.
  • MTV's early 90's sketch show The State featured a musical sketch entitled "The Jew, The Italian, and the Redheaded Gay," which exploded into a loud, Vaudeville-type production.
  • In a strange meta-example, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (frequently called "Seinfeld on crack") can also be seen as the Irishman to Seinfeld's Jew: despite using the same general sort of setup, the characters in It's Always Sunny have unmistakably Celtic names (and run an Irish-themed pub) and their brand of Comedic Sociopathy generally comes from overconfident, un-self-aware abject stupidity, while the gang on Seinfeld were nit-picky about themselves, constantly whining and complaining, intellectuals/professionals, and consisted of three Jews (OK, one Jew,[3] one Jewish-Italian half-breed,[4] and one guy who isn't supposed to be Jewish but totally comes off as Jewish[5]) and one Eastern European Catholic played by a Jew.[6]
  • One of the all-time most popular detective pairings on Law and Order was Mike Logan and Lennie Briscoe (although Briscoe is only ethnically Jewish; he was raised Catholic). This trope also holds true for the tag team of the show's most popular detective (Briscoe) and attorney (Jack McCoy), who shared star billing for ten years. For that matter, both McCoy and predecessor Ben Stone were Irish-American prosecutors who consulted with Jewish District Attorney Adam Schiff.
  • Mixed into one character to great effect in one Saturday Night Live sketch—a commercial parody of an album of Irish Drinking Songs.

They picked me face up off the floor and said now "Who'd be you?"
I"m Paddy O'Mally O'Reily O'Berg, the drunken Irish Jew!

Music[edit | hide]

  • Irish-born American Musicologist Mick Moloney recorded an entire album of songs showcasing this rather strange kind of collaboration. The title song on the album, If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews, is the most frank and matter-of-fact about the whole business.

Radio[edit | hide]

  • The long-running (fake) feud between Jack Benny and Fred Allen (born Benjamin Kubelsky and John F. Sullivan, respectively) was one of these. Like most such instances, outright ethnic jokes were rare, unless one counts the constant references to Benny's skinflint nature. Fred Allen's radio show also provided some examples; characters in "Allen's Alley" included Russian-Jewish houswife Pansy Nussbaum and Irish immigrant Ajax Cassidy.

Theater[edit | hide]

  • Abie's Irish Rose was a stage play that was adapted for Film and Radio, concerning a romance between a Jewish boy and an Irish-Catholic girl. It was a huge commercial success, and spawned many imitators, despite the fact that the critics universally agreed that it was absolutely terrible, not to mention deeply offensive to all ethnicities involved.
    • Among the many imitators was the 1926 film (and subsequent film series) The Cohens and Kellys, which inverted the sexes of the romantic pair (Irish-American boy, Jewish girl) and played up the "feuding families" aspects. The series was most famous for a lawsuit which resulted from it, in which the playwright who penned Abie's Irish Rose sued Universal Pictures for copyright infringement. Famously, Judge Learned Hand[7] ruled that copyright protection could not apply to Stock Characters.
    • A short-lived CBS sitcom called Bridget Loves Bernie ran from 1972 to 1973, riffing off of the themes in Abie's Irish Rose. Like Abie's Irish Rose, it was popular with the viewing public, but unlike Rose, offended members of the ethnic groups in question managed to get Bridget Loves Bernie canceled.
  • The Broadway musical version of Young Frankenstein was penned by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, in a fairly recent behind-the-scenes example. As in many of these cases, the fact of their ethnicity has little to do with the finished product, but it is remarkable that the trope persists long after the death of Vaudeville and the disintegration of the old New York City ethnic enclaves.
  • Writer/lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty have collaborated on a number of musicals -- The Glorious Ones is the most recent, while Once On This Island, Ragtime, and Seussical are probably the most well-known.
  • George M. Cohan worked with Sam H. Harris on many of his greatest hits.
  • Finian's Rainbow incorporated elements of Irish folklore (more or less) and featured an Irish protagonist named McLongergan; the show was penned by an all-Jewish writing team.
  • In Of Thee I Sing, Wintergreen's campaign song claims he "loves the Irish and the Jews," and they are represented on his nomination committee by Francis X. Gilhooley and Louis Lippman.
  • In the original script for The Last Five Years, Cathy was Irish. There was even a song ("I Could Be In Love With Someone Like You") about how Jewish Jamie has always loved Irish girls. Truth in Television as the Jewish writer changed it and made Cathy Italian so she didn't too obviously resemble his Irish ex-wife.
  • The two antagonists in Harold Pinter's "The Birthday Party" are a stereotypical pair of sinister gentlemen named McCann and Goldberg, who make a point of invoking their ethnic origins in their dialogue. Pinter himself was Jewish.
  • In Louisiana Purchase, the lawyer in the prologue warning the producers to disclaim everything in the show as fictional is "Sam Liebowitz of Rafferty, Driscoll, and O'Brien."

Stand-up Comedy[edit | hide]

  • One of the best-known examples was the comedy team (and real-life husband and wife) of George Burns and Gracie Allen. While they seldom made explicit jokes about their ethnic backgrounds, Burns' wry commentary contrasted nicely with Allen's self-assured, confident stupidity.
  • Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, the parents of Ben Stiller, wrung a lot of comedy out of this (Meara, raised Catholic, converted to Judaism after marrying her husband).

Vaudeville[edit | hide]

  • In the 1940s, musician, Vaudevillian, and comedic recording artist Billy Murray (American son of Irish immigrants) made several comedic records along with Monroe Silver, a comedian who specialized in Jewish dialect humour. Murray used a mock-Irish accent, to emphasize the contrast.
  • The famed Vaudeville team of Gallagher and Shean are an example; Al Shean (real last name "Schoenburg") was the uncle of the Marx Brothers.

Video Games[edit | hide]

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Family Guy recently revealed that the Griffin family exemplify this trope. Peter Griffin is generally identified as an Irish-American semi-lapsed Catholic, with other things thrown into the family tree for Rule of Funny. His wife Lois was recently revealed to be half-Jewish on her mother's side, which led to comedy as her husband struggled with this fact. True to the trope, Peter is ignorant and boorish but confident and self-assured, while Lois is snarky and (relatively speaking) more keenly aware of the world around her.
  • Critic Frank Lovece compared sister shows The Simpsons and Futurama to the distinct strains of Irish-American and Jewish Vaudeville comedy. According to Lovece, The Simpsons, with its emphasis on family ties and its boorish-but-endearing protagonist, is rooted in the Irish-flavored comedy of Harrigan & Hart and George M. Cohan. Futurama, he argued, was rooted in Borscht Belt-style exasperation at a world gone crazy.
    • Not that The Simpsons doesn't have more than a few Ambiguously Jewish and Informed Judaism characters, most famously Krusty the Clown (born "Herschel Krustofski"), whose basic personality is that of a burnt-out, exasperated, Borscht-Belt-flavored middle-aged man who's constantly kvetching and making sarcastic comments such as "This, I don't need!"

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • In Venus Envy, Zoë’s father is Jewish, while her mother is Irish.

Real Life[edit | hide]

Adam Sandler: "He's a quarter Jewish -- not too shabby!"

  • Alyson Hannigan's parents. Whoever they are.
  • Jeff Nimoy (yes, that Nimoy—he's a second cousin once removed) and Quinton Flynn.
  • Israel’s former president, Haim Herzog, was an Irish Jew, and even spoke Gaelic.
  • Ireland has had a Jewish community since at least the 13th century.
    • But then, which country hasn't? Even Vatican City has had its share of Jewish popes and cardinals—besides the obvious Peter, many sources recall the scholar-Pope Sylvester II/Gerbert d'Aurillac as being of Jewish descent.
    • That was more than likely used as an insult, as the prevailing attitude of the time was that Jews were 'Christ killers' and thus Exclusively Evil, and he was regularly demonized as a sorcerer after his death because of his impressive achievements, magic being another inaccurate trait prescribed to Jews by the superstitious, the uneducated and the stupid (most of Mediaeval society was at least two of these).
  • Colin Quinn has recently[when?] done a one man show on Broadway, directed by Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Prohibition-era gangsters Dion O'Banion and Earl "Hymie" Weiss were not this trope. Weiss was actually a Catholic.
  • Don Adams, star of Get Smart, was the son of a Hungarian Jewish father and Irish Catholic mother, both of whom were effectively disowned by their families over the marriage. He was raised Catholic.
  1. Before the Great Famine, a fairly typical Irish dish was boiled bacon with potatoes and cabbage; when destitute immigrants arrived in New York City, they found that bacon was too scarce and expensive, so they replaced it with corned beef, which they purchased from stores owned by their new Jewish neighbors.
  2. Despite what it sounds like, the name "Cohan" is Irish: the Jewish name is usually "Cohen".
  3. Jerry
  4. George
  5. Kramer
  6. Elaine
  7. This was an opinion written for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. However, since the was written by Hand and was a copyright case originating out of New York (hence the appeal up to the Second Circuit), it is given deference by most Courts as if it were a Supreme Court case.