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 Older Than Radio Vaudeville
Simply put, it refers to any situation in which there is extensive collaboration or pairing between an Irishman
(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 sizeable Jewish community since at least the 13th century. Also, here's a Fun Fact - the Irish Constitution is one of only a handful in the world to mention the Jewish religion (it was also the first to mention it).note
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
- 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 or Polish) 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 1920note
. 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.) More modern variations can be found among other American ethnic groups who are also quite similar or have a history of extensive contact, and who are associated with the same respective stereotypes (such as Chinese-Americans for Irish and Japanese-Americans for Jewish, or Mexican-Americans for Irish and Anglo-Americans for Jewish).
Nothing to do with the Republic of Ireland's Jewish population
(although the historically model relations between Irish Jews and Irish Christians may form yet another example of the trope
), so Leo Bloom
isn't what we're talking about.
- 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.
- The Bonfire of the Vanities: Detective Martin and his partner, Detective Goldberg. Like most of the homicide bureau, Goldberg has assimilated to the prevailing Irish-American cultural ethos (as has Jewish assistant DA Kramer).
- The book "Close Relations" by Susan Isaacs features the Jewish heroine in a long-term relationship with an Irish fellow, which everyone tells her can't last because of their different cultures. They're right—he suddenly dumps her to elope with her Irish friend, and she ends up with another Jew.
- 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 an Irish priest sitting in a bar. After some dialogue and an explanationnote 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 Cohannote 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 a morally-loose The 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.
- SCTV had a sketch with Rabbi Karlov and an Irishman cracking stereotypical remarks at each other until they start talking about furniture.
- 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. Both the same general sort of setup: 3-4 men and one woman, supposedly "friends" but usually at each others' throats, getting up to hijinks that are ultimately meaningless (i.e. both are "shows about nothing."). However, the characters in It's Always Sunny have unmistakably Celtic names (Reynolds, Kelly, McDonald) and run an Irish-themed pub, and their brand of Comedic Sociopathy generally comes from overconfident, un-self-aware abject stupidity. The gang on Seinfeld were nit-picky about themselves, constantly whining and complaining, intellectuals/professionals, and consisted of three Jews (OK, one Jew,note one Jewish-Italian half-breed,note and one guy who isn't supposed to be Jewish but totally comes off as Jewishnote ) and one Eastern European Catholic played by a Jew.note
- Seinfeld itself contains a variant: Jerry Seinfeld (a Jew) is best friend of George Costanza (a Catholic Italian American).
- One of the all-time most popular detective pairings on Law & Order was Mike Logan and Lennie Briscoe (although Briscoe is only ethnically Jewish; he was raised Catholic).note 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 earnest and forthright Irish-American prosecutors who consulted with the snarky 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 be you?"
I"m Paddy O'Mally O'Schoenberg, the drunken Irish Jew!
- Averted Trope / Inverted Trope on Glee. Despite being The Ditz and Big Man on Campus, Finn is a lot more sensitive and soft-spoken than either his teammate Puck or his Love Interest Rachel, both of whom fall squarely under Informed Judaism.
- In Being Human, John Mitchell the bold overconfident Irish vampire and George Sands the shy smart Jewish werewolf are best friends.
- A Saturday Night Live show on St. Patrick's Day had an ad for an album of Irish drinking songs, including Jon Lovitz as "The Drunken Irish Jew".
- 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.
- Geddy Lee of Rush has Jewish roots while Neil Peart has Irish. (Alex Lifeson has Serbian roots, making him a Slav.)
- Finnish rock musician Juice Leskinen's song En oo käyny Irlannissa ("I Haven't Been in Ireland") has a verse On kavereiden kokoelma vähän kiemurainen - on toinen kunnon Irishman, ja toinen juutalainen (Our ensemble of mates is a bit weird - one is a genuine Irishman and another a Jew.)
- 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.
- 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 Handnote 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. (For clarity, even though "Cohen" is a common Jewish name, George M. Cohan was Catholic and of Irish descent. Harris was Jewish.)
- 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."
- In Margin for Error, the two cops are Officer Moe Finklestein and Captain Mulrooney of the Homicide Squad, though the latter only appears at the play's very end. Refusing to cooperate with Moe's investigation of the murder, Horst says, "I'll take my chances with the Irish."
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 Jewish on her mother's side (which by Jewish law makes her fully Jewish), 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!"
- The Simpsons also makes a reference to this in "Treehouse of Horror III," in which Mr. Burns announces that King Homer's Broadway show will consist of him standing around for three hours, "followed by the ethnic comedy of Duggan and Dershowitz!"
- With regards to Futurama: the main character Phillip J. Fry is a good-natured mensch who immigrated to the show's setting (although with a science fiction twist: he immigrated through time rather than space), and the story's generally about his experiences in the very strange world of the year 3000. Zoidberg and the other Decapodians, on the other hand, are out-and-out space versions of Borscht Belt gags, complete with strong Eastern European Jewish accents. Ironically, they're basically sapient crustaceans, which are not kosher.
- In Venus Envy, Zoë’s father is Jewish, while her mother is Irish.