You couldn't stage a play today
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 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 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 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, although the Irish and Jews are both famous for stereotypical guilt, Irish guilt is thought of as conservative and Jewish guilt 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.note
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.
- Writer Michael Gallagher and artist Dave Manak have been collaborating on comic books since the 1980s. Regardless of what franchise they're writing for, they're identifiable by their over-the-top humorous bent.
- 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. Ironically, this is reversed with their actors. Jason Biggs is of mostly Italian descent and was raised in a Catholic household, while Alyson Hannigan is half-Jewish on her mother's side (though also half-Irish on her father's).
- 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.
- The Meet the Parents saga features an interesting example with the Jewish Fockers and the Irish-American (although "Ulster Scot"/Protestant) Byrnes; the former clan leading a freewheeling lifestyle while the latter is very straitlaced. The end of Little Fockers then subverts it by having Jack, the Byrnes' patriarch, discovering he's part Jewish.
- 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 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.
- Kellaway and Doyle, the two bickering plainclothes cops in The Mask, are an interesting example. While both have Irish last names, Kellaway is portrayed by Jewish actor Peter Riegert, and he is short and the streetsmart and cynical one while Doyle is the big lovable dummy. They meet the criteria for Big Guy, Little Guy.
- John Hughes. Just compare Home Alone (which Hughes wrote) and Ferris Bueller's Day Off (which he directed). Home Alone is rather broad but ultimately sentimental comedy in an Irish-American family from Chicago, while Ferris Bueller's Day Off has a Jewish actor portraying a cynical, complaining wiseass.
- In The Lost Weekend, Don's attempt to pawn his typewriter is stymied because all the city's pawnshops — even the Catholic-owned ones — are closed for Yom Kippur. A character explains that the Jewish pawnbrokers return the favor by staying closed on St. Patrick's Day.
- Big Bang Theory Howard and Raj, esp at the beginning.
- An amusing subversion of this trope takes place in The Three Stooges short A Pain in the Pullman. The boys receive a call from a booking agency named Goldstein, Goldberg, Goldblatt, & O'Brien. They get the call from O'Brien - who speaks with a thick Yiddish accent.
- 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 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.
- Spenser has the main character/narrator, Spenser, and the love of his life, Susan Silverman. Spenser becomes the one to use humor, though, with Susan focused on analyzing relationships, in turn.note
- The Spy Who Loved Me has a non comic example with the villains Sol 'Horror' Horowtiz and Sluggsy Morant.
- Abbie Hoffman wrote in his memoirs Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture that as a Jewish salesman he started out as an activist working on civil rights with an Irish priest and a Black law student: "We were the perfect American Trinity."
- 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.
- The CBS sitcom Bridget Loves Bernie depicted an interfaith marriage between Jewish Bernie Steinberg (David Birney) and Irish Catholic Bridget Fitzgerald Steinberg (Meredith Baxter). The series only lasted one season, despite good ratings. The lead actors' marriage was not an example of the trope, as David Birney is Irish-American.
- The Nanny: Best friends Fran Fine and Val Toriello fit this pattern, although Val is Italian-American, not Irish. Additionally, the series itself is built around a variation in this trope, with Fran working for the Sheffields, a British-American Blue Blood family.
- 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.
- One (relatively rare) modern example involved Comedy Central's two current events shows, The Daily Show (under Jon Stewart) and The Colbert Report, from 2006 (when Colbert got his show) through 2015 (when Colbert left for The Late Show and Stewart more or less retired). Stewart (born Jonathan Liebowitz) took news stories heavily laden with corruption, stupidity, and disaster, and handled them with sarcasm and exasperated
rantingkvetching. Stephen ColberT, despite the French-sounding pronunciation of his character's name, is predominantly Irish-American and unapologetically Catholic, and watching his onscreen persona on the Report was like watching every single patriotic George M Cohannote musical all at the same time. He also shared Gracie Allen's obliviousness to reality.
- Interestingly, in the 1999 comedy Big Daddy Stewart played Irish-American corporate lawyer Kevin Garrity, while Adam Sandler was his "tough," blustering Jewish roommate, Sonny Koufax. Both actors are Jewish.
- 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.
- Two of Nickelodeon's more popular comedies of the mid-2000s, Drake & Josh and Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide were very different in tone — The former had the bold, laid-back flavor of Irish comedy, while the latter became known for attempting to introduce audience to quite a few classic comedy tropes rooted in Jewish humor.
- 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 Also, The Gang in Always Sunny is heavily family-based (Dennis and Dee being brother and sister, Frank being their father except not really, but he is (probably) Charlie's father), while the equivalent in Seinfeld isn't (the parents do show up from time to time, but the family stuff isn't as prominent).
- Seinfeld itself contains a variant: Jerry Seinfeld (a Jew) is best friend of George Costanza (a Catholic Italian-American, although there are hints that they are partly Jewish as well).
- 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.
- In Grace and Frankie, Grace's family (Irish Catholic) and Frankie's family (Jewish) both exploit and invert this trope in their Odd Couple interactions. The Hanson's are more socially conservative as would be expected, but they are also more cutting in their humor than the Bergstein's—who come off as painfully sweet.
- Lanigan's Rabbi: One's a cop called Lanigan. The other's a rabbi. They fight crime!
- Schitt's Creek has Jewish Johnny Rose married to the Irish-Catholic Moira Rose, and he is also in an Odd Couple friendship with Roland Schitt, the fourth generation Irish Mayor of the town.
- 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.)
- Tom Cavanagh and Michael Ian Black have this dynamic, presumably unintentionally, on Mike & Tom Eat Snacks. Tom is a Roman-Catholic Canadian of Irish descent, and usually expresses a more optimistic outlook on whatever topic they are discussing, while Mike, who is Jewish but identifies as an Atheist, is often cynical and critical of the topic. Best shown in their Cheez-It episode, which turned into an argument over Tom's faith.
- The long-running (fake) feud between Jack Benny and Fred Allen (born Benjamin Kubelsky and John Florence Sullivan, respectively) was one of these. Like most such instances, outright ethnic jokes were rare, with the constant references to Benny's skinflint nature having to do with the fact he was Jack Benny instead of being Jewish. 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.
- 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).
- The 1960's comedy team of Jack Burns and Avery Schreiber, who started out in the Chicago-based The Second City comedy troupe with a notable routine of Burns as a talkative taxicab passenger and Schreiber as the driver, and they co-hosted the Burns and Schreiber Comedy Hour of 1973, with Burns working in animated sequences and writing for the first seasons of Hee Haw and The Muppet Show, while Schreiber would be a recurring guest star on Chico and the Man and a semi-regular panelist on Match Game, a series of commercials for Doritos corn chips during the 1970's, and bit parts in Mel Brooks's 1990's comedy films Robin Hood Men In Tights and Dracula Dead And Loving It.
- 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 (being the only case to date of a top-10 show ending after a single season).
- 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."
- 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.
- In Venus Envy, Zoës father is Jewish, while her mother is Irish.
- Family Guy 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 Mad.
- 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 with Ashkenazi speech patterns 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!"
- One could say that The Simpsons started out "Jewish" and became more "Irish" over time; it's very noticeable now how bleak and angsty those earlier episodes were, especially when it was Bart (a slightly darker character than Homer) who was the show's focal point. Matt Groening's pre-Simpsons comic strip, Life in Hell, was bleaker still.
- With regards to Futurama: the main character Phillip J. Fry is a good-natured Irish-American 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.