Avi Liberman

Lay off Jon Stewart… (but just a little)

Stand up comedians have a unique bond. It comes from a common struggle against a lot of forces that are very difficult to overcome. From trying to get stage time, making a living, or just trying to get respect from the industry, we tend to find common ground on a lot of issues. Even comics that have become big stars generally remain really nice guys because we all stunk when we started, and all remember the struggle. Sure, there are disagreements as there would be in any profession, and inner fighting happens, but for the most part we tend to get along. We’ll often even circle the wagons and defend other comics if someone who isn’t one begins to badmouth a fellow performer. “I saw him do some of the same jokes last time,” is a common one, and I’ll have to explain to people that, yes, we write our act, and try to update it as often as we can, but just like when you go to a concert, you don’t scream out to the musician, “I already heard this on your album!” So, while I have a knee jerk reaction to get defensive when people want to rip into Jon Stewart as a comic, his stance on Israel makes it hard for me to do so.

Make no mistake; Jon Stewart is talented and very funny. Angry at his stances on Israel, I often hear people all of a sudden want to cast him into the “unfunny” category and that isn’t fair. There’s an old joke about two Jews being strapped to a pole about to get shot by the Cossacks, and one asks the other, “Maybe I should ask for a blindfold,” and the other one responds, “Shhh! Don’t make trouble!” Jon Stewart is the guy saying “Shhh!” He’s certainly funnier than the other guy, but in the end, they both end up dead. Funny, but dead. I have a term for guys like Jon Stewart. I call them B.L.J.’s, or Bagel and Lox Jews. “What? I’m Jewish! I eat bagels and lox!” and that’s usually where their Judaism stops.

It’s not even necessarily Jon Stewart’s fault! We’re all products of our environment and Jon Stewart is no different. Here’s a guy, who’s never been to Israel, wife isn’t Jewish, doesn’t use his real last name of Leibowitz because I assume it’s “too Jewish”, probably couldn’t read Hebrew well, if at all, let alone understand it, would be lost in a synagogue service, is a self proclaimed hypochondriac propagating the Jewish wimp stereotype, and the list can go on and on.

Just yesterday on his show he made a joke about King Solomon and the famous story of him deciding which woman is the true mother of a fought over child. The bit went off into a very funny absurd ending, obviously not true, and Stewart quipped very quickly, “I actually don’t know how the story ends” almost as a throw away line. The sad thing is that, he really doesn’t! Most second graders in any Jewish Day school probably do though.

This still doesn’t mean he’s not funny, but it certainly contributes to his ignorance. Jon is a smart guy, but really, just doesn’t know anything when it comes to Israel. As an example, and this is only one, if he went to a synagogue, any synagogue of any denomination, even infrequently and really took a look at the service and saw the land of Israel, and Jerusalem referenced over and over again, his view might change. Maybe giving back parts of Jerusalem are a bit insulting to Jews? Maybe that would run through his head a little more often?

Years ago I remember a tour guide shwoing us something near near the Western Wall. There is an ancient piece of graffiti carved into a section of wall on the southern side, now under glass, written in Hebrew that says, “We shall return”. If Jon Stewart were to walk by that, it would mean nothing to him. That’s too bad, because it should. I’m hoping one day it will. So in the meantime, Jon Stewart will remain funny and I’ll argue with you about that one, but as soon as Israel is brought up, I’ll argue with you too, and maybe tell you to lay off the guy, but just a little, because lets be fair, he doesn’t know as much as you, but maybe one day, he will. I’m hoping that day comes soon and I’m hoping it comes with a visit to Israel for starters. Guys that funny deserve the trip.

About the Author
Avi Liberman is a stand-up comic who was born in Israel, raised in Texas and now lives in Los Angeles. Avi founded Comedy for Koby, a bi-annual tour of Israel featuring some of America's top stand-up comedians.