I’m a stand up comedian. The best part about my job, besides making people laugh, is the other comics. I love hanging out with other comedians because we’re all so different, but also very much the same. A few weeks ago I dropped in at a show in the basement of a bar. It was a Tuesday night and this is what’s known as a great “workout room.” It’s a place I could go to and get some stage time to work on refining my act. A lot of friends of mine were at this show. I was friends with basically every person on the line up and the show was solid. These random bar patrons probably didn’t realize how great of a show they got for free.
When the show ended one of the comedians offered to give me a ride home because I had been dropped off at the gig. I hopped in his car, which had another comedian as well riding shotgun, and we started to joke around as friends do. My buddy driving is Asian, our other friend is Black, and I’m Jewish. One of them made a comment about being minorities and I said, “I’m the biggest minority here (there are way more Asians and Black people in the world than there are Jews).” My Black friend, not joking, responded, “Yeah, but what’s your stake?” I said, “My stake? My stake in what?” Then he said something to the effect of “(paraphrasing) There may not be many Jews, but you guys own 70% of (expletive).” Not wanting to even deal with this comment on a serious level I just playfully responded with, “I think that your number is slightly inflated.” A few weeks later I was in Minneapolis talking to a Black, female comedian from Chicago and when she found out I was Jewish she made the comment, “You guys have all the money.” That’s as ignorant as me telling her, “You guys are all pro athletes.”
The point of these stories is not that these comics are horrible people, but there seems to be an overwhelming theme in my life where people want to tell me how Jews “run things” or “own everything” or, especially in my field, entertainment, it’s going to be “so easy” for me because I’m “a Jew.” Right, so let’s discount the hard work and sacrifice I put in right off the bat because of my ethnicity. People love to say that Jews “run TV.” It is very true that there are a lot of Jews working in television and movies, but these people say it as though it’s unfair. Why are there so many Jews working in television? Well, the three major television stations were started by Jews; NBC, David Sarnoff, CBS, William Paley, and ABC, Leonard Goldenson. So Jews founded television and hired people they knew who were talented, many of which were Jews and this trickles down like most businesses. Today TV has something for everyone, but I don’t hear anyone thanking the Jews.
I’ve found that the only reason people say these things about Jews are because they heard it somewhere. They heard it somewhere growing up, other people also heard it, they say it out loud, and therefore it must be true. “Jews are cheap.” Why? How many Jews do you know? Oh, one? Is he cheap? He isn’t? Then why do you say it? Oh, you heard it. What about you? Oh, you don’t know one Jew, but this is something you choose to say? Interesting. Most the Jews I know were poor growing up in America. Their parents were poor in Europe and worked hard to get to America. My family, for example, were all extremely poor immigrants who were treated like garbage once they got to America. Nothing was “given” to them. Nothing. This is why it bothers me to hear non-Jews so casually throw around the notion that Jews are given everything. My grandfather on my dad’s side passed away after working hard as a painter his entire life while living in a condo my dad helped him buy. My dad grew up on the south side of Chicago before moving to southern California after high school, working hard at non prestigious jobs, then got his real estate license and eventually started his own business which he built from the ground up. Now my dad is a millionaire. He must be a millionaire because he’s Jewish, right? I mean, he wasn’t born a millionaire, his father was poor, his mother was poor, and he worked hard, but forget all that, he’s a JEW! It must’ve been so easy for him, because you know how much everyone just loves Jews, right? We are all aware that throughout history people all over the world have made it a point to help out the Jews. My best friend’s father is Jewish. His family was murdered in the Holocaust (lucky Jews, right?), he grew up in New York City, served in the United States military, eventually started his own business and now he’s a millionaire. Wow, two millionaire Jews in a row who got all the breaks!
Today it’s not considered “cool” to be Jewish. Personally, I don’t think any race or religion should be considered cooler than another, but that’s just how it is. Some races are, for whatever reason, envied while others are not. Young Jews need to be more proud of their heritage and stand up for themselves as Jews. I noticed growing up how a lot of the other Jewish kids allowed the kids around them to make anti-Semitic comments without speaking up. Anti-Semitic comments just aren’t challenged the way other racist comments are and are thrown around too casually. If you’re in a group and someone says something ignorant about black people, usually at least one person in the group (if I’m there, it’s me) will speak up and check the person’s asinine comment. The same generally goes for Latinos, Gays, Muslims, etc. Most people don’t have a built in tolerance for public displays of racism against any group except for Jews. I’m not trying to say that people don’t make comments about other races and religions, they most certainly do, but those are contained to private conversations with friends who are like-minded and it is therefore “safe” to speak freely. My assumption is that this is a result of the types of Jews I grew up around who did not want to speak up in fear of being alienated so people think what they’re saying isn’t offensive.
When I was a freshman in college I did not like what my professor was teaching the class in regards to Israel, or Palestine as he saw it. I was eighteen years old and this particular professor was best friends with my basketball coach, but that didn’t stop me from asking him to meet in his office and discuss what he was “teaching.” We spoke for over an hour during which he made comments like, “I didn’t know that,” “I have never thought of it that way,” and “that’s a good point.” This man had a Master’s degree in Middle East Studies! During our conversation he made it a point to randomly tell me the statistics of how many Jewish students went to the university (a very small number) and followed that up with the question, “Do you know how many are open about it?” He was clearly trying to intimidate me into silence by telling me only about 25% were. I responded with, “That’s very sad that this school doesn’t make it a point to have a climate where Jews can feel comfortable like everyone else” and then got us back on topic. It irked me that he seemed to take pride in the fact Jews weren’t open about their heritage on his campus. The result was that he continued to teach exactly the same way (assigning Yasser Arafat’s books as historical fact, equivocating horrible civil wars i.e. Rwanda with the systematic annihilation of groups of people for years that was the Holocaust, etc) and he gave me a B+ on everything I did, never once an A, which I took as an obvious message he didn’t appreciate me challenging him. This man, like so many others I’ve met, like their Jews one way, silent. My basketball coach never gave me a chance to play even though all the assistant coaches thought I should be in the rotation.
At the time basketball was the most important thing in the world to me, but I would have done everything the exact same way. I think some younger Jews take for granted what our ancestors went through to give us a great life. My people did not get persecuted throughout time so I can let some idiot say, “Jews are cheap” or “Jews run everything” just because they heard it somewhere. Jews do run a lot of stuff and that’s not an accident, it’s a direct result of the work ethic and stress on education and family that has been passed down through generations. I was very fortunate to grow up never having to want for anything. I was able to follow my dream of being a professional comedian because of everything my grandparents and parents sacrificed. My life would have been much harder and it would have been a much harder decision to make to “go for it” had they not. I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit back and listen to people tell me my people were handed anything.
Geoff Keith is a stand up comedian from Los Angeles, California. Keith is currently one of the stars of MTV’s “Jerks With Cameras” and recurs as various characters on ABC Family’s “Freak Out!”