There are certainly a lot of nice things about being Jewish in Hollywood.
Sure, you may not qualify for any diversity seminars or hiring practices—i.e. the privilege of being paid less than everyone else in the room while they tolerate you as a cosmetically necessary toke—but in general, you might benefit from many shared assumptions. In no other industry can a well-placed joke about summer camp instantly land you a job. The same goes for commiserating about the cost of a particularly lavish bar mitzvah, which may get you an invitation for another meeting. And in no other industry can you, for example, silence lively debate about what should be the next big splashy live TV musical by screaming “Goyishe nonsense! Godspell is goyish nonsense!” at the top of your lungs without being instantly fired, even if only two other people in the room actually know what you’re talking about.
Not that I know anyone who’s done that recently. You catch my drift.
But apparently, an assumed membership in the tribe can get in the way of some things as Chuck star Zachary Levi recently found out. Last week, Levi made the claim that throughout his career he has regularly been told he is “too Jewish” for certain roles. Here’s the kicker though: Zachary Levi isn’t actually Jewish at all! Levi is his middle name and he’s actually a Pugh, of Welsh decent! He’s no more Jewish than Dolly Gallagher Levi herself! Clearly, an enormous injustice has been done.
“I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from fucking Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!”
I’m not sure what how this terrible miscarriage of casting fairness can be made right. Surely Levi can’t be offered all the roles he was turned down retroactively, as they will have already been cast, made, released. I like to imagine that, were Levi to have been turned down for the lead role in The Revenant, the casting director could now buzz Levi to tell him what actually had happened during casting. “I’m so sorry, Zachary, you were on our shortlist but then someone said, “Levi? Hmmm.’ ”
You see, actors get told all the time by their managers a number of gentle reasons as to why they weren’t cast in this or that project. And believe me, the answer is never: “Because they said you just weren’t a good enough actor.” No, in fact Levi’s claim reveals less about some sudden raft of anti-Semitism in show business (and honestly, even if it were one, there’s nothing sudden about it), than it does about the shorthand that Hollywood uses to communicate with itself.
“Too Jewish” doesn’t literally mean too Jewish. No one ever says it about Joseph Gordon-Leavitt or Jake Gyllenhaal or Paul Rudd, or, like, Daniel Day-Lewis. “Too Jewish” means too nerdy, too nebbishy, not someone who seems like—I don’t know—they could be mauled by a bear and then spend seventy-plus hours (that’s how long The Revenant felt, although I was asleep for most of it) dragging themselves across hundreds of miles of frozen wilderness while sleeping naked inside the rotting carcasses of animals.
Is this something a Jew could do? Yes! Does any sense otherwise belie a deep sense of self-loathing? Sure! But that’s the price you pay for the summer camp jokes. If I were Zachary Levi, I’d just go ahead and convert.
Related: Match Point