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Seth MacFarlane and Jewish Hollywood

Looking at last night’s jokes at the Academy Awards

Adam Chandler
February 25, 2013
Ted (voice by Seth MacFarlane) With Mark Wahlberg(Screengrab)
Ted (voice by Seth MacFarlane) With Mark Wahlberg(Screengrab)

If you gave in and lent the Academy Awards nearly 17% of your Sunday, you may be feeling some remorse. At the center of the attention this morning is Seth MacFarlane, television’s highest-paid producer/writer, who was tapped to host the Oscars.

It was an indulgent performance, stocked with the kind of commentary that will give lowly bloggers like me and high critics plenty of material to fixate on throughout the week. MacFarlane was funny, not funny, sexist, racist, juvenile, clever, and offensive in alternating bouts. The Daily Beast took the effort to combine many of the offensive bits into one long clip, which should sum things up.

One exchange that did not make the recap featured MacFarlane’s animated teddy bear character Ted, who “appeared” at the Academy Awards with actor Mark Wahlberg via a soundstage. Good footage of the whole thing is still hard to come by, but in essence, MacFarlane riffed about the insidery nature of Hollywood and alluded to Jewish control of the industry.

In the shtick, Ted hopes of advancing his career by explaining to the crowd that his real name is Theodore Shapiro.

“I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever. Thank you.”

Ted then draws reference to “secret synagogue meetings” where he expects to be gifted his own plane.

It didn’t seem to get many laughs, but having seem some of his other controversies involving jokes about Jews, knowing that MacFarlane’s jokes went after everyone last night, and having heard him say some thoughtful things about comedy in general, I’m not particularly bugged by this.

Last summer, he was profiled by the New Yorker, here’s some of what he said:

“We are presenting the Archie Bunker point of view and making fun of the stereotypes–not making fun of the groups. But if I’m really being honest, then maybe there’s a part of me that’s stuck in high school and we’re laughing because we’re not supposed to. I don’t know the psychology. At the core, I know none of us gives a shit. Some people say that stereotypes exist for a reason. I’m in no way qualified to make that determination. But I’m sitting in a room with a writing staff that is in large part Jewish, and those are the guys pitching the jokes.”

In other words, it seems likely that MacFarlane would be bruised more by the fact that the jokes weren’t funny rather than by any controversy his work could generate.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.