Unless the Green Bay Packers are playing, I view the Super Bowl as a stadium rock concert surrounded by funny/tear-jerking/offensive advertisements. There may be some irrelevant sportsing one has to TiVo through. But a slight consolation—given that the team in the green and gold are not in the big game—is that the halftime show will feature Bruno Mars, the ¼ Ashkenazi Jew (the rest of him is Puerto Rican and Filipino) who was so delightful in his 2014 Superbowl appearance.
Mars is rumored to be a performer at Sunday’s Super Bowl, which made me wonder: Have any other Jews or near-Jews headlined Super Bowl halftime shows? The answer: Yes! According to my research, there have been five, including Mars.
George Burns was first Jewish headliner, in 1987. He introduced the halftime show’s theme, “100 Years of Hollywood,” noting that Hollywood was only nine years older than he was. Accompanying him was a dewy young anonymous Snow White, about whom he noted, “Pretty girl. Little too old for me.” Gross! Feel free to not watch this video!
Back then, the halftime show was much less of a megillah. Until 1993, it featured college marching bands, drill teams, “flag girls,” card tricks, elderly Hollywood stars, and the terrifying toothy Reaganite hellscape that is Up with People. But after the record-breaking appearance of Michael Jackson in Super Bowl XXVII, you had to be a pretty big macher to headline. The NFL does not want you switching to the Puppy Bowl.
Not every act was a hit. In 2001, Ben Stiller and Adam Sandler made a profoundly unfunny “comedy” skit about coaching Aerosmith and NSYNC before their 2001 halftime show performances. I advise you not to watch this video.
Perhaps Stiller and Sandler’s performance explains why we had to wait until 2014 to see another Jew at halftime. Thank Hashem, we got Mars, who erased our horrible collective memories. Continuing the Jewish upswing, we got half-Jewish full-hottie Lenny Kravitz in 2015. Kravitz performed “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and “American Woman” and was great (as was fellow performer Missy “not a Jew” Elliott), but no one remembers anything about this halftime show except for Katy Perry’s inept dancing shark. A shande.
That’s it for Jewish halftime show performers thus far. Predictably, though, we’re all over the behind-the-scenes action: The “100 Years of Hollywood” show featured songs by a host of Hebrews (“Cheek to Cheek,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz” by Irving Berlin; “Over the Rainbow” by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, “That’s Entertainment” by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz); the performers Joey McIntyre of NKOTB (1991), Diana Ross (1996), and Lance Bass of ‘NSYNC (2001) all married Jews; the shows from 2011 on have all been produced by Ricky Kirshner (a nine-time Emmy winner who’s also produced the Democratic National Convention and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the son of Brill Building honcho and Monkees manager Don Kirshner).
Maybe one day Pink, Regina Spektor, Bette Midler or Billy Joel will perform. Maybe some future enterprising Jew will invent a time machine, allowing us to watch Lou Reed or Joey Ramone belt out some halftime numbers. Of course, I’d ask that time-machine-inventing Jew to go back to that tragic NFC divisional playoff game and prevent the Packers from collapsing in overtime, but that’s just me.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that Ben Stiller is half-Jewish. Stiller was born to a Jewish mother and father. A previous version of this article also stated that Ethel Merman was Jewish. She was not.
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Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.