This may come as a shock to some of you, but here it goes: I’m Jewish.
I’ll wait for the shock to subside.
For the last 26 years, I’ve been Jewish. I grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood in a very Jewish area of a state that just so happens to have a lot of Jewish people in it. I went to college with a large Jewish population. I was Bar Mitzvahed at age 13 (more on that later) and, at some point, I had a bris, which I thankfully don’t remember because I was an infant. I only have memories of one bris as a kid, a family friend’s. All I remember is that there was a lot of blood.
Growing up in such an insular community, it took me a few years to realize I was different. I was a minority.
It’s at that point you start to learn about all of the other things that come with being a minority. Antisemitism. Stuff that took place from 1941-1945. It’s a bit much for a kid to handle.
That’s when The Simpsons came in and changed my life.
I can’t recall the specific moment the episode “Like Father, Like Clown” came into my life. It was a Season 3 episode which dropped in October of 1991, making me a whopping 1-year-old at the time of release. It was written by legendary Simpsons writers Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, and directed by a young man by the name of Brad Bird, who went on to win two Oscars after directing a couple of little films called The Incredibles and Ratatouille.
The episode centers on one of the more iconic side-characters in the series, Krusty the Clown, the cynical, addiction-riddled burnt-out clown who is the object of worship by one Bart Simpson. Krusty goes to Bart’s house for dinner after Bart exonerated him in the episode ‘Krusty Gets Busted.’ When asked to say grace, he starts praying in Hebrew, leading to one of the greatest exchanges in television history.
Homer: He’s talking funny talk!
Lisa: No dad, that’s Hebrew! Krusty must be Jewish!
Homer: A Jewish entertainer? Get out of here.
Lisa: Dad, there are many prominent Jewish entertainers, including Lauren Bacall, Dinah Shore, William Shatner and Mel Brooks.
Homer: Mel Brooks is Jewish?!
Krusty breaks down, confessing that his real name is Herschel Krustofsky, and goes on to recount the story of his father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, “the most respected man in the Lower East Side of Springfield.” (Side note: I’ve seen this episode a thousand times and the fact that Springfield has a ‘Lower East Side’ makes me lose my shit every time.)
Krusty’s father is ashamed of Krusty’s profession and shuts him out of his life forever. The rest of the episode centers around Bart and Lisa attempting to reunite Krusty with his father (played by the incomparable Jackie Mason), including a tremendous sequence where Bart goes undercover as a Hasidic Jewish man, and Lisa studies everything about Judaism without learning Ancient Hebrew (which she adamantly refuses).
The episode ends in a heartfelt reunion that could make Ron Swanson shed a tear or two.
Why’s this relevant? Why are we talking about a 26-year-old television episode that’s basically a spoof of ‘The Jazz Singer’?
Because to that little Jewish kid sitting in front of his TV that just found out he was different from other people, seeing that one of the funniest characters on your favorite TV show was Jewish meant the world.
It was cool to be Jewish if Krusty the Clown was Jewish. Yes, he’s fictional, but it represented this larger world outside of my little bubble, and fostered a life-long love of television and entertainment, which eventually drove me to a career in both. One I still happily enjoy to this day. I enjoyed being different. I thrive in it. I revel in it. And it’s made my life all the better.
This is a lesson I carried with me my entire life. I wrote my college essay about the inspiration this had on me. I even had a Simpsons-themed Bar Mitzvah. No joke. I have sweatshirts that say “Bart Mitzvah” with a picture of Bart Simpson on it.
All because a fictional character said a prayer over dinner in Hebrew. Thanks, Krusty..
Image via The Simpsons / YouTube