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Michelle Wolf is (Still) not a Nice Lady

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Michelle Wolf is not a nice lady. She’s a nasty woman who gets shit done, and perhaps the most recent proof of this is her speech at this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner. What she said has sparked much support, as well as a whole lot of outrage. Many are calling on Wolf to apologize for her remarks. So, as many others have noted, Wolf was basically hired to roast people at this dinner, and now she’s supposed to apologize for doing just that. Cool.

In December, I wrote a piece on Michelle Wolf’s first HBO special, Nice Lady. Prior to Wolf’s speech, if you googled “Is Michelle Wolf Jewish?” my review of her special was the first thing to come up. I noticed that this earlier piece started to get more traffic right after Wolf’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner speech, and started getting some interesting new comments as well. I’ll just give you a taste of some of them, since they have been deleted: “You liberal women disgust me. You’ll be the end of the USA and Judaism;” “...Look at how egotistical Jews are! You are so stupid, because you think you are so very smart!...;” “Michelle Wolf is hideous. That is why she is a bitter female. That is why she is a feminist;” and “Wolf is a c*nt. A tool of the jew left.” Fun stuff, right?

So, why do people think Michelle Wolf is Jewish (she’s not), and how has this misconception shaped some of the criticism that she’s received? Side note: Michelle, everyone thinks you’re Jewish anyway so why not just seal the deal? Join us!

Let’s tackle this first question. Why do people think Michelle Wolf is Jewish? I have a few ideas.

  1. Curly hair
  2. Fran Drescher-esque voice
  3. The fact that she’s a comedian.

What do these three things have in common? They all harken back to Jewish stereotypes. The first two have to do specifically with stereotypes surrounding what Jewish women look and sound like, and the third has to do with stereotypes surrounding Jews’ roles in the entertainment industry. In sum, while of course there’s no one way to look or sound or be Jewish, it seems pretty clear that this misconception about Wolf’s background is rooted in some very specific, and again, stereotypical, images of Jews.

Now, onto some of the specific criticism of Wolf’s speech. I’d like to focus on what our dear president (who wasn’t even there) had to say. In a Sunday tweet he said, “The filthy “comedian” totally bombed (couldn’t even deliver her lines––much like the Seth Meyers weak performance)...” Let’s first address the misogynist elephant in the room. This tweet is, unsurprisingly, extremely sexist. Putting the word “comedian” in quotes, and claiming that Wolf “couldn’t even deliver her lines,” are swipes at her credibility, and her talent as a comedian. I probably don’t need to tell this crowd that delegitimizing a woman’s ability to do her job is one of the oldest tricks in the book.

I wish there was more time to talk about the sexist nature of much of the negative feedback Wolf is receiving. Boy would I love to say, “Really, guys? Conservatives can say whatever the hell they want about Hillary Clinton’s appearance for the entire 2016 presidential campaign but Michelle Wolf has to apologize for one ‘smokey eye’ comment?”

Going back to Trump’s tweet, I can’t help but fixate on the word “filthy.” Jews have often been referred to as “dirty” and “filthy” in anti-Semitic comments, and while I believe this phenomenon likely has many roots, the one that comes to mind has to do with Hitler’s descriptions of Jews in Mein Kampf. In short, Hitler saw Jews as “parasites” that “lived off” other races and weakened them by compromising their “purity.” I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to see a connection between this idea of Jews as parasites, and the idea that Jews are somehow unclean. While Trump didn’t specifically say anything about Wolf being Jewish, and while it’s possible he was referring to the nature of Wolf’s comedy and not to Wolf herself, I think his word choice is telling.

Among other examples, the president’s tweet and some of the comments on my December blog post make one thing quite clear: in many cases, Wolf isn’t simply being criticized as a woman, she’s being criticized as a Jewish woman. (Again, Michelle, let’s make it official––call me!) There’s plenty of disdain out there for Jews and women alike, but perhaps the combination of the two––this perceived extra “otherness”––can help explain the specific nature of some of this criticism, and the overall vitriol of it. I might even go so far as to say that this misconception about Wolf’s identity works to chip away at whatever privilege Wolf has as a white woman.

On the bright side, being perceived as a Jewish woman comedian can be a good thing, too. I mean, who wouldn’t want their name on a list with the likes of Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, Sarah Silverman, and Fanny Brice? As I said back in December, and will undoubtedly say again, Michelle Wolf isn’t Jewish, but her no-holds-barred comedy is certainly in keeping with the strong tradition of Jewish female comedians. These are not nice ladies––and thank goodness for that.

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Actors with two Jewish parents: Mila Kunis, Natalie Portman, Logan Lerman, Paul Rudd, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bar Refaeli, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Adam Brody, Kat Dennings, Gabriel Macht, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Erin Heatherton, Lisa Kudrow, Lizzy Caplan, Gal Gadot, Debra Messing, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Esti Ginzburg, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Margarita Levieva, James Wolk, Elizabeth Berkley, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Corey Stoll, Michael Vartan, Mia Kirshner, Alden Ehrenreich, Julian Morris, Debra Winger, Eric Balfour, Dan Hedaya, Emory Cohen, Corey Haim, Scott Mechlowicz, Odeya Rush, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is Jewish, too (though I don’t know if both of his parents are).

Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers: Timothée Chalamet, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix, Emmy Rossum, Ryan Potter, Rashida Jones, Jennifer Connelly, Sofia Black D’Elia, Nora Arnezeder, Goldie Hawn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Peet, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Barnes, Patricia Arquette, Kyra Sedgwick, Dave Annable, and Harrison Ford (whose maternal grandparents were both Jewish, despite those Hanukkah Song lyrics).

Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jewish and/or identify as Jewish: Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, Nicola Peltz, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Andrew Garfield, Winona Ryder, Michael Douglas, Ben Foster, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz, Paul Newman.

Oh, and Ansel Elgort’s father is Jewish, though I don’t know how Ansel was raised. Robert Downey, Jr., Sean Penn, and Ed Skrein were also born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Armie Hammer, Chris Pine, and Mark-Paul Gosselaar are part Jewish.

Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism: Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

The reason some people think she's Jewish basically is her last name. Wolfe! That's it. Her timing or her referencing isn't Jewish. She doesn't make fun of herself nor is she saying anything original that hasn't been said before....so that's how I knew she wasn't Jewish :)

Michelle Wolf at the White House Correspondence Dinner
Full image

Image of Michelle Wolf shared via her instagram. Her caption read "Not in the spirit of the mission."

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How to cite this page

Klebe, Larisa. "Michelle Wolf is (Still) not a Nice Lady." 2 May 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 23, 2018) <https://jwa.org/blog/michelle-wolf-is-still-not-nice-lady>.

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