JAPS, Schlemiels, and Princesses: Long Island


The post-WWII American schlemiel takes many forms that  more often than not go along gender lines.  Yes, there are male schlemiels who, in the 60s and 70s, are represented by Bruce Jay Friedman, Phillip Roth, or Woody Allen as Portnoy’s or nebbishes. Think of Friedman’s Stern, Roth’s Potnoy’s Complaint, or any of Allen’s movies from the period.   These schlemiels, often young men or bachelors, are as David Biale would say “sexual schlemiels.”  And sometimes, as in the case of Woody Allen’s schlemiels, they are charming.  We also are fortunate to have many Jewish women who play schlemiels.  Fanny Brice was a schlemiel but not as much of a sexual schlemiel as Barbara Streisand who played her in Funny Girl.  The stand-up comedienne Joan Rivers is also a sexual schlemiel, but she traverses all kinds of sexual territory. And, unlike Brice or Streisand in Funny Girl, she can also be very irritating.  She was and still is far from shy; but, like any schlemiel, she is absent-minded.  With her comedy, we see an alteration of charm and irritation.

In the 80s the feminine-schlemiel-landscape changes.  We see something new that the female schlemiel must contend with; namely, the Jewish American Princess.  She also has sexual problems and, like the schlemiel, seems out of touch with the world.  But her biggest problem is that she is portrayed as someone who is spoiled, expects a lot out of men, and is aggressive.  But when a schlemiel like Gilda Radner portrays the JAP; the character is aggressive but not too aggressive.

In this clip, she is playing the Long Island Jew who happens to have a group: “Rhonda and the Rhondettes.”  She is tinkering with the stereotype by playing the schlemiel.  She goes way over the top with it, to such an extent that the JAP appears ridiculous while she appears charming.

To be honest, after Gilda Radner died I didn’t think I would see another JAP being parodied again.  I was wrong.

Believe it or not there is a new reality show on Bravo that is all about Jewish American Princesses. Its called Princesses: Long Island.  It’s not often that you see a comedy routine, a TV Episode, or even a film clip of or about a group of unmarried Jewish American Princess (JAP).   They are, without a doubt, almost a mirror image of the Judd Apatow bachelors in films like 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, or Super Bad.

All of these girls are having a hard time hooking up, they are getting older, and they are in a bind.  They love home and are attached to their parents. (And their parents are attached to them.) They want too much.  And this creates major (potentially comic) difficulties.

The reality TV show stars and their locations in Long Island are:

Here’s the trailer:

As you can see, the show emphasizes their “Jewishness” and equates it with their awkwardness.  What we find here is a recurrence of the JAP but with a few differences.  More interesting is the fact that they are presented as being real embodiments of JAP schlemiels.

Take a look at episode number one:

Although they may be, at some level “irritating,” they are nonetheless charming schlemiels.  But not all JAPs are schlemiels.  In an effort to deflate the JAP stereotype, Anna Sequoia, in The Official JAP Handbook (published in 1982) notes that JAPs are good, charming, and intelligent. But she associates them with mothers and not their unmarried daughters:

Jewish American Princesses are warm, coddling, funny, smart and achieving.  They are wonderful, dedicated mothers.

Later in her book, however, we see the bachelorette.  Namely in a section entitled “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.”   But what we find are more or less warnings about how a JAP mother should worry about her JAP daughter.  After all, she doesn’t want her daughter to get involved with the wrong guy.  Hopefully, she can inculcate the right JAP values in her daughter:

Maybe secretly…little Marsha Lynn feels insecure and has to “sleep up,” or “sleep down,” or maybe its just part of growing up, gaining the experience of love, and life will one day, one hopes, lead them toward the right people for them (114).

This motherly concern hovers all over Princesses: Long Island.   These mothers are concerned because their daughters are at an awkward age and are still living with them.  Their JAP daughters internalize this concern. And, in a way, they share too much with their scared Jewish mothers, like Anna Sequoia, the author of The Official JAP Handbook.

Their awkwardness, while silly, has its charm. At the same time, these girls irritate us.  The frission is enticing and may propel the show to a second season.  On the other hand, it may not.  I have a “feeling” about this.  Maybe I’m wrong.  But after Gilda Radner modeled Jewwess Jeans on SNL, I knew that it would be really hard for any comedienne to fill her designer schlemiel jeans.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s