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Sarah Silverman says Hollywood has a problem with "Jewface"

The comedian says Kathryn Hahn playing Joan Rivers for Showtime is part of a worrying trend

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Sarah Silverman
Sarah Silverman
Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images for The New Yorker

Late last month, Showtime announced that Kathryn Hahn would be playing Joan Rivers in a limited series about the comedian’s mid-career revival after the death of her husband and the cancellation of Fox’s The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers. The news came just after Hahn missed out on an Emmy for her work in WandaVision, and it seemed like the continuation of some kind of Kathryn Hahnaissance.

Sarah Silverman is now arguing that it’s actually the continuation of a separate—and more concerning—trend, which she refers to as “Jewface.” In a recent episode of her podcast. Silverman said that she has “no problem” with that specific casting, but there have been a lot of situations in the last few years where non-Jewish people played who characters don’t just “happen to be Jewish” but whose “Jewishness is their whole being.” Her examples include Felicity Jones as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rachel Brosnahan as Midge Maisel, and now Hahn playing Joan Rivers.


Silverman says these “Jewface” roles typically involve putting a person’s “Jewishness front and center” with “makeup or changing of features” like a “big fake nose” and “all the New York-y or Yiddish-y inflection.” She also argues that, “if a Jewish woman character is courageous or deserves love,” then she is never actually played by a Jewish person.

A Huffpost story on Silverman’s podcast points out that she does acknowledge that she wore blackface in an episode of her old Comedy Central show, The Sarah Silverman Program, which she said a few years ago had gotten her fired from a movie when photos from the show resurfaced. She explained in 2019 that she was “dealing with racism by using racism,” which she now sees as “such liberal-bubble stuff,” adding that she’s now “horrified” by the sketch and is no longer willing to stand by it.