The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld (Yes, Most of Them are Jewish; Even Matthew Perry)

After the recent overwhelming success and popularity of The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of LOST, I decided I am among the thousands who are also intrigued by the vast different backgrounds of the actors of all-American TV shows.  Starting with curiosity of my own ethnic background, I soon stumbled into a new hobby/obsession: studying and memorizing the ethnic backgrounds of celebrities.  I am officially claiming to be an ethnic background specialist.  And I’m half serious, half joking when I say that.

Of course for me, the most fascinating part is always discovering the Jewish actor(s) and writer(s).  Being that there are more than twice as many Asians than there are Jews in America, in theory, for every Jewish actor in a show there would be two Asian actors.  Or, being that Jews make up 1.7% of the American population, for every 100 actors in a show or movie, only two would be Jewish.  But that’s almost never the case.

So with that in mind, I felt the best way to officially start “The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast” series is by examining two highly popular Jewish sitcoms.  Whereas most sitcoms have at least one Jewish actor as part of the cast who plays a plain ole’ American mutt, both Friends and Seinfeld featured Jewish actors who occasionally incorporated their “Jewishness” into their  characters and the culture of the show itself.

To keep from being confusing, unless specifically stated, “English” simply means the actor is American but of English descent.  Same thing with “Scottish”, “Irish”, etc.  However, if the actor was actually born in England and is not an American, I will specifically state they were born in England, or whatever country they were raised in.

If the actor is Jewish, and I know what country their family moved to America from, I will say “descended from” or “of (ex: German) descent”.  In other words, each actor is American born, unless otherwise stated with the phrase “born in”.

Friends:

David Schwimmer (Jewish, descended from Germany) as “Ross Geller” (Jewish)

Courtney Cox-Arquette (English, though she is married to David Arquette, who is Jewish, she did not convert) as “Monica Geller (Jewish)

Jennifer Aniston (half Greek, quarter Italian, quarter Scottish) as “Rachel Green” (American)

Lisa Kudrow (Jewish, descended from Russia) as “Phoebe Buffay” (French)

Matthew Perry (half Canadian-English, half Jewish) as Chandler Bing (Scottish)

Matt LeBlanc (French, Italian, Dutch, Irish) as “Joey Tribbiani” (15/16 Italian, 1/16 Portuguese)

Elliot Gould (Jewish) as “Jack Geller” (Jewish)

Christina Pickles (English, born in England) as “Judy Geller” (Jewish)

James Michael Tyler (English) as “Gunther” (Dutch)

Hank Azaria (Jewish, descended from Greece) as “David the Scientist”, Phoebe’s on-again-off-again boyfriend (American)

Paul Rudd (Jewish, descended from England) as “Mike Hannigan” (Irish)

Created by David Crane (English) and Marta Kauffman (Jewish, descended from Germany)

Seinfeld:

Jerry Seinfeld (Jewish, of Polish, Ukrainian, and Syrian descent) as “Jerry Seinfeld” (Jewish)

Jason Alexander (Jewish, of German descent) as “George Costanza” (half Italian, half Jewish)

Michael Richards (half Italian, half English) as “Cosmo Kramer” (Jewish)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Jewish, of French descent) as “Elaine Benes” (Czech)

Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (Jewish)

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one


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39 thoughts on “The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld (Yes, Most of Them are Jewish; Even Matthew Perry)

    • Emma, I’m completely amazed that A) I missed Joey and B) no one else noticed until now! I updated this just for you. Thank you :)

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  1. Matthew Perry is not Jewish, your wrong about that! He is a Canadian of French and English descent! And I have always tried explaining to people that Michael Richards was not Jewish, but nobody ever believes me, but it is true that he is not Jewish!

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    • Your correct. He has made mention to several people that he tends to believe in the Jewish faith and leans that way. This is possibly why some believe he is Jewish.

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  2. Matt LeBlanc’s mom is Jewish of Italian heritage. Her name is Pat Grossman. Note that in the 1700’s, that Jews were forced to spell their names differently than christians in Germanic countries. Grossmann is true German and Grossman is Jewish. Matt LeBlanc married an episcopalian in 2003, the wedding was a combination of jewish and episcopalian traditions. Shalom baby.

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  3. Julia Dreyfus swears she’s NOT Jewish and gets pissed off when anyone mentions it…just her family is Jewish…GO Figure!!!

    Michael Richards is not Jewish…but he claims he feels Jewish and wants to be Jewish…the REAL Kramer, not the TV character, is Jewish.

    You missed Jerry Stiller on Seinfeld.

    Rachel Green wore a Jewish Star when FRIENDS first showed up on TV.

    The big question on FRIENDS was how was Ross Jewish but not his sister????

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  4. Rachel Green is “American.” What does that mean? Weren’t the original Americans British colonists? So wouldn’t she be classified as “English?” Anyway, aren’t all people living in America (Jews, Blacks, etc.) all Americans?

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  5. The reason there are more Jews in television and film is because Hollywood was basically created and developed by Jews. The entertainment business, like a lot of others, is all about connections and the American Jewish community is very closely connected. That said, it’s not only because they’re Jews, if they weren’t talented they wouldn’t be successful, but talented Jews have a leg up in entertainment. And judging from their accomplishments they’re obviously talented. Maybe I’m wrong and Jews are just 50 times more talented and creative than every other ethnic group, I can’t really say for sure.

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  6. I had no idea Hank Azaria was a Jew of Greek decendence. How interesting! There are still a lot of Jews in Greece today but they consider themselves Greek before Jewish [well some of them do. And Matthew Perry Jewish??? Are you sure?? I must be so dunce not to realize that “Friends” was a Jewish sitcom I just thought it was about 6 New Yorkers and tbh will always think of it as 6 New Yorkers. I’m not a fan of all this religion thrown in I find it tackey and unwelcoming. Maybe that’s why Jen and Court were so close because Jews can be quite cliquey and not always very welcoming [no offense].

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  7. Interesting thread here. As I recall an episode that Kramer is organized a Jewish Singles Night and Elanie says she isn’t Jewish. And as i recall Jerry says he isn’t either… REALLY?
    But they both attend for the kosher buffet supper !

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  8. Marta Kauffman, the creator of Friends isn’t Jewish. At least neither on Wikipedia nor on NNDB is she mentioned as being Jewish and NNDB always points out if someone is Jewish. Kaufman is a common German name so she might have German ancestry. Kaufman is the German word for merchant.

    Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and Courtney Cox(4 of 6 Friends cast members are also not Jewish). In the show Ross and Monica are supposed to be only part Jewish from their father’s side which is why they celebrate Christmas. Joey is supposed to be Catholic(being Italian American and it was often mentioned),

    I would say Friends is a good mix being mainly non-Jewish but having Jewish elements based on two of the creators(Crand and Bright). Seinfeld is mainly Jewish(btw, both are my all time favorite sitcoms with Seinfeld being number one) being created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld.

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    • Irish-Americans are hugely under represented pn US tv shows. They are the second largest ethnic group after those of german background yet they rarely figure on these shows. Also how many times have we seen a holy communion on a tv show? But bar mitzvahs are a common sight.

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