Rather than altogether new, however, Allen's comic persona was more a postmodern mash-up of the endearing little-man misfits of the silent era (Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd) with the schlemiel character of Yiddish humor.
Though not quite a schlemiel, Harvey is somewhat of a social misfit, as illustrated at the prewedding dinner when his white suit (with sales tag still attached) sticks out among otherwise all-dark attire.
Much in the way that Hoffman distinguished himself from the classic schlemiel, Streisand transcended the unkosher comedienne by making her unruly Jewishness physically appealing and sexually desirable to a mainstream audience.
We therefore can't report on the degree to which schmuck has worked its way into legal English, which is too bad, because schmuck are even more common in courtrooms than schlemiels, schmoozing, and chutzpah.
(9) Woody Allen's characters have always struck us more as nebbishes than schlemiels. "A [schlemiel] is always knocking things off a table; the [nebbish] always picks them up." Leo Rosten, The Joys of Yiddish 349 (1968).
More often than not, Malamud's protagonists end up as moral bunglers, as schlemiels
of good intention.
As a result, Katz never reached the mass popularity and commercial success of all those other Jewish men--the stand-up shpielers, the variety show ringleaders, the bumbling schlemiels, the postminstrel toastmasters, the violin-playing Everymen--who would one day be his bridge partners at the Friar's Club.
"Jews did not create popular music, "Ford decried, "they debased it."(30) To Ford's ears, the Jews of Tin Pan Alley had taken perfectly good American music--patriotic songs, operas, folk tunes--and turned it into "Yiddish moron music." Judging by his disgust at a Jewish singer who "could not pronounce English words" and who "sang through his nose," we can only imagine what his reaction would have been to the sound of Katz's Yinglish transformations of Rossini's The Barber of Seville into the klezmer pop opera of "The Barber of Schlemiel," Bizet's Carmen into the tragic Jewish heroine "Carmen Katz," and the patriotic national march of "Bugle Call Rag" into the deli counter klezmer jazz clowning of "Bagel Call Rag."
Russian culture, so rich in Hamlets, schlemiels
and underground men, conceived an idealized antithesis to these virtuosos of inwardness: the new man, the normal man, the man who is not paralyzed by thought or enervated by sensibility, who walks tall, looks sharp, says little, fights fiercely, sleeps well.
A three essay "Schlemiel
Studies" section proves emblematic of this approach, proclaiming the Schlemiel
as a distinctive Jewish character and then labeling Allen's characters as Schlemiels-by-presumption.