Fran Drescher, Forward Gala Host, Discusses ‘The Nanny,’ Cancer Activism And Netanyahu

November 9, 2017

The voice. The hair. The unpretentious, absolute Jewishness. Fran Drescher, creator, writer and star of the hit 1990s sitcom “The Nanny,” healthcare advocate and recent “Broad City” guest star, is an essential figure in contemporary Jewish American culture.

Luckily for the Forward, she’s also serving as Master of Ceremonies at our 120th Anniversary Gala on November 13. The Forward’s Talya Zax spoke with Drescher on the phone in advance of the gala.

Talya Zax: Can you tell me what the Forward means to you?

Fran Drescher: I think it’s a wonderful publication for people who are observant of Jewish faith, involved in the Jewish community or just interested in the culture, which comes with so many wonderful contributions in the world of arts and science and political science.

You’ve been known throughout your career for your spin on Jewish humor. What, in your opinion, makes a great Jewish joke?

Well, it’s got to be relatable and true and honest. A Jewish joke is no different from any joke in terms of its construction. We as a people, I think, have a gift for being able to laugh at ourselves and observe the idiosyncrasies that are funny. The way a joke is written came out of Yiddish theater. It used to be all the stand-up comics were Jewish, and everybody was jumping on that bandwagon: We can be funny about our people and our culture.


Drescher and her ex-husband and ‘The Nanny’ co-creator, Peter Marc Jacobson, pictured at their Studio City home in 1990.

(Paul Harris/Getty Images)Drescher and her ex-husband and ‘The Nanny’ co-creator, Peter Marc Jacobson, pictured at their Studio City home in 1990.

Are there comedians whose brand of humor you especially like?

I really like Ellen DeGeneres, because she writes a show that tells a story and has a beginning, middle and end. She’s extremely relatable, and she talks about the things that are unique and funny. I think Jerry Seinfeld is very funny for the same reason. He’s not mean-spirited, he’s an observer of life. I like Chris Rock, I thought that Rosie O’Donnell’s stand-up act about her heart attack was poignant and funny and also informative and brave. I’ve been doing some stand-up –I’ll have some of that when I emcee [the gala] – and a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have a gay ex-husband. I think that to look at things with humor opens up people to experiencing it with a light heart.

You got your big break as an actress playing a very Jewish character: Fran Fine on “The Nanny.” What was that like for you?

When I sold the idea of “The Nanny,” which was based off of the rich and colorful characters that I felt I identified with growing up in Flushing, Queens, the network said “Procter and Gamble will buy the show outright, which is a good thing, because then you never have to worry about selling ads and making money for the network.” The caveat was that I had to be Italian. For very practical reasons, I said no: “I am Jewish, we want to write this with my brand of comedy, which is rich in specificity and relatability, and we wouldn’t be able to write it as Italian because we’re not Italian.” We would be doing a caricature of what we think Italian is, because we didn’t grow up with it. I dug my heels in, even though it was a huge break for me.

I had learned a lesson long before that living with regret is much wore than just diving in and doing what you believe in. I knew this was my big chance and it had to be done right.

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