‘You Made Me Proud to Be a Jew’: Adam Sandler’s Friends Praise Him at Award Ceremony for Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
by Shiryn Ghermezian
Jewish actor and comedian Adam Sandler was recently awarded the 2023 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, and a number of his famous friends took to the stage to praise him — and his Judaism.
Chris Rock, who like Sandler started off his professional career as a stand-up comedian and was then a cast member on Saturday Night Live, recalled the kindness the Murder Mystery 2 star showed him when they were both struggling comics in New York City.
Rock began by saying that in the 1970s, he and two girls were the only Black kids in his school in Brooklyn. He told the crowd, “how many times do you think a kid asked me to hang out at his house? Once in like 16 years. David Moskowitz. The Jews, nice people.”
Years later, Rock and Sandler met after they performed on the comic strip in Manhattan on the same night, and Sandler invited Rock to hang out with him and his friends in his New York University dorm.
“He comes off stage, we meet, its the first time we met,” Rock explained, “and then — the greatest thing in the world to the guy who no one wanted to play with — Adam goes, ‘Hey, we’re going over to my dorm, do you want to hang?’ And he’s been letting me hang ever since and I love the guy cuz, you know – Jews, you gotta love it. That’s my guy.”
Sandler was also hailed on stage by his Uncut Gems co-star, Jewish actress Idina Menzel, who will star in Sandler’s upcoming film You Are SO Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah! Menzel performed a song in the style of Sandler’s famous SNL weekend correspondent, Opera Man, and in the track she referenced Sandler’s Jewish friends and collaborators Ben Stiller and Judd Apatow. Menzel sang about the actor’s achievements and said he makes her “proud to be a Jew,” while a picture of a young yarmulke-wearing Sandler and his sister lighting a menorah was displayed on the screen beside her.
Stiller, who was also a cast member on SNL, went on stage to talk about his friendship with the Hustle star while offering his own Yom Kippur version of Sandler’s popular Hanukah Song, which the latter first performed in 1994 on SNL and that has since become a classic seasonal song.
“It’s really just a list of rhyming celebrity names, and yet it goes multiplatinum and it’s become a holiday radio staple that my daughter forces us all to listen to after we light the candles every year,” said Stiller, attributing the song’s success to “that Adam magic.”
The award ceremony also included presentations by Sandler’s acting partners and friends Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Steve Buscemi, Luis Guzmán, Conan O’Brien and David Spade. Sandler’s longtime collaborator Tim Herlihy, who was also Sandler’s roommate at NYU, called the actor a “mensch,” and Sandler’s mother went on stage to rail her son about his personal style, calling him ” a slob,” before praising the actor. “We are so proud of him,” she told him.
In his acceptance speech, Sandler talked about his Jewish family and apologized to his mother, saying: “I’ve been making jokes about my mother for many years but she’s a great lady and I’m sorry if any of them ever hurt your feelings, Mom.” Sandler then credited his success to his supportive family, starting with his “sweet, beautiful, funny, incredible, caring, loving” mom and his “cool-as-it-gets badass, ponytailed” father, who passed away in 2003.
“My parents literally did everything they could to give me crazy confidence at everything I did,” Sandler said. He added that his two sisters, Elizabeth and Valerie, included him in everything they did and his older brother, Scott, took him to his first open mic in Boston at the age of 17, made him feel like he as funny as Rodney Dangerfield and told him he should be an actor.
The awards ceremony took place on March 19 and aired March 26 on CNN. Previous Jewish winners of the award include Billy Crystal, Jon Stewart, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon and SNL creator Lorne Michaels.