The Nanny: From Risky to Risqué


Actress Fran Drescher straddles the hazy line between hysterical and outrageous in Jewish comedy.

by Rachel S. Cohen

Poking fun at Judaism is risky business. We’re only a small percentage of the population, and many of us are easily offended when attacked in any way. But that didn’t stop actress Fran Drescher, best known for playing Fran Fine, a whiny, beautician-turned-nanny, from doing so on the hit TV show The Nanny. Fran received two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal on the CBS hit series, and The Nanny still permeates cable airways nearly 17 years after the pilot episode first aired. I spoke with Fran about her use of Jewish humor and the risks that come with it.

How did you get involved in comedy in the first place?

You know, the Dreschers are funny people, and when I was a teenager I started auditioning for parts, and my openness and "naturalness" worked with the youth-driven comedies of that time, which were Happy Days and Welcome Back Kotter.

Why is making fun of ourselves good in Jewish comedy?

Seeing humor in idiosyncratic, everyday life is a gift. Being self-deprecating allows the audience to laugh with you, and it’s only funny if it’s true!

Were you ever worried that you were limiting your audience by sticking with so much Jewish humor, and that perhaps gentiles just wouldn’t get it/find it funny?

I never worried about that, but the network certainly did. All comedy that we experience today—both standup and situational—is rooted in Jewish humor, and the fact that my character in The Nanny, Fran Fine, was surrounded by English aristocracy, afforded the character the room to not only be Jewish, but also to be an all-American, "red white and blue," working class, union sympathizer, patriotic girl-next-door.

Why do the most “offensive” comedians (Sarah Silverman, Larry David, etc.) get the most stardom?

First and foremost, they get success because they’re talented and funny. And if they shock audiences by saying things other people only think, good for them for pushing the envelope!

What about the idea that we can make fun of our religion but nobody else can? Or does it help us connect as Jews in some major way?

You don’t have to be Jewish to take the position that “I can make fun of my kid, or my wife, or my mother-in-law, but you can’t.” So that’s one thing. And the reason is because you know when you say it about your own, you’re not being mean spirited, but you never really know where another person is coming from.

What about the source of your comedy? Do the things that you have written ever parallel your own life or life experiences as an American Jew?

Completely! You have to write about what you know. At the core of everything that I write, there is truth and personal experience.

Fran not only starred on The Nanny, but also created, wrote, directed, and executive produced it. Fran is also an accomplished author. Her first book, Enter Whining, was a New York Times best seller. For her most recent book, Cancer Schmancer, also a New York Times best seller, Fran has received the prestigious NCCS writer’s award. Fran is the president and visionary of the Cancer Schmancer Movement, a nonprofit organization that aims to ensure stage-one diagnosis for all women with cancer.

About the Author

author_rachel_S_CohenRachel S. Cohen
Rachel S. Cohen, a recent Brandeis graduate, previously worked for Revista Glamour (Glamour magazine) in Spain and wrote for in New York. While writing still remains one of her true passions outside of her day job, she currently works as a bilingual paralegal in downtown Boston.

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