Schlemiel (Yiddish: שלעמיל; sometimes spelled shlemiel) is a Yiddish term meaning "unlucky bungler" or "chump." It is a common archetype in Jewish humor, and so-called "schlemiel jokes" depict the schlemiel falling into unfortunate situations.
The inept schlemiel is often presented alongside the unlucky schlimazel. A Yiddish saying explains that "a schlemiel is somebody who often spills his soup and a schlimazel is the person it lands on." The schlemiel is similar to the schmuck but, as stated in a 2010 essay in The Forward, a schmuck can improve himself while a schlemiel is "irredeemably what they are."
While the etymology of the term is unknown, one popular theory is that it comes from the Hebrew term shelo mo'il, meaning "useless." Another theory is that the word is derived from the name Shelumiel, an Israeli chieftain. Others claim that the term originated with the character Peter Schlemihl, the main character of a novella by Adelbert von Chamisso.
In American culture, the term schlemiel is known most for its usage in the theme song of the sitcom Laverne & Shirley. The show's opening theme began with the title characters chanting, "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!"
In film and television
- The Three Stooges (1922-1970) portrayed an assorted trio of schlemiel types. Curly Howard's catchphrase, "I'm a victim of circumstance" expresses the humor of a schlemiel asserting his own basic innocence in the face of constant misfortune. The Stooges were not usually schlimazels, as their mishaps typically resolve happily for them in the end, while the ultimate consequences fall on other characters.
- In the 2009 film A Serious Man directed by the Coen brothers, the character of Larry Gopnik is depicted as a schlemiel.
- In a 1944 essay, Hannah Arendt argues that Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character is a schlemiel whose only comfort is "the kindness and humanity of casual acquaintances."
- Many of Woody Allen's films feature Allen portraying a schlemiel type, particularly in his relations with women.
- Larry David's character on the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm serves as a modern schlemiel, encountering "problems that affect contemporary middle- to upper-class American Jews."
- In the sitcom Seinfeld, George Costanza "follows the pattern of the classic schlemiel," with Jerry Seinfeld's character serving as his schlimazel.
- In "Park Safety," an episode of the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation, Ron Swanson states that his clumsy coworker Jerry "is both the schlemiel and the schlimazel."
- The titular character of the 2004 comedy film Napoleon Dynamite embodies the traits of the schlemiel, according to researcher David Buchbinder.
- In the drama series The O.C., Seth Cohen's personality "is self-deprecating and in line with that of past schlemiels."
- "Definition of Schlemiel". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- "Schlemiel Jokes | My Jewish Learning". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- Kibrick, Barry (2015-11-09). "Schlemiel! Schlimazel! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- "Etiquette for Schmucks, Schlemiels, Schlimazels and Schmendriks". The Forward. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- "shlemiel". www.balashon.com. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- "Shelumiel – The First Schlemiel?". The Forward. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- Zeldner, Max (1953). "A Note on "Schlemiel"". The German Quarterly. 26 (2): 115–117. doi:10.2307/401795. JSTOR 401795.
- "Schlemiel, Schlimazel: 25 Things You Never Knew About 'Laverne & Shirley'". Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- Denby, David (2009-09-28). "Gods And Victims". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- "J. Hoberman Reviews the Coen Brothers' 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". Tablet Magazine. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- Arendt, Hannah (1944). "The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition". Jewish Social Studies. 6 (2): 99–122. doi:10.2307/4464588. JSTOR 4464588.
- Feuer, Menachem (2013). Bailey, Peter; Girgus, Sam, eds. A Companion to Woody Allen. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 403–423. doi:10.1002/9781118514870.ch19/summary. ISBN 9781118514870.
- Gillota, David (2010-11-22). "Negotiating Jewishness: Curb Your Enthusiasm and the Schlemiel Tradition". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 38 (4): 152–161. doi:10.1080/01956051003725244. ISSN 0195-6051.
- Johnson, Carla (1994-07-01). "The Schlemiel and the Schlimazl in Seinfeld". Journal of Popular Film and Television. 22 (3): 116–124. doi:10.1080/01956051.1994.9943676. ISSN 0195-6051.
- Garber, Megan. "The Downtrodden Jerry Gergich Is the True Hero of 'Parks and Recreation'". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2017-11-17.
- Buchbinder, David (Summer 2008). "Enter the Schlemiel: the emergence of inadequate or incompetent masculinities in recent film and television". Canadian Review of American Studies. University of Toronto Press. 38 (2): 227–245. doi:10.1353/crv.0.0012.
- Olson, Tamara. "Popular Representations of Jewish Identity on TV: The Case of The O.C.". Digital Commons at Macalester College. Archived from the original on November 17, 2017.