Whether or not you knew who The Try Guys were before last week, you’ve probably seen their most recent headlines —about Ned Fulmer’s extramarital “consensual workplace relationship” and his subsequent firing by the group — on your feed. As we anxiously wait to learn the future of The Try Guys after Fulmer’s departure, my mind could not help but wander to the fate of the group’s only Jewish member.
Zach Kornfeld, best known as “the cute member” of The Try Guys, has always been outspoken about his Jewishness. He’s never shied away from referencing — whether in a quick, witty moment on his YouTube show, or in more depth during his media appearances — his Jewish upbringing, heritage and culture. He once described it as “irrevocably woven into the DNA and fabric of [his] being,” and, for often-lighthearted comedian Kornfeld, this statement is especially stark.
At the time that the news of Fulmer’s dismissal broke, Kornfeld seemed to be approaching an all-time high in his career. He was not only finding success with the Guys and in his own business, Zadiko Tea Co., but also power in his voice as an advocate for the disabled community and in his brave disclosure of his struggles with an autoimmune disease, ankylosing spondylitis. Kornfeld has been exceedingly vulnerable since joining The Try Guys, from sharing his relationship status despite his reservations about doing so, to documenting his journey with hair loss, to discussing the interplay between his weight and his chronic pain. Kornfeld has certainly pulled his emotional weight on the channel, and has done so while simultaneously serving as the show’s only Jewish representation.
Indeed, it seemed that Kornfeld had liberated himself from solely being the cute one. He has introduced the complexities of his personhood to the show’s viewership — and, better yet, his audience has accepted them with open arms.
Cue Fulmer’s cheating scandal.
Not only is the future of the Try Guys uncertain as we wait for them to break their silence, but so is Kornfeld’s. Whether The Try Guys disband, become a trio, or add 15 more members and become The Chai Guys (let me dream), Kornfeld’s public persona will have to adapt. Either he, along with the other Guys, will work to collectively fill in the now-vacant “Ned Fulmer” character, or the Guys will go their separate ways, forcing Kornfeld to regain his footing without a safety net to produce content out of his comfort zone.
Kornfeld’s presence as a Jewish man in The Try Guys is meaningful, in part, because he is placed against a backdrop of non-Jews. His identity has never been tokenized; instead, it’s been celebrated. He is distinguished from the other members without being othered. In The Try Guys, Kornfeld found a platform to represent the vulnerability, humanity and tenderness of Jewish creatives. He thrives in his Jewish identity when exclaiming “Oy!” or boasting his bagel expertise, but he also makes his Jewish character as complex and as multi-dimensional as all Jews truly are. He showcases as much of his joy as he does his anxiety — and as many of his triumphs as his hurdles.
While Kornfeld could certainly continue his successful streak on his own, his presence in The Try Guys — as they were— is meaningful. I can only hope that if the group does continue as a trio, Kornfeld is given the permission to continue his inspiring, and very Jewish, metamorphosis. With every new video featuring Kornfeld excelling at standup comedy (featuring a few Jewish jokes, of course), or updating us on the current state of his health, I become more confident that the apex of his career is still far ahead of him. He has not only challenged our presumptions of him as dorky and uncoordinated during the early seasons of The Try Guys, but he continues to challenge prevalent assumptions about Jewish masculinity. There is strength in Kornfeld’s narrative. While the current scandal might obstruct him from reaching that point, I hope it does not deter him from continuing to build it.
It is up to us, as Jewish viewers, to continue encouraging Kornfeld to use his voice, regardless of the future of The Try Guys. It has long been time for Kornfeld’s resilience to be acknowledged. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for us to do so openly and intently. For all we know, his career might depend on it.