15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘You Don't Mess with the Zohan’ on Its 15th Anniversary
“He is the greatest Israeli soldier the world has ever known, but it was time for a change,” begins the trailer for the Adam Sandler film You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The movie focuses on Sandler as Zohan, an Israeli killing machine who dreams of being a hairstylist in America. And so, he fakes his death and moves to the U.S. to support his passion. Unfortunately, his past catches up to him and leads to a life-and-death conflict in New York City.
Debuting in 2008, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan somehow found comedy in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was moderately successful at the box office and is generally ranked in the lower tier of Sandler films (though our own Tim Grierson named it as one of Sandler’s five essential films). Still, with Zohan celebrating its 15th anniversary tomorrow, it’s worthy of a few trivia tidbits, like the fact that it was kinda, sorta, maybe inspired by a real person...
The Real Zohan
You Don’t Mess with the Zohan was partially inspired by Nezi Arbib, a former Israeli soldier who became a hair stylist in Solana Beach, California.
It Was Originally Written Pre-9/11
In addition to Sandler, the screenplay for You Don’t Mess with the Zohan was written by Robert Smigel — the man behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog — and Judd Apatow. In an interview, Apatow revealed that the script for Zohan was written back in 2000, but following 9/11, a comedy relating to terrorism and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict was too sensitive a topic. This led to it being shelved until 2008.
“Zohan” isn’t an Israeli first name. Instead, it’s an Arabic name meaning “gift from Allah.” The Israeli equivalent of “Zohan” is actually “Zohar.”
Sandler and the Director Just Vibe
At the time, this was director Dennis Dugan’s fourth film with Sandler, as he’d also directed Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. After You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Dugan also directed Sandler in Just Go with It, Jack and Jill and both Grown Ups movies.
Sandman Had to Workout to Get That Zohan Body
While Sandler could have had CG painted-on abs for the role, he instead opted to train to get into the physical shape more appropriate for an ex-Israeli super soldier.
A Carnival of Cameos
There are a number of cameos in the film, including Dave Matthews, Henry Winkler, Kevin James, Mariah Carey, John McEnroe, George Takei, Bruce Vilanch and Charlotte Rae. Likewise, Dugan appears as a homeless person.
They Actually Shot in Israel
Most of the film was shot in America — primarily Manhattan and L.A. — but the opening scene was shot in Tel Aviv.
They Cut an Entire Character
In an earlier cut of the film, there was a nervous robot Israeli soldier named “Cobra” featured in several scenes. He was in an Israeli briefing room early on in the film, then returned at the end to save Zohan. According to the DVD extras — which contain an interview with Cobra, voiced by Sandler — he was cut after not testing well. In the final film, Cobra is only seen in the back of the briefing room and goes unacknowledged.
The Other Real Hairstylist/Soldier
The ‘SNL’ Reference
The scene in the electronics store — which features Smigel as “Yosi” — makes multiple references to a Saturday Night Live sketch called “Sabra Price is Right,” which featured people bidding on cheap electronics. The most notable references are the lines “Disco! Disco! Good! Good!” and the mention of electronics with “Sony guts.”
Sandler’s Real Family Pop-Up — But Of Course
At the end of the film, Sandler’s real-life wife and daughter make a cameo. His daughter, Sadie, is riding a goat.
Hummus: The Miracle Food
In addition to being eaten in the film, hummus is used as coffee creamer, toothpaste and to put out fires.
Speaking of Middle Eastern Food
Zohan led to an increase in the sale of baba ghanoush and other Middle Eastern culinary favorites — a la the just-mentioned hummus — were referenced throughout the film.
‘Zohan’ Fought ‘Kung-Fu Panda’
The movie was a hit in Israel but was banned in most Arab countries (it earned $204 million globally). In the U.S., it debuted in second place, after Kung-Fu Panda, and made it across the once-coveted $100 million mark.
Unsurprisingly, Critics Didn’t Love It
In a red-carpet interview, a reporter asked Smigel what Triumph the Insult Comic Dog thought of You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. In Triumph’s voice, Smigel said, in part, “This is a great movie… for me to poop on!”
Coincidentally, this is also what most critics thought about the film.