Back to IndieWire

‘Finding Your Roots’: Larry David and Bernie Sanders Are Related, and More Shocking Revelations From PBS’ Ancestry Series

Far more people were descended from slave owners than would care to admit.

Larry David, "Finding Your Roots"

Larry David, “Finding Your Roots”

PBS

Although Larry David had impersonated Senator Bernie Sanders brilliantly multiple times on “Saturday Night Live,” the men’s resemblance was written off as nothing but a joke. After all, they’re both older Jewish men from New York. Of course they’re similar.

On Tuesday night’s premiere of PBS’ “Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” though, they discovered they have far more in common than just looks. After running a DNA test on the two, host Gates revealed that they share significantly long sequences of identical DNA. In short, they’re related.

“What the hell?!” David said upon learning the news. “That is really funny. That is amazing! Alright. Cousin Bernie.”

In a separate interview, Sanders had a similarly delighted but stunned reaction. “You’re kidding. That is unbelievable. This is true?” he said. “I say, ‘He does a better Bernie Sanders than I do.’ Oh my god!”

Watch the video below for the big revelation:

“Finding Your Roots” has had other big revelations in its past, although none so perfect perhaps as the “Bern Your Enthusiasm” discovery. Here are some of the shocking results from over the course of four seasons:

Celebrities Related to Other Celebrities

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon: The best buds are 10th cousins once removed.

Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick: Talk about your Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The actor discovered that he and his wife are related, albeit distantly. They’re ninth cousins, once removed, so that’s a pretty safe margin. Whew!

Celebs Whose Ancestors Owned Slaves

Ben Affleck: The “Batman” actor famously tried to hide the results that his ancestors were slave owners. Some of his remarks about the subject are below:

“I didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves. I was embarrassed. The very thought left a bad taste in my mouth… It’s important to remember that this isn’t a news program. ’Finding Your Roots’ is a show where you voluntarily provide a great deal of information about your family, making you quite vulnerable. The assumption is that they will never be dishonest but they will respect your willingness to participate and not look to include things you think would embarrass your family.”

“I regret my initial thoughts that the issue of slavery not be included in the story. We deserve neither credit nor blame for our ancestors and the degree of interest in this story suggests that we are, as a nation, still grappling with the terrible legacy of slavery. It is an examination well worth continuing.”

Wanda Sykes: Although she descended from free people of color, she was horrified to learn that two of them owned slaves themselves. “It’s no princess story. Not at all,” she said.

Anderson Cooper: One of Cooper’s ancestors was beaten to death with a hoe by a runaway slave he had locked in a shed after recapturing him.

Khandi Alexander: The actress is descended from a white slave owner and an unidentified black slave. Through that slave owner, she’s descended from another man who owned 85 slaves and a large plantation.

Larry David: Beyond learning about Cousin Bernie, David was shocked to learn that he even had any ancestors in the South. His great grandfather Harry Bernstein owned slaves.

And the Rest: Several more people also discovered slave owning in their past: Kevin Bacon (by his northern Quaker family), Kyra Sedgwick, and Ken Burns.

Ancestors Fought for the Confederacy

Harry Connick, Jr.: The crooner was disappointed that even though his Irish ancestor James Connick wasn’t a slave owner, he did fight for the South in the Civil War. This didn’t necessarily mean that he supported slavery though. At that point in time, jobs were scarce, and fighting for the army was one way of earning money.

Larry David: Once again, the comedian was surprised to find out that great grandfather Harry Bernstein had fought for the Confederacy, one of about 3,000 Jewish men to do so.

Ancestors Were Famous Historical Figures

Ken Burns: The documentarian is distantly related to Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Ancestors From Unexpected Places

Martha Stewart: Genetic testing shows that the domestic goddess likely descended from Islamic people through her matrilineal line. She can also trace back her roots to the Tartars, whom Genghis Khan had conquered.

Michelle Rodriguez: The “Fast and the Furious” franchise star was shocked to realize much of her DNA pointed to European ancestry. She was thrilled to discover that about 21.3 percent was African though, but sadly, only about 6.3 percent Native American, which appears to be the most coveted of ancestries on this show.

Margaret Cho: Through her patrilineal line, her ancestors most likely hailed from China, not Korea as she had supposed.

Ancient History

Ming Tsai: The celebrity chef was able to trace his family’s history al the way back to his 116th great-grandfather around the 27th century BC, thanks to a “stele” or stone tablet that was carved with his family’s history.

“Finding Your Roots” airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET on PBS. Future guests this season include Ava DuVernay, Fred Armisen, Carly Simon, Christopher Walken, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen, William H. Macy, T-Nehisi Coates, Scarlett Johansson, Bryant Gumbel, Garrison Keillor, Suzanne Malveaux, Amy Schumer, Carmello Anthony, Gaby Hoffman, Tea Leoni, Ana Navarro, and Janet Mock.

This Article is related to: Television and tagged , , ,