For Matisyahu, no beard, no entry


Since Matisyahu shaved his beard last year, the former Chasidic reggae musician has been suffering all sorts of blowback. Along with losing his facial hair, sidelocks and the love of some Jewish fans, apparently he’s lost his VIP status in the eyes of club bouncers, too.

At the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, over the weekend, Matisyahu stood outside the TAO nightclub for some 10 minutes unable to get in because the door managers had no idea who he was, according to the New York Post. He finally gained access to the club from a friend who recognized him. Had he shown up in the black hat and coat, and straggly white beard he once wore, the bouncers surely would have dug his outfit and ushered him in.

Concerts celebrate Ash Grove’s golden legacy


Ed Pearl, 70, silver-haired and feisty, will forever be associated with the Ash Grove, the folk club he opened 50 years ago with a $5,000 investment, despite the fact that the venue’s been closed for a quarter century.

“My life,” Pearl said, “has been a series of fortuitous accidents. And,” he ruefully adds, “not-so fortuitous.”

The Ash Grove’s golden anniversary is being celebrated this weekend at UCLA with two all-star evening concerts at Royce Hall and two and a half days (Friday through Sunday) full of concerts and workshops exploring the club’s legacy in bluegrass, blues, theater, women’s culture, poetry, leftist politics, gospel music and activism.

To call the Ash Grove, which sat at 8162 Melrose Ave. in West Hollywood from 1958 to 1972, a mere folk club would be to oversimplify. Culture, politics, art, activism and music all converged in this West Coast outpost for all folk-related artists: Odette, Guy Carawan, Phil Ochs, the Limeliters, Bud & Travis, the Stoneman Family, Tom Paxton, the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and John Fahey, among them. It was a haven for authentic blues, where the durable duo Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry first met; where Magic Sam played his last gig; where Albert King, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, the Rev. Gary Davis, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf all played. Flat-pick master Doc Watson first encountered bluegrass progenitor Bill Monroe there. Taj Mahal, the Chambers Brothers, the Kentucky Colonels, Ry Cooder, Canned Heat, Spirit, Linda Ronstadt and Kaleidoscope all gestated at the Ash Grove.

It was also a space for Lawrence Lipton’s poetry and jazz shows; comic monologist Hugh Romney (before he became Wavy Gravy); where Dalton Turbo read; where Holly Near first sang; where Michael McKean and David L. Lander performed with the Credibility Gap; where the San Francisco Mime Troupe and El Teatro Campesino stopped in Los Angeles. It was an embarkation point for busses bound for the southern Freedom Rides. Civil rights, voting rights for 18-year-olds, women’s rights, anti-Vietnam activism, migrant worker’s concerns were all part of the Ash Grove.

Pearl’s activism was no accident. He grew up in Boyle Heights, between Boyle and Lincoln, near County General Hospital. The area had blacks, Armenians, Croatians, Italians, Mexicans and, of course, Jews.

“I’ve always been multicultural,” Pearl said.

The neighborhood’s famous Breed Street Shul — off of what is now Cesar Chavez Boulevard — was one of the largest synagogues west of the Mississippi in its time. When asked if he was raised observantly, Pearl shrugs, “My cousins went to the Breed Temple. My bar mitzvah was at the smaller Menorah Center, north of Wabash Avenue.”

His father’s family left Ukraine after the failed revolution of 1905 and fled the subsequent Russian persecution to Cairo. Pearl’s father was trained as a mechanic and became a tool and dye maker for Lockheed. His mother, of Russian-Jewish stock, was carried to America as an infant and raised in St. Louis.

Socialist and communist thinkers were seldom far from Pearl’s boyhood; this alarmed his assimilationist mother. His first brush with activism came in junior high. Gerald L.K. Smith, the infamous anti-Semite, was scheduled to speak at a nearby high school. Pearl organized a large walkout at his own school. The action worked; Smith was cancelled.

The demonstrators all faced expulsion, though, and gained reentry to school only after public apologies. Pearl was the lone holdout.

“Dan Margolis, the radical lawyer, intervened,” Pearl said. “He rescued me. I wouldn’t apologize; it drove my mother crazy. I had to sleep out in the garage. He talked with the school and they let me back in, and I eventually apologized.”

“That’s my brand of Judaism, ” he added, with a twinkle in his eye.

Pearl entered UCLA at 16. He joined a committee that tried to present blacklisted folk singer Pete Seeger on campus. The administration fought it and Pearl — with some coaching from fraternity and sorority debaters — became spokesman for the group. While the effort was ultimately futile, Pearl held his own as a speaker.

“Only later did I find out why I was chosen: I was the only one who wasn’t in the Communist or Socialist Parties,” he said.

Pearl wound up booking Seeger into Santa Monica High School. In the ’60s, he also booked the Santa Monica Civic for attractions too big for the Ash Grove: Seeger, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Ravi Shankar. The club was the one mandatory folk venue west of Chicago.

“I met Dylan in New York in 1961,” Pearl recalled. “He knew all about the Ash Grove, and he said he dreamed of coming out here more than anything. So, I had him booked, and he called me up and said, ‘Ed, I’ve got a chance to make a record for John Hammond at Columbia Records. What should I do …?'”

UCLA ethnomusicology student Barry Hansen, later to become Dr. Demento, worked the sound and the lights at the club. Blues scholar/journalist/broadcaster Mary Katherine Aldin worked in the office. Guitarist Bernie Pearl — Ed’s brother — headed the club’s music school with David Cohen. Blues harmonica titan George “Harmonica” Smith taught Taj, Rod Piazza, James Harman and Louie Lista at the Ash Grove. Mick Jagger personally thanked Pearl after a night at the club.

Attorney Barry Fischer, a UCLA law student in the late ’50s, found the Ash Grove a rare showcase for the international folk music he was playing. With his Ellis Island Klezmer Orchestra, Fisher would spearhead the local Yiddishkayt concerts and festivals.

“In the repressive atmosphere of the ’50s,” Fischer said, “what is now called world music was seen as slightly subversive. I studied ethnomusicology and was playing Balkan, Slavic, Russian, Eastern European music, and there weren’t many outlets for that. I worked with Mike Janusz, an extraordinarily gifted linguist. He spoke many languages and organized great vocal ensembles. One of this weekend’s workshops will be a tribute to him.”

Legal scrapes were also part of the Ash Grove’s legacy, and Fischer’s legal acumen was utilized by Pearl.

A Night at the Fais Do-Do


There is a burgundy motif at Club Fais Do-Do — burgundy curtains, burgundy tablecloths. The eastern wall is also painted a dark red hue but seems to have other colors
beneath that seep through from the past.

Just south of the 10 Freeway, in a nondescript part of Culver City, three young men test their music equipment on the stage at this hipster cafĂ©/club that books regular gigs and treats visitors to New Orleans cuisine, including Creole and Cajun dishes like po’boys, jambalaya and even a Ya’Ya Turkey Burger (“good for you, bad for the turkey,” reads its description).

On this night, in addition to these savories, the ” target = “_blank”>N.O.M.A.D.S., short for Notorious Offensive Male Arabs Discussing Sh*t. The concert is co-sponsored by the Craft and Folk Art Museum, in conjunction with its current exhibition, “Sovereign Threads: The History of Palestinian Embroidery.”

One might wonder if this will be an incendiary evening, given that it features hip-hoppers, artists known for insurrection. But the three men onstage are mild-mannered musicians, three skinny white kids, probably in their 20s, who it turns out are the opening act, New West.

After keeping us waiting for the obligatory hour, the funk-rock band plays a half-dozen songs, during the last few of which members of the crowd begin dancing. It’s an intimate venue, with a high ceiling but only a few tables and booths, so most people stand.

Later, the audience comes out in even greater numbers in anticipation of the Legitimates, another funk-rock outfit. As the Legitimates mount the stage, they wear black hats and black suits, some of a rumpled variety, and bear a resemblance to the Blues Brothers or “a bunch of Chasidic diamond merchants,” to quote Aretha Franklin from the film starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd.
But they are not necessarily Jews, and given how hot it is onstage, the band members, led by front man drummer Donnie Baseball, named in honor of former Yankee star Don Mattingly, begin to discard their jackets. Baseball plays a ferocious set of drums as the band performs several instrumentals.

As midnight approaches, a tall youth with some fuzz above his lip steps before the microphone. Like the Legitimates, the emcee, clean-cut by rapper standards, wears a dark suit and a dark Yankees cap, adhering to the Bronx Bomber theme. He says his name is Ragtop, but it’s a moniker. His real name is Nizar Wattad, and he was, according to the press material, “born on a mountain in Palestine.”

Ragtop says he is 6-foot-5, but because he is so thin, it is hard to judge his height. It is also hard to judge his voice. Despite his Yankee cap and the fact that he was raised in Tennessee, his voice doesn’t seem to come from either New York or the South. He produces a sound that blends in nicely with the band, and he doesn’t show off or become obstreperous like some rappers, but with his dynamic physical gestures and syncopated intonation, he exudes a kind of ghetto authenticity.

Ragtop, along with a cohort with a shaved head, rap of “that long time ago”; they rap about the proletariat, tsunamis and a lack of justice. But they do so cheerfully, respectfully.

After they point out that rapping requires a participatory audience, Ragtop asks, “Who here holds down a 9-to-5 job they hate?” A number of people in the crowd raise their hands.

This is about as subversive as the Philistines get. They look almost wholesome in their suits and clean or trim beards, though their shirts stylishly hang outside their pants. And they occasionally adopt Ragtop’s partial Southern roots, addressing the crowd as “y’all.” Indeed, these Arab street hip-hoppers come across as being almost All-American.

With midnight approaching and bedtime beckoning, my wife and I grab a CD comprised of “23 rounds of heavyweight hip-hop” between the N.O.M.A.D.S. and the Philistines.

Slipping the CD into the car player, we finally hear something approximating Arab music. There is a wind instrument, perhaps a flute, playing in the intro. It wafts in the background, as if through the labyrinthine air of a bazaar. We imagine a swami is calling us, trying to draw us out like a genie, until the gangsta rap pierces the moment.

That is when we return to urban American hip-hop, with all the tropes of the art form — the ubiquitous, nonstop patter; the ingenious rhymes, such as “Iverson” with “Bedford-Stuyvesant”; the word-smithery and prolonged assonance of multisyllabic words beginning with the letter O.

The N.O.M.A.D.S. battle the Philistines to a draw. Both are hailed for drawing attention to the angst of checkpoints, but it is hard to discern all the lyrics, let alone any political content in them, just the occasional reference to Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah or Mexico.

They even have a joint song titled, “The Inquisition.” In it, my wife, a better listener than I, detects the phrase, “passing for a Jew.” Whether or not they can pass for Jews, they can certainly pass for rappers as American as Kanye West or Eminem.

Teen Victims Tell Their Stories


On June 1, 2001, Larisa Azyaski stood with her best friend Irina Nepomnyaschy among a sea of teenagers clamoring to get into the Dolphinarium, a popular Tel Aviv club. Suddenly, the place exploded. A suicide bomber detonated himself, and Azyaski saw only darkness in front of her. She felt like her head was on fire. Disoriented and separated from her friends, she walked past dozens of motionless bodies and managed to escape the chaos.

The then-16-year-old hailed a cab and rushed to the nearest hospital, where she underwent a six-hour operation to remove pieces of shrapnel lodged in her back, legs and ears. When Azyaski awoke from her surgery, her parents informed her that her best friend was dead.

Unlike Irina, Azyaski, now 18, was among the so-called lucky ones of the Dolphinarium bombing, where 21 people — mostly teenagers — were killed. And while the families of those who died in the blast are left with memories of their loved ones, Azyaski and six other young survivors who visited Los Angeles in early November are still learning to cope and move beyond the impact of that tragedy.

The seven girls, most of whom are Jewish Russian immigrants living in Israel, and a mother who lost her only child in the attack, spent more than a week in Los Angeles as part of the 10 Days of Hope project. The trip was sponsored by StandWithUs, a Los Angeles-based grass-roots organization that supports Israel, and Green Dog Films, a local production company. Staying with host families, the girls and the mother, who came in her daughter’s place, flew to Los Angeles to share their stories with local schools and other community groups. With limited access to medical care in Israel, the girls secured appointments with Los Angeles doctors and dentists who helped to treat some of their injuries free of charge. In addition, they spent time at Universal Studios, Disneyland and in Hollywood — and even had a day of beauty. But even exciting activities and the support of their new surrogate families couldn’t suppress the girls’ thoughts of their troubled past.

"I used to be very happy and full of life," Azyaski told The Journal through a Russian translator while eating at Pat’s in Pico-Robertson. A mixture of sadness and anger filled her pretty blue eyes. "Now I feel like an old, sick antique that nobody wants."

Pain is an everyday reality for Azyaski, who takes Advil every three hours to relieve the pressure of the sharp pieces of metal lodged mostly in her legs and back. The metal is actually nickel, which is difficult to remove. Instead, her body has to naturally expel the material, which can take years. Besides extensive nerve damage, constant pain and hearing loss, Azyaski has a six-inch scar on her left calf, as well as several scars on her lower back where sharp pieces constantly and painfully make their way to the skin’s surface.

Clad in an oversize gray turtleneck sweater, Azyaski seemed self-protective, but it’s clear that the bulk of her suffering is of the emotional kind.

For Karina Krasnopolnaski, 17, who was out celebrating her 15th birthday on the night of explosion, unsightly scars have made the attractive teenager doubt her self-worth when it comes to the opposite sex. Krasnopolnaski was recently devastated when a potential suitor made a negative comment about a large scar on her thigh. Since then, she intentionally chooses clothing that covers her upper legs.

Low self-esteem was a common thread among the young victims. With an abundance of physical and emotional scars, they see themselves as defective, cheated and unwanted. As such, getting back to "normal" means reinventing a sense of normalcy. After the attack, Azyaski’s dreams of joining the Israeli army with Irina and opening a home for abandoned children were destroyed. Her back and leg injuries prevent her from standing or sitting for more than 20 minutes at a time, which makes it hard for her to secure any kind of a job — even part-time work as a waitress or a clerk.

Her options greatly narrowed, Azyaski is currently pursuing the equivalent of a community college degree in accounting, a subject she hates. She is also working through a deep depression that followed her mother’s death from breast cancer last summer. Azyaski’s new life consists of completing her studies and desperately searching for a job to help support her father, her older sister and her sister’s husband, with whom she shares a small apartment in Rishon LeZion. Moving on means trying to let go of the guilt she feels for the deaths of Irina and her mother.

But the teenagers react differently to the bombings.

Unlike Azyaski, Tanya Weiz, 20, says that the tragedy made her stronger. Weiz was standing in line with three friends the night the explosion occurred. The first thing she remembered was touching her neck and finding that four of her fingers slid inside a gaping wound there. A passerby helped her get to the hospital where she endured an eight-hour operation to remove three iron balls that were lodged in the delicate tissues of her neck.

There is an air of proud defiance when she moves her shirt aside to display her scar.

"Before, I used to hang out with people who had no interest in real life," said Weiz, who was not expected to speak again; she is currently studying to be a hair stylist. Since the incident, Weiz, whose jet-black hair and black clothing give her a "goth" appearance, has re-evaluated her friendships.

"My whole perspective changed," said Weiz, who also lost her best friend in the attack. "I believe I was born on June 1."

"In order [for them to have] a fully normal life, we’d have to make sure nothing happens in Israel," said Yan Fisher Romanovsky, a Los Angeles independent producer who served as the trip coordinator, chaperone, translator and personal confidant to the girls during their stay. "Every time they hear about an explosion, [the memories] come back. Also, by living there, you have an everyday chance of getting into the same situation again."

At the age of 18, most Israelis enter the army, but physical limitations force these girls must find a different path. They’re the newest unwitting warriors in Israel’s battle with terrorism, but they are voices that are rarely heard.

One person who wants to help them is Jason Gurvitz, the founder of Green Dog Films. While filming "Internal Exile," an upcoming documentary about young Israelis and Palestinians, Gurvitz and his crew met representatives from several Israeli philanthropic organizations, including the Mikhail Chernoy Foundation, who asked them to make a second documentary about the teenage victims of the Dolphinarium bombing. The project involved bringing the girls to the United States to talk about their experiences and treat them to 10 days of hope and healing. Gurvitz recruited StandWithUs for additional support and hopes that the program will continue for years to come.

"I think that young people’s voices are severely underrepresented," Gurvitz said. "The American public hasn’t heard the personal stories from the people who were involved directly." With the "10 Days of Hope" documentary, Gurvitz wants to inform young Americans about the tragedies in Israel.

"Most young people in the U.S. became aware of the conflict in Israel with the Dolphinarium attack because they hear the word ‘discotheque’ and that’s something they’re familiar with," he said, adding that most public schools don’t even teach students about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For StandWithUs, educating the community at large about terrorism in Israel was one of the goals of the girls’ visit.

"People don’t talk about the pain and suffering for the survivors," said Roz Rothstein, the organization’s executive director. While the girls shared their stories with Shalhevet High School, Milken Community High School, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and Temple Beth Am, Rothstein believes that it’s the larger American community that desperately needs this education.

"The Jewish community performs a duty of loving [these victims]. They’re the family," Rothstein said. "But, the broader community needs to learn about it."

Rothstein felt that part of the mission was realized when KTLA broadcast the girls’ story during a recent news segment.

Playing the role of the dutiful family, 200 members of the Jewish community gathered inside the Temple Beth Am ballroom on Nov. 12, the eve of the girls’ departure from Los Angeles. StandWithUs board members, UCLA students from Bruins for Israel, local high school students, representatives from the local Israeli consulate and concerned members of the community at large crammed inside the large room to support the young survivors. Like proud parents, the crowd cheered as each girl made her way to the microphone to thank the host families and other benefactors. The mood grew solemn when Faina Yaakovlev, 16, sang a moving song that she wrote about her memories of the attack. Ma’ayan Friedman and Natalie Naor, seniors at Shalhevet, were so moved by the girls’ visit to their school that they came to see them one last time.

"Your strength invigorates us," Shiran Zohar from Bruins for Israel told the girls. "You are our heroes."

The applause was deafening.

While all the girls commented on how safe they felt during their stay in Los Angeles, none wants to leave Israel and give in to terrorism. "Everywhere is scary," Victoria Aguerenko, an 18-year-old victim, told The Journal in Russian. "There is no 100 percent anywhere."

During her last night in Los Angeles, Azyaski was in high spirits. Clad in a black, sparkling evening gown with her blond hair styled, there was a marked change in her demeanor.

"Being here has changed my life," she said with a smile, clutching her new Kabbalah pendant necklace, a gift from her host family to symbolize their unconditional love. "Here I found a different world and it gave me a lot of strength and power to continue living, and prove to everyone that no matter what, life will go on."

For more information on the 10 Days of Hope program, contact StandWithUs at (310) 836-6140.

Hip to Be Square Dancers


In the wild, wild West Valley, the Trail Dusters gather to dance. Two-by-two they head down Paseo Primario in old Calabasas, 50 to 100 couples on any given Wednesday night, to follow-your-neighbor and swing-that-girl, now right, now left.

“To the best of my knowledge, Trail Dusters is the largest square dance club in America,” says Jeffrey Hausman, co-president of the Trail Dusters with his wife, Margie. Clubs touting themselves as the largest in Texas and the largest in Michigan claim memberships of 150 and 170, respectively. So attendees at national square dancing conventions are “shocked when I say we have 500,” Hausman explains.

Though Trail Dusters has no religious affiliation, members estimate that of the 240 couples and handful of single members in the group, 90 to 95 percent are Jewish. There was no special outreach effort to the Jewish community. “People join because their friends have joined,” says Trail Duster Ron Sobel, “and who are your friends?”

Vice President Gene Seiden adds that one other factor brought him and his wife to the group back in September 1996: “The kids left.” Past president Rebecca Rothman believes that “empty-nest” feeling pushes many members to join: “They need to build up their friendship base again.”

At a recent Wednesday evening workshop class — a refresher course, as regular classes are not held during the summer — more than a few square dancing couples compared their group with a temple chavurah, or group of friends. Flyers lying on a table near the dance action advertised the group’s upcoming weekend retreats, picnics, ice cream socials and game nights, and even a few square dancing events.

The traditional image of a square dance, with men in bolo ties and women in ruffled skirts, is still a part of the Calabasas dances. Yet while traditions endure, these square dancers are an informal breed. “We take a lot of breaks, we nosh, we talk,” Rothman admits. And that country-western square dance music shares air time with, on this night, songs ranging from “Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” to the Euro-dance hit “I’m a Taxi Driver.” The caller, who sounds to contemporary ears like a cross between a rapper and an auctioneer, instructs the dancers in his rapid fire sing-song, and the dancers respond, in “squares” of four couples each, laughing, joking and keeping up with the caller.

It is an activity as American as, well, air traffic control, one of the only other activities universally practiced around the world in English. For some, it may be hard to get over the idea of square dancing. Lois Seiden recalls, “One guy, his friends started coming to the classes, they told him he’d love it, he should come. He always said ‘Oh, that’s for hicks.’ But once he came to a class … he’s never missed one since.”

Meanwhile, the caller calls: “Load your boat.” The dancers raise their arms in the air, making a train conductor motion and respond, “Woo Woo!”

New classes begin Sept. 5. For more information about
Trail Dusters square dancing, call (818) 344-4155 or visit www.traildusters.net .

Climbing the Mountain


Back in 1991, David Brenner was king of the comedy mountain.

The comic had appeared well over 100 times on the “Tonight Show,” which he often guest-hosted in the 1970’s and ’80’s. He enjoyed lucrative Las Vegas appearances and was a perennial guest on TV shows like “Letterman.”

Then came the contentious court battle that knocked him, for a time, off the mountain. Brenner virtually disappeared for over four years as he struggled to win custody of his oldest son, Cole, now 17. It nearly cost him his career.

The comic had to drastically cut back his performance schedule or risk losing custody of Cole. His income declined by 80 percent as he paid $600,000 in legal fees. Brenner lost his Manhattan brownstone and his limousine. By the time he had won the custody battle, the clubs weren’t calling anymore.

Since 1995, Brenner has been immersed in another fierce battle — to rejuvenate his career. He took over a nationally-syndicated radio show, wrote a screenplay and worked the clubs. During a recent telephone interview, it was clear that all the work has paid off: Brenner is back with a vengeance.

He’s sold the screenplay, a wicked comedy called “Willpower;” he’s signed a multi-performance deal with the Venetian Resort Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas; and his new HBO special, “David Brenner: Live and Dangerous,” will be broadcast live from the Venetian on Feb. 19. Brenner is also appearing at smaller clubs such as the L.A. Cabaret Comedy Club in Encino, where he will perform Nov. 5 and 6. “Those shows will have more of a neighborhood feel,” the Encino resident says, “because I’m a Jew who lives in the neighborhood.”

But don’t expect to see the old David Brenner, the master of the “hair-on-the-soap” brand of observational comedy. “That whole observational thing was just, ‘blah, blah, blah,'” he says. “Now I’m more into observations about things that concern me, like politics, crime, the economy.”

His comeback has taken some thought. When Brenner, 54, performed on “Letterman” in February, applause interrupted his act a record 16 times. But not a single job offer came his way the next day. “People just thought, ‘Brenner is always hysterical,’ and went off to lunch,” he says. So the comic thought up a novel way to draw attention with his HBO special.

Instead of performing a scripted stand-up routine, he’ll improvise a significant portion of his act, riffing off of news items he’s read that day in USA Today. “I’ll run with the material, even if it’s not tested,” he says. “I do that in small clubs, and I’ll do it live in front of millions of people on HBO. I know I have to make the wire higher and thinner than ever before. And I have the guts to do it.”

During a recent performance, Brenner quipped, “It was decided that Miss America can have had several marriages and several abortions, and that’s a good thing. Now Miss New Jersey can win.” When Dan Quayle “pulled his hat” out of the presidential race, Brenner joked, “he was most disappointed that the little propeller on top was broken.”

If improvising an act before millions takes guts, it’s something Brenner learned in spades while growing up in tough, poor sections of south and west Philadelphia. “I was in hundreds of street fights,” recalls Brenner, a Jewish-gang leader who always tried to deflect anti-Semitic violence with jokes. “We were tough Jews.”

Brenner’s grandfather was an Orthodox rabbi whose sons accompanied him to shul wielding bricks and bottles to fight the bigots. “Three of my uncles became rabbis and three became gangsters,” Brenner says. “And my father was not a rabbi.”

Lou Brenner was a bookie with steel-gray eyes who drank whiskey and smoked cigars. He was also the funniest person on earth, Brenner says. As a young man, Lou was a vaudeville comedian who came home one day with a Hollywood movie contract in his pocket. Lou’s father, the rabbi, nixed the deal. “He said, ‘You can’t work on Shabbat,'” Brenner says. “So my dad quit.

“But I remember going down to the pool hall with my father, the people gathering around him, screaming and laughing at his jokes. It was fall-down laughing… And on the way to the pool hall he would take me to shul. He went every morning to daven. He wore tsissis and carried a Bible.”

Lou was a man who cared about people, and David, as a young man, wanted to change the world. While still in his 20s, he made 115 documentaries on socially-conscious issues such as overspending by the Pentagon and poverty. He won an Emmy Award and headed the distinguished documentary departments of both Westinghouse and Metromedia Broadcasting. “I naively thought I could change things,” he says. “And then I realized people didn’t want to change.”

So Brenner, who had inherited his father’s penchant for comedy, tried his hand at stand-up in 1969. Two years later, he made his stunning debut on the “Tonight Show.” Within 24 hours of his appearance, he had received $10,000 worth of job offers. His career was well on its way.

Today, Brenner lives with his longtime companion, Elizabeth, a painter, and their two sons, Slade, 4, and Wyatt, 18 months. She takes the kids to synagogue while Brenner frequently performs for Jewish groups, including a recent fund-raiser for an Orthodox school. During an appearance at a Jewish event in Reno, Nevada, he quipped, “Jews in Reno? How did this happen? What, did your plane crash here?”

These days, Brenner’s comedy is more reminiscent of his socially-conscious documentaries than his “hair-on-the-soap” jokes. “I’ve come full circle,” says the comedian, who also takes pride in his highly-improvisational approach. “Anyone can study a script and perform,” he says. “But I write the material, ‘right now,’ live. Everyone in the audience will have a seat inside my comic brain.”

David Brenner will perform Nov. 5 and 6, 8 p.m. at the L.A. Cabaret Comedy Club, 17271 Ventura Blvd. Tickets are $10 plus two-drink minimum. For tickets, call (818) 501-3737.

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