|Read more about Jon Stewart here.
” target=”_hplink”>announced the rally, to illustrate the 15-to-20-percenters, he rolled a montage of big mouths—Chris Matthews, Sean Hannity, Alan Grayson, Newt Gingrich, Tea Party shouters and lots more. Tucked in among them, for only a couple of seconds toward the end, was Jon Stewart himself, backed up by a gospel choir, excerpted from a ” target=”_hplink”>hammered Senator John “I-never-considered-myself-a-maverick” McCain for selling his soul, but it was Sanityman who asked Meghan McCain to give her dad a scented mash note making up.
Jugular Jon—the one I have a man crush on—isn’t a knee-jerk partisan. He’s plenty rough on ” target=”_hplink”>Huckabees and Dick ” target=”_hplink”>finding his voice again on the campaign trail.
I don’t think there’s an 80 percent consensus on anything in this country, unless it’s stated so abstractly that you can carve it in marble. Sure, we all agree on fiscal responsibility, but today there’s a divide, not confined to a bellicose fringe, on whether our progressive tax system actually amounts to redistributionist crypto-socialism. Everyone wants a clean environment and energy independence, but toss the idea of a stiff tax on gas into a sanity rally, or raise the prospect of tougher regulation, and the mellow would quickly curdle. These may seem to be differences about means, not ends, but they’re really differences in our underlying beliefs about markets and governments, freedom and responsibility, me and we.
Letters to the Editor: Republican ad, Jewish Mamas, Prager
Jackie Mason Calls Obama the ‘SCH’-word
NEW YORK (JTA)—Comedian Jackie Mason called President Obama a “schvartze” during a performance in New York, angering some audience members.
The Web site TMZ reported Sunday that Mason used the term, which means “black” in Yiddish but is considered derogatory by some, during a performance at Feinstein’s at Loews Regency in New York City on March 12.
TMZ quoted one audience member as saying, “He’s more offensive to the Jews than Madoff tonight.”
“I’m an old Jew. I was raised in a Jewish family where ‘schvartze’ was used,” Mason told TMZ. “It’s not a demeaning word and I’m not going to defend myself.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton reminded TMZ that in 1991, Mason apologized for calling then-New York mayoral candidate David Dinkins “a fancy schvartze with a mustache.”
“At this stage in Jackie’s life and career, he should get our prayers more than our responses,” Sharpton told TMZ Sunday.
It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane — Oy Gevalt, It’s a Jewish ‘Watchmen’
Death to Fanatistan!
By the time comedian Elon Gold took the stage to emcee the rally for the raising of the Israeli flag on Wilshire Boulevard, the street had filled with 3,000 or more people — a sea, or at least an inlet, of humanity waving little plastic blue-and-white flags as loudspeakers pumped out Israeli songs and their American Jewish equivalent: selections from “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Gold looked out upon the patriotic multitudes and uttered his welcome: “Hello everyone, I’m Elon Gold. For those of you who don’t know who I am, I’m the Jewish Jerry Seinfeld.”
That’s right — the profound, important gathering to raise the Israeli flag in front of the Consulate General of Israel for the first time ever was hosted by a standup comedian and began with a joke. I, for one, am proud of that.
I’m proud of it because while the display of the flag affirms, as several speakers pointed out, our connection as Jews and as Americans to a strong, secure State of Israel, the symbolism, I think, goes even deeper.
“This is a great day for us,” said Israeli Consul General Jacob Dayan when it was his turn to speak.
Dayan conceived of hoisting the flag in front of the consulate when he first came to Los Angeles a year ago. He was told the idea was a nonstarter: Any number of people were leery of the security risks involved in publicly identifying a building with Israel.
As I wrote in this space two weeks ago, Dayan not only vowed to fly the flag, but to raise it in a very public spectacle. Not a few Jewish leaders tried to dissuade him, convinced that L.A. Jews are only good for one mass rally every 20 years, if that.
Besides, they wondered aloud, what’s so big about a flag?
Sunday afternoon proved Dayan right.
I stood on a camera platform and looked east on Wilshire Boulevard beyond Crescent Heights Boulevard, watching the crowd grow to 3,000, or more. Two-dozen spectators broke out into an impromptu dance of “Hava Nagila” under a massive billboard advertising the HBO show “Entourage.” Several protesters entered the mix waving signs — “No More Wars for Israel! Mearsheimer & Walt R Right” — before being escorted out by police, to loud cheers from the crowd.
A large V.I.P. section — it seems at least one-third of the Jewish community is V.I.P. — was filled with many local politicians. Busloads of schoolchildren came, from Valley Beth Shalom, Milken, Stephen S. Wise, Sinai Akiba and others. Temples sent delegations. Israelis themselves turned out en masse — when Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the assembly “Shana Tova” and “Am Yisrael Chai,” he was speaking the native language of at least half the people there.
“This city stands with Israel in security and safety,” Villaraigosa said. “We must reaffirm in one voice our support for the Jewish state.”
To reinforce the point, a contingent of churches came, a black gospel choir filled the stage, the Mexican Consul General sent a delegation and a musical ensemble. The different representation was enough to make the point: This isn’t just a Jewish thing.
Then came the ceremony itself.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Councilman Jack Weiss, accompanied by a Marine, raised an American flag on one tall steel pole.
The gospel choir sang “God Bless America.” If you weren’t thinking of the Jewish immigrant Irving Berlin who wrote that song, you couldn’t appreciate the beautiful irony of the moment.
State Assembly Speaker Karen Bass raised the California flag on another pole. The mayor and Dayan, accompanied by two Israeli soldiers in uniform, raised the Israeli flag on the center pole.
I was close by then, maybe 5 feet away.
Some 30 men, women and children were blowing shofars as the flag went up. The young Israeli soldiers were smiling: It was a cool moment. The mayor looked solemn, as if he were in shul carrying the Torah.
And the consul general? He was choking back tears. I think if a line of cameras hadn’t been pointed at him, he’d have lost it. His grandfather died in the Holocaust, and now, 60 years later, he had managed to raise a flag that represents security, refuge and the possibility of peace to full, public view.
And then Elon Gold cracked another joke.
“The shofars are still blowing,” the comedian said from the dais. “At this point they’re auditioning for the Philharmonic. I don’t think you’re gonna get in, guys.”
That’s when it hit me why I was so moved — not because of the show of support, not because of the consul’s tears, but because of the jokes. It’s not that the flag represents Israel, it’s what Israel, at its best, represents. That, for me, was the deeper symbolism displayed on Wilshire Boulevard last Sunday. In a world filled with fanatical ideologues of all political and religious stripes, Israel has managed to endure not just as a refuge, but as a democracy, a land of tremendous freedom, creativity and, yes, humor. It is imperfect and imperiled. It has plenty of home-grown fanatics and anti-democratic forces to battle — but that battle has been joined since before its founding, and, to its credit, continues.
As much as the flag represents Israel, it represents these values, values that every passerby, Jewish or not, should want promoted and defended. Waving on Wilshire Boulevard between the Stars and Stripes and the Bear Flag, the Israeli flag is the perfect — pardon the expression — middle finger to all the fanatics out there.
And that’s no joke.
The debates won’t matter
Bob Saget: Clean-cut and filthy (G-rated version)
Bob Saget was pondering his status as comedy’s reigning filth monger at a Santa Monica cafe recently.
“You play a guy who’s clean-cut and never curses for eight years, like I did on ‘Full House,’ and people think that’s who you are,” said Saget, who will be roasted on Comedy Central Aug. 17. “And then you talk really dirty in your act, and people think that’s who you are.”
The 52-year-old pauses, and a sheepish look crosses his still-boyish face. “Ah, I’m still doing it,” he admits. “I talked to Don Rickles last week, and he said, ‘So I watched your HBO special; I really liked it, but you left out two f-words.’ My response was, ‘I know. If I had only put in 200 less.'”
It’s a surprisingly repentant statement from a comic whose stand-up has quashed his wholesome TV image as “Full House” dad Danny Tanner and as the grinning host of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” in the late 1980s and 1990s.
During the 13 years since “Full House” wrapped its last episode (only to continue in endless syndication), neither Saget nor the Olsen twins, who shared the role of his youngest TV daughter, have lived up to the expectations of some.
While Mary-Kate and Ashley have become billionaire moguls and the targets of vociferous tabloid reportage, Saget has mocked his own sugary image with joke songs, such as “Danny Tanner Is Not Gay.”
This is the G-rated version of this story. For the uncensored version, click here.
Saget’s stand-up, in his words, has always been “perverted,” but that did not become widely known until he was asked to appear in the 2005 documentary, “The Aristocrats,” in which he out-raunched 100 other comedians. Since then, Saget has sold out stadiums and college theaters with an act so over-the-top nasty that it is outrageous even in a comedy zeitgeist already pushed to Sarah Silverman extremes.
His stream-of-consciousness riffs about incest, date rape, snuff films, bestiality and every possible bodily fluid are “a word salad of language so blisteringly blue that a potential diagnosis, as Saget freely admits on HBO, of Tourette’s syndrome cannot be ruled out,” the Washington Post said.
The promos for his Comedy Central roast feature Saget admonishing a donkey for trying to sniff his privates.
Even when he’s riffing about his synagogue, Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, an animal somehow enters the picture.
“We have a great synagogue — the rabbi will marry a man to a goat,” he said. “It’s Reconstructionist — they’ll do gay marriage if you need it, they’ll do interfaith — and interfaith’s nothing after a goat.”
Saget also has the reputation, among those who know him, to be as kind as he can be crude. A few days after the taping of his Comedy Central roast, he publicly protested the vulgar Olsen jokes proffered by roast master John Stamos (another “Full House” co-star) and dais participants, such as Gilbert Gottfried.
“Anybody who talks about my TV kids — that upsets me,” Saget said in a statement. “I am very protective. I love them very, very much.”
Saget was more measured about the roast several days later: “Some of the comedy for sure crossed the line,” he said in an e-mail. “It’s a roast, and they went for it. I also believe in freedom of speech, and the comedians meant no harm.”
Saget said he gets to look at the final edit and that “Comedy Central has been incredibly collaborative. The director-producer, Joel Gallen, is very talented … and also has helped to talk me off of ledges over many aspects of this roast.
“I think it’s a very funny show, but it’s not for everyone,” he added, delicately.
Saget’s Kehillat Israel shows are far cleaner. He joined the congregation with his ex-wife, Sherri, in 1990, and their three daughters (now ages 15 to 21) had their bat mitzvahs there.
The synagogue’s rabbi, Steven Carr Reuben, is a fan: “Bob has appeared at almost every major event we’ve hosted in the last 15 years,” he said. “He once admitted to me that temple shows are the hardest to do, because he has to censor himself.
“Bob is particularly funny because he has this dual, schizophrenic reputation from the G-rated family shows to the X-rated stand-up show,” the rabbi added. “I appreciate his humor, because I know where it comes from: a sweet and loving way of communicating with people.
“Some comedy is cutting, but Bob’s humor is always designed for us to see the funny side of ourselves in difficult situations. He’ll be in the hospital visiting someone and making a joke about people’s catheters. It’s uncomfortable but funny, too.”
In person, Saget is warm and approachable, wears jeans and sneakers and speaks in the same stream-of-consciousness style he uses in his act. Over the course of two hours, he veers from a critical dissection of his neuroses (“I’m ADD for sure,” he said during the interview. “I’ve been Uri Gellering this spoon for half an hour.”); to his 2007 HBO special, “Bob Saget: That Ain’t Right”; to his recent shift to “actor mode,” with a Broadway turn in “The Drowsy Chaperone” and a new CW sitcom, “Surviving Suburbia,” in which he plays a disgruntled family man.
Then there are off-color jokes about his Ministry of Tourism trip to Israel years ago: He apparently got in trouble with his mother after showing a picture of her on a camel to Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show” and remarking that she’d never had anything that sizable between her legs.
Saget is alternately rueful about his profane stand-up (he tries to use the words “poo” and “pee” instead of their expletive counterparts, which in itself is hilarious) and describes himself as “self-loathing,” despite his confidence onstage
“I don’t have many things in my act you can look at and go, ‘Oh, someone else is doing that,'” he said. “How many people are claiming that they do my stuff?” he laughed. “It’s a style no one wants.”
But when the Chino-area earthquake interrupts the conversation, Saget sits through it with an almost eerie calm.
“Catastrophes calm me down,” he said. “The Jew has to be on game; you can’t mess up. But God forbid you said no salt in your food, and the waiter gives it to you. It’s like, ‘I distinctly said no croutons in my salad.’ The Jew wants his order correct.”
Saget traces his resilience and his particular brand of comedy to his late father, Ben, who had a “gallows sense of humor” shaped by painful events. The elder Saget had to go to work as a youth to support five younger siblings after their father died of cancer. Ben Saget survived all four of his brothers, some of whom died young.
By the time Bob Saget was in his 30s, both of his own siblings — his sisters — had died, one of a brain aneurism after a fall, the other after a three-year struggle with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. Ben Saget’s humor helped keep the family sane through those deaths: “If we were at a shiva and dad heard a loud sound, he would mention the departed’s name, like, ‘Here she comes.'” the comic recalled.
“My dad also loved livestock jokes, because he was in the meat business,” Saget said of the origins of his own penchant for such humor. “His delivery was wry, deadpan, with a Cheshire cat grin. He always looked as if he were up to something perverted in his mind.”
When Bob Saget was young, humor also proved to be his own survival mechanism. The family relocated several times as Ben Saget set up businesses in various cities.
Bob Saget was born in Philadelphia but also lived in Virgina and in Encino, where he attended Birmingham High for two years. He said he was “the least funny person in the world” from the time of his bar mitzvah until he was in his late teens.
“I was miserable because we moved a lot, and I just was nerdy and overweight and didn’t have any friends,” he said.
In high school, he made friends by casting them in his own Super-8 films, with titles such as “Hitler on the Roof” and “Beach Blanket Blintzes,” which starred “a big blintz who turned people into sour cream. It wasn’t a film, it was garbage,” he said.
“But the first time I ever did stand-up was when I introduced that movie to an audience in the neighborhood. Then when I was 17, I started going to comedy clubs in New York, to Catch a Rising Star and The Improv, where I’d stand in line for 10 hours to sign the open-mic sheet.”
He attended Temple University and then moved to Los Angeles to attend USC but gave that up after Mitzi Shore offered him a gig at the Comedy Store, where he eventually served as emcee.
Saget hung out with Sam Kinnison and partied.
“It was like ‘Boogie Nights,’ except we didn’t go into the Valley,” he said.
A number of comedians recognized Saget’s talent: Rodney Dangerfield told him, “I like your head, you got a Jew head, you can’t stop thinking”; and Garry Shandling got him on “The Tonight Show,” where he returned numerous times, always on the couch, not for stand-up.
It was Saget’s role in the Richard Pryor film, “Critical Condition” that drew the attention of television producers: The result: In 1987, he was cast as Danny Tanner in “Full House” — “the most non-Jewish character in the world,” he said. “They tried to get me to say grace once, but I couldn’t. I was laughing too hard; so they had to give it to John [Stamos].”
Saget and Stamos proved raunchy on the set. There was a donkey in one episode they called Pepper Mill (use your imagination), and Saget could not resist lewdly playing with the life-sized stand-in doll while the Olsens were at school.
Some critics trashed his character, which still makes Saget bristle.
“The show was on for eight years, so I think they appreciated me just fine,” he said.
A number of people have told Saget that they hated him until they saw his dirtier side in “The Aristocrats,” the documentary that transformed his image in the popular culture. In the film, 100 comics were asked to perform their own version of an old vaudeville joke about a family auditioning for an agent with an incestuous act.
But the humor is not really about the grotesquerie. “To me, the joke is about the sweaty desperation of show business,” Saget said. “What’s funny is that a family, a family — I can’t say that word enough — would do that, not to get a job but to get an agent to represent them. You can’t lower the bar on humanity much further. That’s a turd on a turd on a turd.”
Saget said he can talk about unspeakable acts, but the idea of real abuse revolts him.
“I don’t like to see violence. It’s like a form of pornography,” he said. “I take things so heavy, like politics and where the world is at, and where we are with kids. I mean, it’s just absurd; 99 percent of what we’re doing — it’s all a sin.
“I just find it so upsetting that I go to another place; I become a 12-year-old,” he continued. “I talk about poo and pee because it makes me laugh — and because anything we can’t control can be amusing. So when things come out of our bodies are air driven or liquid or solid — it’s funny. I was going to say that I’m holding a mirror up to people, but you don’t really want to look at yourself while you’re doing it.”
When Saget isn’t being serious — and sometimes when he is — he punctuates a horrific statement with a low, devilish-sounding laugh: “heh heh heh.”
“If you turn the sound off my HBO special it just looks like that nice guy from TV,” he said, with his laugh. “It’s demonic, it’s what Satan does — though I don’t believe in Satan. He lures people in with his kind ways and his smiling face, and then he says terrible things and bursts people into flames.”
But unlike Satan, he said, “I don’t do anything harmful to anyone. I’m here to save the world by telling them that the real problems aren’t language or perversions, it’s acting on those things.”
For information about the roast or how to purchase Saget’s HBO DVD, you can visit Comedy Central and BobSaget.com
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Comedy Central
Jazzman Frishberg charts own tuneful territory
The world according to Mort Sahl and friends
Half a century after Mort Sahl packed in Berkeley undergrads and hip San Franciscans at the hungry i nightclub, the man who revolutionized stand-up comedy hasn’t mellowed.
For instance, “Hillary [Clinton] is running on an entitlement ticket because she happened to be married to a president,” Sahl observes during a phone interview.
“[Barack] Obama has a following because men and women want to escape that woman.
“Can you believe that after 4,000 American dead in Iraq, John McCain is running as a warrior? What warrior? Vietnam, a war that was never declared?”
Sahl will freely share his political insights when he appears at Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills on April 6, although his topic is billed as “The History of American Jewish Humor.”
He will headline an afternoon program of veteran funny men, including comic Shelley Berman and comedy writers Arnie Kogan (“Tonight Show,” “Carol Burnett”) and Howard Storm (“Everybody Loves Raymond”), collectively known as Yarmy’s Army.
The group’s name honors the memory of comic Dick Yarmy, brother of Don Adams (“Get Smart”), and all proceeds will benefit the Motion Picture Home in Calabasas.
Also on the program is storyteller Karen Gold.
At 80, Sahl still performs regularly, although he has also gone academic. He is currently a visiting professor at Claremont College, where he teaches one course on screenwriting, and another one titled, “The Revolutionary’s Handbook.”
The latter class focuses on Sahl’s long obsession with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, which Sahl is convinced was part of a covered-up conspiracy.
He enjoys his role as a newly coined professor, but, he laments, “most kids don’t know the history of this country. They can’t get it from television or the Internet, but they should really learn something before they become investment bankers.”
As for his own political identity, Sahl defines himself as a populist, “like Huey Long — I trust the people.”
Although Sahl is frequently credited with fathering a generation of stand-up comics that included Lenny Bruce, Sahl doesn’t acknowledge any paternity.
“Lenny was neither profound nor political,” Sahl said. “Comics today look at humor as escapism. I look at it as confrontational.”
The major Jewish contribution to American humor has been to “define irony,” but a more basic Jewish legacy has also spurred anti-Semitism, according to Sahl.
“I asked my class why Jews were so widely hated, and when no one answered, I suggested that ‘Jews fashioned a moral straightjacket that inhibits people from killing each other — it’s also called conscience.'”
His sardonic comments aside, Sahl maintains that he maintains a sunny outlook. “I still believe in love and justice,” he said. “Without them, you’re better off dead.”
The April 6 event represents the third annual Gladys and Herman Sturman Celebration of Jewish Life, co-sponsored by Congregation Shir Ami and Temple Aliyah. The program starts at 1 p.m. at Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Drive, Woodland Hills. Tickets, most of which have already been sold, are $10 each and can be purchased by phoning Clara Rosenbluth at (818) 348-1498, or Ellen Fremed at (818) 886-8853.
AUDIO: Iranian American Jews — Jimmy Delshad, former Mayor of Beverly Hills
Joan Rivers’ ‘Life’ — audacious, as always
“I’m angry about everything,” comedian Joan Rivers says.
“I’m angry about getting older, about men being morons, about Hollywood being such a use-and-discard business. I’m angry that for women it’s all about looks — when it isn’t for men — and you can tell me ‘No,’ you can yell and argue, but if you’re good in bed with big boobs and looking gorgeous, you’re gonna get someplace.”
For more than four decades, Rivers has used her rage to carve her niche as comedy’s most seething yenta. Whether she is skewering celebrities on the red carpet, doing stand-up or performing one of her autobiographical plays (“Joan Rivers: A Work in Progress by a Life in Progress” runs Feb. 13 through March 16 at the Geffen Playhouse) her acid tongue deliberately provokes.
What does Rivers claim to have told Mick Jagger? “Iron your face.”
Jesus “freaks”?: “If Jesus loved you, he would have given you an f— chin.”
Paris Hilton?: “Memories are precious — make more home movies.”
New Yorkers after Sept. 11?: “So who do you wish had died?”
You’d think she’d be booed off the stage for some of her most vitriolic bits, and audience members do boo, but mostly they relish her shtick, because “I tell the truth,” she says. “I say not only what I think, but what everyone thinks.”
Rivers’ new play, which she calls “a one-woman show with four characters,” was spurred by (what else) something that made her livid. She was preparing to work the red carpet at the Academy Awards four years ago when her job was on the line.
“Something horrible, just awful was done to me,” she says in her raspy voice. “My response was ‘Uch, nobody would believe this; this would make a great play.”
Rivers won’t divulge specifics about that incident (she wants to surprise audiences), but she will say that the show is set in a dressing room at an awards show where her cheese plate is puny and her producer is “the bigwig’s nephew, not the bigwig.”
The shabby milieu prompts Rivers to reflect upon her tumultuous life. In 1986 Rivers was perhaps the most successful female comic of her generation when a feud with Johnny Carson, for whom she had been a favored fill-in host, devastated her career. She reinvented herself as a QVC shopping channel diva in order to hawk her own jewelry, then reinvented herself yet again, as a red carpet interviewer, after suddenly finding herself $37 million in debt as the result of a business setback. Along the way, she survived the suicide of her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, in 1987, and reworked her face with cosmetic surgery because “stretched-looking is better than wrinkled.”
Today Rivers is as known for her face-lifts and botox shots as she is for her catty patter.
“I’m a big advocate,” she says of nips and tucks. “You redo your car and repaint your house. So if you want to feel better and have a better looking nose, or lift your eyes, what’s so terrible?”
Onstage, Rivers ridicules her own vanity, claiming “I wish I had a twin, so I’d know what I look like without plastic surgery.”
She also professes to hate old people: “I really do hate them, because they remind me of me,” she says in a telephone interview. “Of course it’s all self-loathing. I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s making me a great living.”
Some of that self-analysis comes through in her plays, which, she says, are “quite different from my stand-up. They’re more controlled and there’s much more serious stuff happening. My new play is about survival and starting again, no matter where you are in life. It’s about when you do have to go back to the [proverbial] old dressing room, the old dirty dressing room that is waiting for you.”
Bart DeLorenzo, who is directing the play, says he was drawn to the piece because “it shows you the Joan Rivers you expect — the outrageous, manically funny, brutally honest performer — and also a side she’s never presented onstage, which is the story of her life. The stories she tells are funny and embarrassing and they’re also heartbreaking. Obviously, there was the huge crisis when the personal and the professional came together, when she was fired by Fox, and her husband died shortly thereafter. But Rivers has been tested throughout her life. The humiliation and the rejection she encountered is overwhelming, yet she endured and was driven to move on.”
On a recent afternoon, Rivers is ensconced in digs that seem light years away from that dressing room at the Oscars four years ago. She says she is sitting in her large bathroom-office — half the sink counter has been transformed into a desk — gazing out the window at a spectacular view of Central Park. She describes her outfit — “Chanel-they-should-only-drop-dead-because-they-hate-Jews pants” — and the Thanksgiving joke she told on “The View:” “Mel Gibson gave me my turkey recipe; it says, ‘preheat the oven to 9,000 degrees.'”
“I just like to remind people about Mel Gibson,” she says. “He made ‘The Passion,’ with the Jewish characters and their hook noses, and he says he’s not anti-Semitic? Bad, bad, bad. Any Jew who sees a Mel Gibson movie should be ashamed of themselves. I certainly won’t.”
If Rivers identifies in any way as a Jewish performer, it’s in the emphasis she places on survival — a skill she first learned from her immigrant parents.
“They both had to flee Russia because of the revolution, but my father left because his family was so poor, and my mother left because her family was rich — ‘court Jews’ who sold fur and bricks to the czarist army,” she says.
“My mother was only 6 years old when she left, but she remembered servants carrying big silver platters with pears stuffed with caviar in for dinner,” Rivers adds. “And then when her family came to America they were desperately poor, and my grandfather couldn’t take it. He went back to Russia and died of starvation in St. Petersburg. It was my grandmother who made the transition to life in America. And it was only in America that my parents could have met and married.”
H.O.P.E. for the bereaved, even years later
Don Rickles on film for the very first time
Master of musical fusion blends klezmer with salsa
A Musical Odyssey, Comic Con at the Shrine, Two’s Company, Man Ray
Pack a suitcase with excitement and wonder because tonight you will be embarking on “A Musical Odyssey.” Your journey begins in the South Bay and takes you first to hear the symphonic sounds of Jewish klezmer and choral music performed by the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony. Your next musical port of call will include mystical melodies from Spain, Persia, Yemen and Israel performed by the talented and ubiquitous Yuval Ron Ensemble. Featuring vocals by Tehila Lauder and dance by Melanie Kareem, the Ensemble will whisk you away to the Holy Land with their “‘West Bank Story’ Suite,” a compilation of music from the Academy Award-winning short film. Proceeds from this auditory odyssey will benefit the religious school at Congregation Ner Tamid of South Bay.
8-10 p.m. $50, $75. Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Redondo Beach. (310) 377-3510. ” target=”_blank”>http://jewishjournal.com/geekheeb/.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. $8. Shrine Auditorium Expo Center, 700 W. 32nd St., Los Angeles. (818) 954-8432. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ alt=”Alan Menken”>” target=”_blank”>http://www.alextheatre.com.
Comedian Lahna Turner’s ” target=”_blank”>http://www.improv.com.
The golden age of screwball comedy in Hollywood began with a handful of Jews in the 1930s — Billy Wilder, Ben Hecht and Sidney Buchman are just a few names synonymous with slapstick. Jon Edelman is bringing back the farcical, the ridiculous and the fast-talking with his wacky post-modern “Screwballs.” Set in a tiny desert inn, the play has a classic screwball plot involving a divorced couple who can’t seem to let go and end up swapping bodies. The result is, as you can imagine, disastrous and hilarious and screwy.
Thu.-Sun., through Dec. 15. $20. Odyssey Theatre, 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. (310) 477-2055.
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Pop, pop, pop paintings; genes of a feather; storm of emotions
Films: Garlin hopes audience will be pleased with ‘Cheese’
Jeff Garlin loves being Jewish. He’s a borscht-eating, challah-noshing, temple-going, “big bowl of Jewish,” as he so proudly describes himself.
A proud Jew at home, Garlin also plays one on television.
Best known as Jeff Greene on the hit comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which returns to HBO for its sixth season on Sunday, Sept. 9, he plays the schlemiel manager to schlimazel Larry David, who created the show, as well as co-creating “Seinfeld.”
In addition, Garlin is aso gearing up for the Sept. 14 launch of “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With,” a feature comedy he wrote, directed and stars in opposite Sarah Silverman and Bonnie Hunt. Garlin plays James, an overweight Jewish improv actor who can’t seem to catch a break.
Garlin says he identifies with James because, “it’s what I created … my writing is very personal.”
The Chicago-born actor made his stand-up debut at age 20, in the early 1980s, after dropping out of the University of Miami. Garlin spent much of the 1990s working with Second City, where he perfected his improvisational skills.
The film is a kind of Second City reunion, featuring such talent as Dan Castellaneta, Amy Sedaris and Richard Kind. Garlin describes the experience of working with old friends as “great fun … when you have a great friend and then you work together again, its like you just worked with them the day before. It doesn’t go away when it’s right.”
In “Cheese,” James is a binge-eating, out-of-work actor who lives with his mother. While struggling to win the lead role in a remake of the film “Marty,” a character James feels he was born to play, he juggles romances with Beth (Silverman), an off-beat chubby-chaser, and Stella (Hunt), a somewhat depressed, yet hopelessly romantic schoolteacher.
The first draft of “Cheese” was written in 1997, and Garlin said he returned to the project on and off over the years. Unable to secure financing, he says he continues to rewrite the script “to feel creative and connected to the project.”
Distributed by IFC First Take and the Weinstein Co., “Cheese” premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival and opens in Los Angeles on Sept. 14.
When Garlin returns to the small screen for the sixth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he taps his Second City skills with scripts that rely on improvised dialogue.
As for rumors this will be the show’s final season: “It might be,” he said.
Garlin adds that if he had the chance to star in his own spin-off series titled “Jeff,” he would only do it if Larry David would be heavily involved in the project.
Regardless of the fate of “Curb,” he says he simply wants to continue acting, directing, writing and laughing.
But even with all of his success and his prospects for the future, Garlin prays he’ll be inscribed for another year in the Book of Life and wishes the entire Jewish community a hearty “Zai gezunt.”
The sixth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” premiers on HBO, Sept. 9, 10 p.m. “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With” opens Sept. 14 at the Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood, Monica 4-Plex in Santa Monica and the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena.
Sitcom superstars, sultry songstresses, literary diamonds
‘Yippee’ — Paul Mazursky documents Chasids gone wild
In all his 76 years, filmmaker Paul Mazursky had never seen anything like the 25,000 Chasidim singing, swaying, blowing shofars and dancing around a lake.
“It’s like the old days at the Apollo in Harlem, with the crowd going wild,” the irreverent Mazursky said. “Can you dig it?”
The scene is from his documentary, “Yippee: A Journey to Jewish Joy,” which had its Southland premier this week at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. The film is quite a change of pace for the creator of such quirky social comedies and dramas as “Bob”&”Carol”&”Ted”&”Alice,” “Harry and Tonto,” “Next Stop, Greenwich Village,” “An Unmarried Woman,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “Enemies: A Love Story.”
Despite his artistic reputation and string of Oscar nominations, Mazursky has found it increasingly difficult to find backing for his iconoclastic movies, which are infused with his wry take on the human condition.
During the past decade, after a quadruple heart bypass operation, Mazursky has gone back to his roots as an actor and comedian, including parts in HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Sopranos,” while looking for the right combination of film and financing.
But last year, he and his two camera crews found themselves in Uman, a Ukrainian town of 80,000, whose population swells every Rosh Hashanah during an invasion of ecstatic Chasidim dressed in white kitels (robes), black suits or streimels (fur hats).
They come to pray at the grave of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the great Chasidic master, disputatious tzadik (learned scholar) and great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, founder of the Chasidic movement. Nachman was buried in Uman in 1811 at the age of 38.
What had brought the insistently secular Mazursky to Uman were the urgings of three disparate Angelenos: David Miretsky, his optometrist; Shmuel Levy, a devout Moroccan-born rock musician; and Rabbi Ezriel Tauber.
All three regularly participated in the pilgrimage to Uman, and they promised Mazursky that he would witness an event unlike any he had ever experienced.
Putting up $50,000 of his own money, and with his broken arm in a sling, Mazursky embarked on the adventure with his friends and a six-man crew, including his son-in-law.
During a brief layover in Munich, he warmed up by filming the beer-swilling Oktoberfest, before stopping in Kiev, where his grandfather is buried, and then reaching Uman after a three-hour drive.
In the run-up to the climax of the three-day celebration, Mazursky meets and talks with Chasidim, policemen, scholars and peasants, combining the roles of an innocent abroad, travel guide and self-described “wise guy from Brooklyn.”
Typical is his encounter with two local peasant women selling fruit from a sidewalk cart. They, like all the other Uman natives, know about Rosh Hashanah, which enriches the town by $2 million each year.
Despite the windfall, one woman is not entirely happy.
“Jews are not cultured people,” she complains. The other woman disagrees.
“They are cultured,” she insists, “they are just different.”
Mazursky’s camera lingers on other happenings. There is a rustic folk festival with pretty dancing girls in costumes and later, Vodka Appreciation Day, during which the filmmaker digs into his bottomless reservoir of jokes, many unprintable.
His favorite joke, told at least three times in the film, goes something like this: Cohen meets Schwartz in New York’s old garment district and Cohen says, “I heard about the fire.” Schwartz puts his fingers to his lips and whispers, “Shhhh, tomorrow.” (The joke dates back to at least the Great Depression, when some storeowners facing bankruptcy would set fire to their shops to collect insurance money.)
The film climaxes on the evening of Rosh Hashanah, when the 25,000 Chasidim throw their sins into the lake and pray, dance and sing through the candle-lit night.
“Madonna and Woody Allen should be here,” Mazursky murmurs.
Before leaving, Mazursky organizes a bull session with Tauber and Dr. Julian Unger, a British neurologist, to explore the meaning of what he has seen.
“We come to Uman because on the day of judgment, Rabbi Nachman will be our lawyer, pleading our case before God,” Tauber explains.
Unger has a darker observation. “You know, 37 years before Rabbi Nachman came to Uman, there was a great pogrom here and thousands of Jews were drowned in the lake.
“When the Nazis came, they again murdered Uman’s Jews,” Unger continued. “It is a great irony that in 2005, we should be dancing in the streets of Uman. We are dancing on the graves of our martyrs.”
Mazursky, the wise guy from Brooklyn, drew his own lessons. “I could never think like a Chasid,” he ruminated during a two-hour interview in his crowded Beverly Hills office.
“I think of life as a cosmic joke, which keeps getting bigger all the time. But I’ve learned tolerance and maybe affection for the Chasidim. They are real people, who can see light in the darkest things,” he said.
The title of the film comes from another Mazursky observation. “It is better to wake up in the morning and instead of kvetching, say ‘Yippee.'”
“Yippee” is available on DVD through the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University and will be included in a retrospective of Mazursky’s works at New York’s Lincoln Center, May 4-10.
Bill Clinton and Liel Kolet sing ‘Imagine’
Theater: Troy vs. ‘Tsuris’
“How should I prepare?” asks playwright Mark Troy after agreeing to an interview the following morning about his new play, “Tsuris,” opening Friday, Dec. 22, at the Sidewalk Studio Theater in Toluca Lake. “Should I wear a blue tuxedo?”
Although he is not a standup comedian and says he has a “pathological fear of being in front of an audience,” Mark Troy is always “on.”
When asked whether he is Jewish, Troy responds, “You will be needing proof of that?”
Actually, there is no need for such proof from Troy, whose last name may conjure images of Hector fighting Achilles, but whose latest play is about battles of a more contemporary nature — among Jewish spouses, parents and their children in Florida.
Troy has written many plays about Jews, including “Join the Club,” which just played at a Malibu festival and revolved around the decision of a 35-year-old man to get a circumcision. Another play, “Getting to Bupkus,” focuses on a 12-year-old Jewish boy who runs away the night before his bar mitzvah and comes back 12 years later.
Their storylines may remind one of TV shows and films from the past, the first calling to mind the “Sex and the City” episode in which one of Charlotte’s dates decides to test out his newly circumcised penis on multiple partners, and the second bringing back memories of “The Bar Mitzvah Boy,” the film that every 12-year-old Jewish boy has seen.
Troy’s new play, “Tsuris,” also has a familiarity to it, but that doesn’t mean that his dialogue lacks freshness. Troy has his characters rattle off humorous lines like, “Florida is like dog years; you times everything by seven.”
Troy is not suggesting that everyone living in Florida is preternaturally ancient, but rather that “something slows you down” and you end up replicating your grandmother’s habits — going to K-mart, going to the pool, then another pool and, most of all, eating dinner at 4 p.m. at Bagel Palace or Bagel Nosh or Bagel Land.
At these bagel emporia, elders may even utter adages such as this parody of Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man speech: “They say every man should have three wives. When he’s in his 20s … there’s the lustful wife. Then in midlife, he has the motherly wife. Then in his final golden years…the companion wife…. Thank God I’ve found in Irma Messersmidt the lustful whore I’ve been missing.”
“Tsuris” plays Dec. 22 through Feb. 3 at the Sidewalk Studio Theater, 4150 Riverside Drive, Toluca Lake.
Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle
Books: Shmegegis of old, shmegegis of gold
“Old Jewish Comedians,” illustrated by Drew Friedman, edited by Monte Beauchamp. (Fantagraphics Books, $14.95) www.fantagraphics.com .
“Weep before God. Laugh before people.”
— Jewish Folk-Saying.
Who doesn’t love old Jewish comedians? Those mamzers of mirth and halutzim of humor who paved the road from the Catskills to Vegas as first-generation entertainers. Now comes “Old Jewish Comedians,” a book to honor these slapsticklers and ticklemen of the 20th century. Thirty-two pages of funny faces (all guys), the book is “An Illustrated Gallery of Jewish American Comedians, Comics, Comic Actors, Clowns, and Tummlers Depicted in the Sunset of Their Years.” Artist Drew Friedman’s portraits cover the greats and the greatly forgotten, from George Burns and Buddy Hackett, to Benny Rubin and Joe Smith.
Friedman, whom I first enjoyed for his funny illustrations in SPY Magazine, and whose work currently is seen in MAD, the New York Observer, Los Angeles Magazine and other publications, said that none of the comedians posed for him.
“I have a fairly extensive photo file which was very helpful,” he said.
He’s collected pictures of comedians since he was a child. (Bruce Jay Friedman, the author’s father, appears in “Old Jewish Comedians” in a photo from 1940 in the Catskills with comedian Jackie Miles.)
“Rich reality” is how Leonard Maltin describes Friedman’s style in his foreword. Included in the book are the real names for these “show-business survivors” as Maltin calls them: Shecky Green/Sheldon Greenfield, Freddie Roman/Fred Martin Kirschenbaum, Rodney Dangerfield/Jacob Cohen, Henny/Henry Youngman, et al.
Unfortunately, the only writing in “Old Jewish Comedians” is Maltin’s foreword.
“I didn’t want it to be ‘history’ book,” Friedman explained. “There are already those out there. I wanted their styles to be illustrated in their faces and the context of the drawing. Maltin’s intro puts everything into historical context.”
So where to go if you want to learn more about these Jewish jesters? The ones who didn’t make it because comedy was less marketable back then, 50 years before HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central and clubs expanded stand-up venues are described in detail by Betsy Borns in her 1987 treatise, “Comic Lives.” Most never even flashed the free- wheeling coffeehouse style that Gerald Nachman recounts in “Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedians of the 1950s and 60s.” (Shelley/Sheldon Leonard Berman being the exception, appearing in that 2003 book and this one.)
To really evaluate the book, I went to 92-year-old Irving Brecher. After all, Brecher is old, Jewish and he has not only done stand-up, he wrote for some of Friedman’s alter kackers, like Milton Berlinger (Berle, on the cover), Nathan Birnbaum (George Burns, inside cover), and the Marx Brothers (Julius, Adolph and Leonard, middle two pages of book.)
Book open, over split pea soup and half a pastrami on rye at Label’s Table on Pico Boulevard, I quizzed Brecher about “OJC” who never found the fame of a Moses — Harry Horwitz/Moe Howard or Jerome Levitch/Jerry Lewis, a Jack Chakrin/Jack Carter or Archibald Donald Rickles/ Don Rickles, et al.
— Irv, here’s Harry Joachim.
“That’s Harry Ritz of the Ritz Brothers. Harry was the only one who was talented. Al and Jimmy were nothing.”
— Menasha Skulnik?
“That’s his real name. Great Yiddish comedian. The Yiddish theater was a remarkable place. I wish you’d seen it.”
— Joseph Seltzer?
“Joe Smith of Smith & Dale, the famous vaudeville team. They made a movie called “The Heart of New York,” which is a museum piece. For collectors.”
— Abraham Kalish?
“Al Kelly. Al did double talk. That was his style. He spoke gibberish in vaudeville sketches and all the people would try to be polite.
— While he mocked them?
“No, not mocking them. The audience would laugh. But people in the real world he dealt with would be taken in.”
— Sounds like what Borat does!
“Haven’t seen it. But most comedians couldn’t do it like Al Kelly could. He was unique.”
— Here’s a fellow named Ben Rubin…
“Benny Rubin used to work for me! When he was up in vaudeville. I’d give him a part in “The Life of Riley” radio show. In Hollywood, when they wanted a Jew with a long nose, they’d hire him. The lousy Hollywood producers. He’d make $150. I’d never use a character with a Jewish accent. Like Jack Benny [Benjamin Kubelsky] did with ‘Mr. Schlepperman.'”
— He used a thick Jewish accent?
“I hated it, that very stereotypical annoying character.
— Who played him?
“Artie Auerbach. Listen, do they have Jan Murray in this book?”
Friedman said not to worry; Jan Murray/Murray Janofsky will appear in the sequel, “More Old Jewish Comedians,” due in 2008.
Brecher said he hopes the sequel has a bit, or routine, a catchphrase, something from each comedian to go with the pictures.
Originality trumps repetition in the holiday songs battle
Theater: All in the ‘Herbicide’ family
The Emmy-winning writer Jay Kogen (“The Simpsons,” “The Class” and other shows) is helping Herb Astrow go over the opening lines of his first solo stage performance.
“Remember, it’s an intimate evening with,” Kogen tells him. “It’s your party. So rather than just going into a story, you want to be welcoming.”
“Welcome to the height of self-indulgence!” Astrow announces, cracking everybody up at rehearsal.
Astrow, a 72-year-old Los Angeles restaurateur (Yankee Doodles on the Santa Monica Promenade), is, after 50 years, returning to his first love: the theater. In a benefit at the Santa Monica Playhouse, he’ll star in “Herbicide” Dec. 9 and 10.
Astrow’s most recent role was playing Stanley the waiter in a production of “Death of a Salesman.”
“At Brooklyn College,” he laughs. “In 1958. As a kid I wanted to be an actor, but my own kids came along….”
“He’s been great at being brutally honest,” says Kogen, Astrow’s director, who helped him reduce 16 wild tales to the four most resonant. Or redolent, like the one where Astrow smells so bad from working at Nathan Strauss Twentieth Century Fish Market in Flatbush, that he rubs cologne into his jeans before bicycling off to meet his buddies, “Itchy” (Joel Stanislaw), “Rooster” (Stu Lazarus), “Ziggy” (Marvin Zelenitz), and “Pot Cheese” (Jerry Potolsky). Astrow was “Hercules.”
It was 1944, “that perfect time when the Jews, the Irish, the Italians all lived together,” says Astrow ‘s sister, Jo Anne Astrow. “It was a golden time for education in New York.”
Jo Anne Astrow named their production company Chestnut Avenue Productions, after the “last documented dirt road in Brooklyn,” where they lived above their Sicilian landlord, Mr. Sharaldi.
Sharaldi “owned the last horse in Brooklyn,” Herb says. “He called his horse ‘Horse.’ During the winter, when his ass got frozen to the wagon seat, he changed Horse’s name to ‘You F—– Horse.'”
Astrow went to work at the age of 9, making $4 a week delivering fish, which helped pay the rent.
His father, Barney, was his hero: “He sat in a chair reading the dictionary and the encyclopedia and philosophized on life.” He taught Herb to “always compliment women on their appearance and especially say nice things about their home furnishings.”
But multiple sclerosis forced Barney to quit his florist business. The family went on welfare, and when Barney had to move to another home, the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital for Chronic Diseases, Astrow’s mother became his hero.
“By the sheer force of her will to survive,” he recalls. “God bless that crazy woman!”
Elsie Astrow underwent shock treatments for depression and used to beat her son with his father’s cane “over some nonsense thing I did, like eating too many creamsicles” he says.
She was suicidal, but saved his life with the taste of her lamb stew with sugared apple dumplings and the slap of a catcher’s mitt when Herb was choking to death one night at dinner.
The title of the show itself comes from “the life and death struggles” he says he had once with a houseplant.
“Struggles with a life,” adds sister Jo Anne Astrow, leading to Herb Astrow’s story of the vodka-and-Tab habit he picked up after breaking off with his textile business partners, the poisonous dieffenbachia plant and a Thanksgiving dinner in Queens where the two opposing sides of his family — Russian Jews and German Jews — no longer agree to “respectfully loathe each other.”
“Herbicide” is a family project. His son-in-law came up with the title, and Jo Anne Astrow not only co-produced (with Sally Schaub), she figures funnily in the stories. (She’s also comedian Lewis Black’s manager.) And director Kogen’s family and the Astrows grew up and vacationed together for years on Fire Island.
“Even when I was little,” Kogen says of his actor, “we all knew he had an adventurous life. We were told, ‘Don’t go on the boat with Uncle Herbie!'”
Proceeds from “Herbicide” will go to the Save the Playhouse capital campaign to put a down payment on the building at Fourth Street near Wilshire Boulevard.
George Vennes, Santa Monica Playhouse technical director, tells The Journal, “Rent for the offices, two theaters and two rehearsal spaces is up to $10,000 a month.”
With Youth Theater, cultural outreach and a legendary history, the Playhouse, says Vennes, “caters from two to 92.”
It was one of the playhouse’s ongoing workshops, an acting class with the actor Jeffrey Tambor, that first got Astrow interested in telling his stories onstage. And it was his writing coach, Wendy Kaminoff, who dared Astrow to make it happen. (Well, her business card does say: “Creative Ass Kicker”)
“Herb is this wonderful combination of New York savvy, old school wisdom and outrageous life experiences,” Kaminoff says. “Imagine Garrison Keillor, only if he was a handsome Jewish guy from Brooklyn.”
“Herbicide,” Dec. 9 at 8 p.m., Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. $20. Price includes a post show reception at the playhouse. Santa Monica Playhouse 1211 4th St. For information call (310) 394-9779 Ext. 1
Hank Rosenfeld is writing a book with Irving Brecher, who wrote for Milton Berle and the Marx Brothers.
Cute, menschy boy bands make traditional tunes cool
7 Days in the Arts
The JCCs’ Celebrity Staged Play Readings, produced and directed by Alexandra More, have been going strong for 11 seasons. Consider taking in the first of their 12th season’s selections. The comedy/drama, “Brooklyn Boy,” by Pulitzer-winning author Donald Margulies, plays this weekend, starring Stephen Macht as Eric, a Jewish author in his late 30s grappling with sudden huge success.
Sept. 16: 7:30 p.m. $12-$16. Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310.
Sept. 17: 2 p.m. $12-$16. Westside JCC, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 938-2531, ext. 2225.
Get in touch with your child, and your inner child. Quality time with the family comes courtesy of Barnes and Noble in Aliso Viejo, today. A special “Rosh Hashanah Storytime” with Chabad of Laguna’s preschool director, Perel Goorevitch, includes storytelling, a guitar sing-along and arts and crafts.
4 p.m. 26751 Aliso Creek Road, Aliso Viejo. (949) 362-8027.
Morocco’s Jewish and Muslim cultures, and the social and physical spaces they inhabit, are explored in UCLA Fowler Museum’s new exhibition. “Liminal Spaces: Photographs of Morocco by Rose-Lynn Fisher.” It opens this week, with an opening reception Sunday, Sept. 17 at 2 p.m. It remains on view through Jan. 14.
Free. Fowler Museum, UCLA campus, Westwood. (310) 825-8655. ” TARGET=”_blank”>www.laemmle.com.
Mendelsohn — Better Than Beethoven!
7 Days in the Arts
Saturday, July 15
Pretty Charlize Theron plays chairwoman for Los Angeles Free Clinic’s ninth annual “Extravaganza for the Senses.” The food and wine event features tastes from some 40 local restaurants — ranging from high-end Angelini Osteria to lower-end but highly tasty Poquito Más — and some 100 wineries. Also on the bill are live music and a silent auction.
6-10 p.m. $90 (general), $200 (VIP). Twentieth Century Fox, 10201 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 330-1670 ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Sunday, July 16
Make some time for “Zero Hour.” West Coast Jewish Theatre’s latest is this one-man show, written by and starring Jim Brochu, as Zero Mostel. The play tells Mostel’s life story, from his youth growing up on New York’s Lower East Side, through his early highs as a stand-up comedian and lows when he was blacklisted, to his ultimate huge success on Broadway.
8 p.m. (Fri. and Sat.), 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (Sun.). $20-$30. Egyptian Arena Theatre, 1625 N. Las Palmas, Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 595-4849.
Monday, July 17
Funny girls perform for tonight’s charity benefit, “4 Women For Women,” supporting the Women’s Clinic and Family Counseling Center. Julia Sweeney hosts, with Laraine Newman, Melanie Chartoff, Ann Randolph and Terrie Silverman each offer some comic relief. Also scheduled is a silent auction, special eBay auction of black bras worn by the stars and a kissing booth with “special guest smoochers.”
6:30 p.m. (reception), 8 p.m. (performances). $100. The Hayworth Theater, 2511 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 376-9339. ” target=”_blank”>www.womens-clinic.org.
Tuesday, July 18
Jack Rutberg Fine Arts goes big for summer, offering an exhibition of more than 50 major paintings, drawings, original prints and sculpture by heavyweight artists including David Hockney, Ruth Weisberg, Arthur Dove and Marc Chagall. “Summer Selections: Portraits, Places, Perspectives” runs through Sept. 9.
357 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 938-5222. www.jackrutbergfinearts.com” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Wednesday, July 19
An expansive art exhibition can also be viewed, and purchased, at the Workmen’s Circle. “Curating a Better World: 10th Anniversary Show” features donated works from artists who have participated in the Circle’s 62 previous exhibitions over the last 10 years.
Through Aug. 25. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Thursday, July 20
Got a kitschy song in your heart? Head to the Aero Theatre for the first night of its “Can’t Stop the Musicals” series. In this installment, the series pays homage to the guilty pleasures from “an era not normally thought of as rich territory for filmed musicals: the 1970s and 1980s.” Tonight, that translates to a screening of Menahem Golan’s “The Apple.” Head back other nights for “Flashdance,” “Rock ‘N Roll High School,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Tommy,” “Hair” and “All That Jazz.”
July 20-30. 7:30 p.m. $6-$9. Max Palevsky Theatre at the Aero Theatre, 1328 Montana Ave., Santa Monica. (323) 466-3456
Friday, July 21
Gay Men’s Choruses of Los Angeles and Orange County each put on worthy shows this week. On Saturday, July 15, head to the O.C. for Men Alive’s fifth anniversary concert, “Curtains Up! Light the Lights!” The song and dance tribute to Broadway will feature special guest star and Grammy nominee Michael Feinstein. And this weekend, stay local as the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles presents “The Look of Love: The Music of Burt Bacharach.”
“Curtains Up! Light the Lights!” Sat., July 15, 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The Irvine Barclay Theatre, 424 Campus Drive, Irvine. (866) 636-2548. ” target=”_blank”>www.gmcla.org.
Performers Go It Alone and Like It That Way
Ding Dong! Rabbi Calling
His turn on is making single Jewish women laugh. His hometown is Jewtown, Calif. He puts his age at 99 (although he looks at least 50 years younger). His occupation is comedian/dancer/male model — and rabbi. Yes, the tzitzit-wearing, black-bearded Rabbi Rabbs (a.k.a. Hershel Remer) is in a class by himself.
Rabbs (as he likes to be called) is the uber-Jewish component of Don Barris’ wild and wacky pseudo-reality “The Ding-Dong Show” Monday nights at The Comedy Store on the Sunset Strip. Rabbs, who doesn’t perform if the show falls on a Jewish holiday, lovingly refers to the outrageous cast as “a bunch of degenerate gentiles — all verifiably nuts. It’s a show about crazy people who are comedians — what could be funnier?”
The unique “major goyisheh comedy show,” as Rabbs calls it on his My Space Web site, was the perfect setting for the Jewish day school (YULA) and UCLA alum who spent eight years with the Orthodox Union’s West Coast kashrut division before finding his calling. (He also has a sideline working as a UNIX computer specialist.)
“I was born a comedian,” said Rabbs, who joined the show in 2001 and refers to himself as “America’s Favorite Rabbi Comic.” “My mother says I was funny before I could talk.”
Rabbs started signing up for amateur nights at The Comedy Store before meeting owner Mitzi Shore, who eventually booked him in regular shows and finally as a “Ding-Dong” cast member.
“I didn’t even know what I was doing there for a full year,” said Rabbs, who with the 11 other members of the “Ding-Dong Show” cast is currently shooting a follow-up to the 2003 comedy, “Windy City Heat,” which featured host Barris. “There are two things that make me different from the cast: One, no member of my family has ever been put in jail, and two, I am not on any psychiatric medications.”
Rabbs’ distinctive sense of humor shines on the show’s Web site, which offers background on each “actor,” and includes a message board forum called, “Ask the Rabbi Rabbs,” and a thread that Rabbs started earlier this year on “Which chick digs Rabbi Rabbs the most?” (He has several die-hard female followers.)
But there is a serious side to that thread: Rabbs is looking for a “rebbetzin” (rabbi’s wife), a search that takes on a greater meaning around Passover.
“I have learned the hard way that Judaism is a religion designed for married people and extremely difficult to be successful at while single,” said Rabbs, who’s looking for “a Jewish woman who doesn’t just want me for my money or my muscular body.”
“The Ding-Dong Show,” Mondays, 9:30 p.m., The Comedy Store.
For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.thedingdongshow.com.
Mommy, Me & Cheesecake Makes 3
Inside Shelley Berman, Again
Shelley Berman is 80 years old and hot, hot, hot. When he cups his hand over the phone and yells to his wife: “Where am I this week, Sarah?” he’s not having a senior moment. Fresh from playing Larry David’s father on the HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he’s got bookings in Las Vegas, feature film shoots and network television tapings on top of his regular slate of teaching classes at USC. Shelley’s current schedule would kill a person half his age, which is why, at 44, I’m functioning as his occasional producer, acolyte and coffee bringer (“Last time someone brought me hazelnut — can’t a person get an honest cup of coffee any more?”) at 24th Street Theatre, where we’re in the middle of a live Shelley Berman minifestival. (His next solo performance of classic monologues will be March 24.)
I’ve long been a fan of Shelley Berman. Although not a Jew myself, I’ve been granted cross-cultural permission to write a Shelley Berman report for The Jewish Journal, as we Asian Americans don’t have quite the comedic lineage of the Jews. But surely you can spare us a piece of your cultural history — for how many Christmases have you been eating our food? Ba-dump-bump.
That quasi-joke I just bumblingly attempted — that’s what Shelley calls: “In Yiddish, a shtick. Which means a hunk, or a piece.” He told me, “We don’t know what comedy is, we really don’t. I try to teach it to young people today, not how to be funny, but how to write it, how to think it, how to put it together. And it’s very hard. There’s that marvelous saying, ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard.'”
Because of Shelley’s love of teaching, we decide that on his first evening at 24th Street he’ll give his lecture: “Comedy and Its Reflections in History.” Such is the appetite to see Shelley live that without publicity, on a rainy Friday night in downtown, our theater is packed beyond capacity — just how far beyond remains between us and the Fire Department. Whereas at some points in his career the comedian has been rumored to be “difficult,” “Shelley 2006” is the soul of wonderful manners, sartorial elegance and cheerful professionalism. (Although we don’t mess around with the coffee — we actually have it brought in.)
Of course, that doesn’t mean that once on stage Shelley won’t fashion the circumstances of the evening into, well, a shtick. After my slavishly fawning introduction, Shelley comes out to a standing O. He waves the audience back down in their seats, looking half-pleased, half-pained. “Thank you … what’s her name. Your introduction was … long. Thank you for inviting me to this… this….” He looks around the small theater helplessly. His voice trails off. Gloomily, he drops his head in his hands. The audience screams.
Further, while Shelley’s famously not a fan of ringing phones, in a cruel twist of fate (as a producer, the phrase “bowels turn to ice” comes to mind), during Shelley’s performance not one — but three — cellphones go off. Three! (Including one whose owner left the building 24 hours ago.) But even here he finds humor. Removing the cell phone from one young man, he says: “I’ll hold it for you. To get it back later, all you have to do is kiss me… ” Long cross back to stage… “Some place.”
Once again, screams.
His audience firmly in thrall, Shelley now embarks on a trip fantastic through Western history. Sometimes with erudition: “Comedy comes from the Greek ‘komos,’ to travel. In that particular period, you knew that comedians had to travel. They weren’t going to stay around in that town that night after what they had done!”
Sometimes with quick irreverence: “I’m very good at talking about the Renaissance because I know so little about it.”
Then sometimes the two together. At one point, when laughter swells into applause, Shelley begins to conduct us. Hands up — applause! Hands down — silence. Hands up — applause! Hands down — silence. He takes a beat, leans forward, confides: “Isn’t it frightening how easily a man can become a leader? Now all I have to do now is learn how to pronounce ‘nu-cu-lar.’ Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of our two political parties, the Democrats and the Christians.”
The theme Shelley keeps returning to is how, time and time again, the best comedy illuminates the human condition at that particular historical time: “In the early 1920s, when there was serious hunger in this country, Charles Spencer Chaplin went to the Yukon. But for the hungry, Charles Chaplin ate a shoe. He cooked that shoe with love and anticipation. And when he ate it, he got all of the meat off the nails, as we do with chicken bones. He made a nation feel better. He made a nation laugh at his hunger.”
When Shelley, to his terror, was forced to enlist into the Army, it was Danny Kaye who lent comfort, finding outrageous humor in the indignity of Army medical exams. And there’ve been others, so many others; Shelley’s passion to speak the great names of comedy aloud becomes almost an aria: Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Buster Keaton, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Milton Berle, Jackie Miles, Jack Benny, George and Gracie, Henny Youngman, Shecky Green, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Steve Allen, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Jackie Mason, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce….
As a monologue writer myself, what struck me, particularly in Shelley’s descriptions of Jewish comedians, was the incredible precision of comedic rhythm. Consider Lou Holz –“a stand-up comedian, a raconteur, a storyteller, who wore a beautiful suit and carried a walking stick. Oh, he was natty as could be. The main character in all his jokes was a fellow by the name of Sam Lapides….”
You don’t have to be Jewish to tell this joke, but that DNA would help:
“So, Sam Lapides goes to the grocery. He says to the grocer, ‘Do you have salt?’ The grocer says: ‘Do I have salt? Do I have salt? Come here, take a look behind the counter here, see? Look at this. Bag salt. Box salt. See that salt? Over here? Canned salt…. Come on downstairs — I show you something….’ They go downstairs. He says: ‘Look. Look on these walls. Canned salt. Bagged salt. Good salt. Everywhere you look — salt.’ And Sam Lapides says, ‘I’m very impressed. But are you going to be able to sell all this salt?’ And the grocer says, ‘Me? I can’t sell salt. But the guy who sells me salt, oh can he sell…!'”
Here’s another joke with cadences so exact it’s akin to a minihaiku, or like one of those little Carl Sandburg epigraphs. You can almost diagram it. I’ve laid it out on the page for you to replicate the way Shelley told it:
Guy tells a doctor, “I can’t pee.”
The doctor says:
“How old are you?”
“I’m 87,” says the guy,
“You’ve peed enough.”
Shelley can also tell a killer Irish Catholic joke, if unprintable in a family newspaper. And of course ever the master artist, Shelley celebrates humor no matter from what tribe it emanates.
“There was a kid, I swear to God…. I saw the first movie, the first movie he ever did? He was so new, so fresh. A lot of Jews had dominated this field for a long time. And suddenly, there he was — the goyim! A non-Jew! Who’s funny! If you’ve never seen Red Skelton, you never saw funny! Oh my God, there was one wonderful thing he did — he did this routine where he’s cross-eyed, and he’s dunking doughnuts in the other guy’s coffee…!”
Bob Hope, though? Not so much.
“He never said anything cogent — never. ‘Road to Rio’?” Shelley opens his hands. “What was that?” None of us know. We are OK, this evening, leaving Mr. Hope — and all the world’s ringing cellphones — to fend for themselves.
It’s true that Shelley believes comedy today is in a fallow time. When the Vietnam War ended, he feels the comedic habit of anger and bad language remained, even as the underpinning of righteous indignation disappeared.
Says he: “There’s a lot of cruelty in our comedy today. We’ve got to find someone to give it to.”
One bright exception? “Larry David. A guy who has made himself the butt of every joke he’s ever done. Who is Harry Langdon? Who is Fatty Arbuckle? Who is Edgar Kennedy of old times? Larry David creates a character who is “Everyman’s Schmuck.” Every time we’re laughing we’re seeing ourselves in that guy. It’s the most therapeutic, wonderful humor I’ve ever seen.”
So as the evening ends “up” and, to a final standing O, Shelley admits: “I love to teach. I’d like to become everybody’s rabbi.”
Shelley Berman will perform a selection of his original comedic monologues on March 24 at 8 p.m. at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. $25 (general), $15 (teachers, students and seniors). For tickets, call (800) 838-3006.
Radio personality, author and monologist Sandra Tsing Loh’s solo show, “Mother on Fire,” runs through April 9, at 8 p.m. (Saturdays) and 3 p.m. (Sundays) at the 24th Street Theatre.
NoHo Actors Studio