Lights, Camera, Shalom! Major Movie Studios Producing Slew of Pro-Israeli Films


Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging.

Since the Jewish state began defending itself from the approximately 4,000 rockets that Hamas has hurled at it, the overwhelming amount of Tinseltown's producers, directors, actors and studio moguls have remained mute to the plight of millions of Israeli citizens fleeing for their lives.

Yet while such silver screen luminaries as Penelope Cruz, Rihanna and Selena Gomez have criticized Israel's response to the rocket attacks, a string of top Hollywood A-listers recently signed a petition backing Jerusalem and condemning the terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip.

Evidently, the statement, initiated by a group called Creative Community for Peace and signed by close to 200 Hollywood heavyweights, has tapped a reservoir of goodwill towards Israel. Shortly after the publication of the letter condemning the “ideologies of hatred and genocide which are reflected in Hamas’s charter,” movie studios such as the Walt Disney Company, Viacom and Time Warner announced they had greenlighted several projects that will convey a more balanced version of recent events in the Middle East. Among the planned cinematic offerings:

1)    There's Something about Bibi

2)    When Arik Met Sari

3)    Dimona is Forever

4)    The Hummus Games

5)    West Bank Story

6)    Not without my Jachnun

7)    Lawrence of the Arava

8)    Mad Mashal: Beyond Iron Dome

9)    Fajr on the Roof

10) A Sabra Named Desire

Comedy writer Sol Weinstein dies at 84


When I first moved to California from Philadelphia in 1978, Leon Brown, editor of the Jewish Exponent, told me to look up his friend Sol Weinstein. 

I already knew of Weinstein, as I had one of the books in his “Israel Bond Oy-Oy-7” series, “Loxfinger.” I did connect with him, and over the last 34 years, I was proud to be his friend.

Weinstein was born and raised in Trenton, N.J. In the 1950s, he wrote for his local newspaper, The Trentonian, before turning his sharp wit to comedy sketches and songs for variety show performers. He married Eleanor Eisner in 1955, and they had two children, David and Judee.

He started writing gags for Joe E. Lewis, Alan King and, years later, for Bob Hope’s and Dean Martin’s shows. His show-biz pals were Sammy Davis Jr., Gene Kelly and Dom DeLuise.

In 1962, Weinstein wrote the ballad “The Curtain Falls” for Bobby Darin’s act, which the singer used as his finale for years. The song was also recorded by Hope, and Steve & Eydie, and was featured in the Darin biopic “Beyond the Sea.”

Weinstein conceived his Israel Bond capers, starting with “Loxfinger,” in 1965. The series of four books — including “Matzohball,” “On the Secret Service of His Majesty, the Queen” and “You Only Live Until You Die” — sold more than 400,000 copies and gained him national exposure.

In the ’70s, Weinstein moved to Los Angeles and wrote for such television shows as “The Love Boat,” “The Jeffersons” and “Three’s Companywith writing partner Howard Albrecht. 

Weinstein moved to New Zealand in 2002 to be near his son. He was a real mensch, fun to be with, funny, he loved jazz, loved being Jewish and speaking Yiddish, and he loved life itself. 

Of his writing partner, Albrecht said, “Sol was the most interesting, knowledgeable, talented — but, more important, the most gentle — man I have ever known.”

Weinstein, writer, composer, jazz fanatic and sweetheart, died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 25 in his home in Plimmerton, New Zealand, surrounded by his loving family. He was 84. 

Predeceased by wife, Eleanor, Weinstein is survived by his daughter, Judee; son, David; and granddaughter, Eleanor. 

Kenny Ellis is cantor of Temple Beth Ami, a Reform synagogue in Santa Clarita.

Our Annual Purim Spoof Cover 2012: Angry Beards, Donald Trump, Berman v. Sherman, Proxy Baptism


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X-FRIENDS: Mutant Rabbis


Video courtesy of JTA.

Is the story of the mighty X-Men battle between Prof. X and Magneto really a battle between the Rabbis Irving “Yitz” Greenberg and the late Meir Kahane?
JTA’s Editor-in-Chied Ami Eden draws parallels between the two fascinating stories, and finds interesting results that involve the Jewish world, the Holocaust and the fictional mutants.

Ten Things I Hate About Commandments [VIDEO]


Our Annual Purim Spoof Cover 2011: Charlie Sheen, Wisconsin, Wikileaks, Dior, Egypt


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Virgins welcome at ‘Hebrew Horror’ night


Inspired by this week’s Jewish pastime of movies and Chinese food, the Los Angeles “Rocky Horror Picture Show” cast Sins o’ the Flesh is hosting an inaugural Jewish-themed send-up of the midnight cult classic at the Landmark Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles on Saturday, Dec. 22.

Each week, the Sins troupe performs a synchronized below-the-screen recreation of the film with sarcastic social jabs, bawdy sexuality and biting fan in-jokes. And the “Hebrew Horror” will be no different.

The event marks the first time the players have devoted an entire evening to poking fun at the Jewish community, said Sins co-cast leader Bernie Bregman, 28, who plays the title role of Rocky. He added that “Hebrew Horror” is likely the first Jewish theme night for any “Rocky Horror” cast since audience participation began in the late 1970s.

“It’s one of those things that started out as a joke and really became serious after we started spewing out ideas,” the 11-year “Rocky” veteran said of the brainstorming session among Sins’ cast, which is mostly Jewish.

One cast member will get a Chasidic makeover with payot, while another will have the requisite doily on her head replaced with a white kippah. During the film’s same-sex wedding ceremony, the Sins players will erect a chuppah. Simulated sex scenes will include a sheet with a hole in the middle. And expect at least one nod to Mel Brooks.

For the uninitiated — known to fans as “virgins” — “Rocky Horror” is a spoof of 1950s science fiction and horror films. The original “Rocky Horror Show” began as a London musical in 1973 before coming to Los Angeles’ Roxy Theater for its U.S. debut in 1974. Richard O’Brien penned the production and helped Jim Sharman adapt it for the screen as “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” in 1975.

“Rocky Horror” recounts the strange case of a recently engaged couple, Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), whose car suffers a blowout during a rainstorm. The virginal twosome stumble upon a nearby castle where strange characters have gathered for a Transylvanian Convention hosted by Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a cross-dressing bisexual alien who creates a new lover, Rocky, in his laboratory. Let’s just say everything goes downhill from there.

The 20th Century Fox production was all but ignored or panned by critics when it opened, but today it’s the longest-running and most popular cult film ever released. Its domestic box office has grossed nearly $113 million.

Midnight showings in New York helped generate the cult following, which inspired audience participation, such as fans heckling the film with lewd callbacks and throwing objects (toast, toilet paper) or performing as part of casts, like Sins o’ the Flesh.

Every showing opens with a “virgin” sacrifice, and “Hebrew Horror” will be no different. The Sins preshow contests this week will include dreidel spinning and finding the afikomen (be afraid), and latkes with applesauce and sour cream will be served.

Sins pokes fun at almost anything, but the players say they won’t cross over into Holocaust humor. Several Shoah-themed jokes came up during the brainstorming, but the cast agreed those would be in bad taste, even by “Rocky” standards.

“That crosses the line into an area that’s just not funny anymore because it’s so uncomfortable,” said Moraca, a self-described super-sensitive liberal. “We slaughter the sacred cow, but I’m hoping this comes off as something in good fun and not offensive.”

“Hebrew Horror,” Dec. 22, 12 a.m., Landmark Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles.

Landmark Nuart

http://www.landmarktheatres.com/market/LosAngeles/NuartTheatre.htm

Sins o’ the Flesh

www.sinsotheflesh.org/

Participation Guide

http://www.rockyhorror.com/participation/

(Check with Sins o’ the Flesh to see what’s kosher to bring)

In which our loyal readers take us to task for various and sundry


Spoof Cover

As the former creative director for Primedia for nearly 10 years and the publisher of Blvd Magazine, I was responsible for dozens of magazines, their content and their covers. In my weekly staff meetings, I never would have turned to any of you losers for cover ideas if the Purim spoof covers was your claim-to-fame (Cover, March 2). I wouldn’t have hired any of you.

Take a minute the next time your “‘creatives’ who make it all possible” come-up with another great idea. Go to the waiting room of one of the Jewish cemeteries or a market outside of Beverly Hills, like Chino Hills where I live, and look to see how your “genius” covers look to the real world. I cringe!

Elliot Gilbert
via e-mail

Truth About Peace Now

In his letter, Nathan Wirtschafter is misleading the readers by claiming as fact something that is patently false (Letters, Feb. 23). Readers may be unaware that Peace Now was established by 348 Israel Defense Forces officers and reservists in 1978. They were not pacifists and neither is the movement, which soon grew into the largest grass-roots movement in Israeli history. Peace Now believes strongly in Israel’s military deterrent and use of force, when necessary.

Peace Now’s goal is to help Israel establish permanent, defensible borders with her neighbors and ultimately negotiated peace agreements that solidify Israel’s security and its Jewish and democratic character.

David Pine
West Coast Regional Director
Americans for Peace Now

Support Our Jewish Troops

Thank you for publishing Jane Ulman’s article about Jewish soldiers in World War II who celebrated Purim with a liberated Jewish family in Belgium (“When a Holiday Turned the World Right Side Up,” March 2). Demographics notwithstanding, there are Jews who serve on active duty in the United States today. Whatever your politics, it is nice to show them some support.

Last year, generous minyan regulars from Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, including Rabbi Joshua Levine-Grater and Rabbi Emeritus Gilbert Kollin, shipped greeting cards, kosher salami and tefillin to our appreciative Jewish troops. If your readers would like to provide our Jewish soldiers, sailors and Marines with kosher food this Passover, please consider a donation to the JWB Jewish Chaplains Council 520 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10018 (www.jcca.org/jwb).

Anita Susan Brenner
Pasadena

Sorry, I Don’t See Any Eggshells

I am writing to respond to the closing quote in Tom Tugend’s article on the firing of Craig Prizant (“Federation Might Face Suit Over Fundraiser’s Firing,” March 2). I’m responding because this quote refers to me, as I am a 12-year member of the campaign staff at The Jewish Federation. In my view, the quote makes very incorrect assumptions about the mood in our department.

At this time, I find an incredible “esprit de corps” and lots of hard work happening on the campaign floors. Contrary to the anonymous board member who was quoted in the article, I have not heard anyone speak of fear of losing their job. It seems to me that staff has been invited to speak out and share their opinions more than ever before. It seems to me that morale is high during this busy time of year for us.

Our mission of tikkun olam continues moving forward with a group of amazing, passionate fundraisers and our entire staff doing an incredible job. There are great things happening here at The Jewish Federation.

With all apologizes to the anonymous board member you quote, I haven’t seen any eggshells scattered around anywhere.

Gwenn Drucker-Flait
via e-mail

Not-so-Kosher Guide

I am a Jewish Persian woman who has lived in Los Angeles for the past 30 years (“A Guide to Jewish Tehrangeles,” Feb. 23). I was glad to see you reporting on Persian Jewish Communities in Los Angeles and showing all people we are educated people who contribute and enjoy living in the United States.

I just had issues with your article written by Sara Bakhshian, under the heading “Handy Guide to Jewish Tehrangeles,” because I thought it was extremely misleading and wrong.

If this is a Jewish Journal, it should not have included nonkosher restaurants and bakeries and represented them in your magazine. It can be misleading for a lot of other Jewish readers that read your magazine and think if it is listed under this heading they must be kosher. Darya is a nonkosher restaurant, for example.

I have nothing against a nonkosher establishment. I just though it was wrong to put any food or eatery that does not observe Jewish laws in your list.

Mojy Lavi
Beverly Hills

Dear Mr. Suissa

I have heard eulogies by clergy who did not know the deceased, or barely knew the deceased as a congregant, and here David Suissa, a person who did not know Laura, and was not required to eulogize her, wrote a most moving eulogy (“Death in the Hood,” Feb. 23).

I am Laura’s father. Laura’s mother and I thank you for a most moving tribute, which we, Laura’s extended family and her friends, will treasure.

Yours was a tribute not only to the person, but also to the religious, ethical and moral values by which she and her husband Steve attempted to conduct their lives.

Laura and her brother, Gunnar, followed my trade and became divorce lawyers. Of course, my pride is not only in their professional accomplishments, but also in the ethical values they brought to their practices.

To the Aish community, Laura is being remembered, as is appropriate, by her contributions to that community. What helps us in the healing process is that we have no regrets about anything Laura did. We have only pride for her contributions to her family, her community and her profession.

I will be looking for other writings by you on-line. You write exceedingly well.

Theater: Musical ‘Boyz’ you won’t find next door


Surely, there are those of you out there privately lamenting the demise of the boy bands of the 1980s and ’90s — the New Kids on the Block and ‘N Syncs of the world. Well, you are in luck: A new band is coming to town. And you do not have to be a swooning teenage girl to go watch it perform.

“Altar Boyz,” the off-Broadway hit, is coming to the Wadsworth Theatre for nearly two weeks, starting Feb. 13. The show is a 90-minute spoof on boy bands filled with high-energy singing and dancing and irreverent humor.

The twist? The story centers on a Christian guy-group intent on saving the souls of the audience.

The group consists of an assortment of types, as every proper boy band should. There’s Matthew, the leader; Mark, the sensitive one; Luke, the bad boy, and Juan, the Latin lover. Oh, and there’s one more: Abraham, the Jew, or as the script calls him, “the gefilte fish out of water.”

Abraham’s presence in the group makes for fine comedy, but it also deepens the message of the musical parody, making a statement about the power of religion to bring people together.

Wearing a yarlmulke and Star of David medallion around his neck, Abraham is both part of the band and an outsider. He shares with the others a belief in God.

However, when he introduces himself at the start of the show, the other band members point out his difference: “He’s Jewish!” And when the others make the sign of the cross, Abraham traces in the air a Star of David.

Abraham gets big laughs during a flashback scene that shows how the band got started. Abraham walks into a church, where he finds a group of altar boys. One asks him, “Are Jewish people even allowed in the church?”

“I think so,” Abraham answers. “I just saw one on the cross above the altar.” Ba-dum-bum.

Marc Kessler, who conceived the show, along with Ken Davenport, said they first conceptualized a four-person band. But then they realized they could add “the outsider” archetype, and who would better fit that than a Jewish character?

“We didn’t want to make him a Jew for Jesus,” said Kessler, 35. Instead, Abraham would be a character who stays faithful to Judaism despite joining the band.

“This is going to sound corny,” Kessler said by phone from New York, “but to me, the essence of religion is bringing people together for a common good. Abraham saw that these [Christian] guys were doing good, were coming together despite their differences.”

So, in the spirit of brotherhood and for a love of pop music, Abraham joined them, he said.

One of the show’s producers, Robyn Goodman, played a critical role in keeping the character more real than stereotypical, Kessler said. Originally, the creators had Abraham’s mother checking up on her son throughout the show, monitoring what he was eating and making sure that he was doing OK. Goodman, who is Jewish, challenged the creators to dig deeper than that, Kessler said.

In the end, Kessler, a Catholic, and the creative team fashioned a Jewish character whom Kessler called a “cool guy” with “dignity” and a “great sense of who he is.”

“Altar Boyz” opened in New York in March 2005 and has been running ever since. Nick Blaemire, 22, plays Abraham in the show’s national tour, which began last October.

Blaemire, who considers himself half-Jewish, because his mother is Jewish but his father is not, described his character as “a bit of an outsider and an intellectual in the best and worst senses of the word: He is socially awkward but has his moments of brilliance.”

Abraham tries to act urban but does not quite pull it off. He raps, makes the peace sign and says things like “mazzletozzle, yo!” He wears a Magen David chain — Blaemire called it his “Star of David bling” — a blue T-shirt emblazoned with an Israeli flag and green cargo pants. Costume designer Gail Brassard was going for the Israeli army look, Blaemire said.

Abraham has his moments in the spotlight, leading the band in a song about everybody fitting in, for example. And ultimately, Abraham emerges as the hero of the show.

That makes Blaemire a hero, too. On a MySpace blog dedicated to “Altar Boyz,” girls fawn over the character, calling him “adorable,” “such a cute guy” and “so cool.”

“We loved all of the ‘BOYZ’ but my fave had to be Abraham (Nick),” gushed one fan. “We got to meet them all after the show, and they are just as cool in real life.”

What can we say to that but, “mazzletozzle, yo!”

“Altar Boyz” will be at the Wadsworth Theatre from Feb. 13-25. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $28-$58 and are on sale at ‘ TARGET=’_blank’>www.altarboyz.com.

Want to spoof Purim and the Oscars? Be our Guest!


Comedy director David Zucker goes to GOP? You can’t be serious!


David Zucker, the producer and director of “Airplane,” “The Naked Gun” and “Scary Movie 4,” embraced the Republican Party in 2004 and voted for President Bush, largely because of security concerns. Once a liberal activist and campaign adviser to President Bill Clinton, he made a low-budget anti-Kerry ad that ran mostly in Ohio and kept his political change-of-heart largely under Hollywood’s radar.
 
Not now.
 
Zucker sees threats to America and Israel mounting, and he believes the Democrats are unable or unwilling to confront those challenges, so he has decided to go public with his belief that the Democrats have lost their way. Starting Oct. 9, the first of two ads Zucker directed and co-wrote will begin running on the Internet in hopes of helping the Republicans retain control of the House in the November elections. Like his movies, Zucker’s edgy spots employ his trademark fast-paced, gag-a-second-slapstick humor that has made him the undisputed king of spoof.
 
But Zucker believes his Republican boosterism carries some professional risk, as well. Hollywood happily forgives druggy actors and boozy directors, Zucker said, “but I don’t think a Republican can be rehabbed.” Still, at 58, he has decided to take a high-profile stand.
 
Zucker’s first Internet ad spoofs the Democrats’ reputation as the party of tax-and-spend liberals. It opens with a shot of a couple peacefully sleeping in bed. A narrator’s voice interrupts the calm: “What if you woke up a year from today, the Democrats had taken over and you were able to see their new taxes?”
Suddenly, a man in a dark suit, the Democratic tax man, appears in the bedroom and holds out his hand for a payoff. He shows up again and again. He hits up a woman who has just given birth and even demands payment from her newborn. The 90-second spot ends with an army of ominous-looking Democratic tax men, briefcases in hand, marching down the street like some spooky army.
 
A second spot charging Democrats with being soft on foreign policy is expected to be posted soon.
 
Funded by pro-Republican, tax-exempt 527 groups, the ads will appear on YouTube, the Drudge Report and America Weakly, a new parody site run by the Republican National Committee (RNC) that purports to show what the country would look like under Democratic control. The RNC asked Zucker to make the spoof ads because of his “stellar reputation and high-quality production,” said Tara Wall, director of outreach communications.
 
Political strategist Arnold Steinberg thinks such ads “can be very effective” in making an impact. Although Steinberg had not seen Zucker’s Internet ads when he spoke to a reporter, he said humorous spots might generate lots of media coverage, thereby broadcasting Zucker’s message to a larger audience extending beyond the Internet.
 
Zucker’s foray into political advertising comes at a time when he is taking stock of himself. Having spent nearly 30 years spoofing police dramas, disaster flicks and horror films, beginning with the 1977 cult classic, “The Kentucky Fried Movie,” he now wants to turn his withering satirical eye to politics.
 
Without divulging too many details, Zucker said he plans to make a film lampooning politics, sandwiched between a superheroes spoof and “Scary Movie 5.”
 
“You have people like Michael Moore going into foreign countries saying Americans are the stupidest people in the world,” Zucker said. “I want to tell the real America story, that America is a force for good.”
 
Politics became deadly serious for Zucker on Sept. 11; he was disturbed by liberals who, he said, blamed America or spoke of root causes. Zucker said he found himself supporting Bush’s robust response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. As time passed, he tired of listening to calls for “talk, talk, talk” and the United Nations to solve the world’s most tangled problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
 
Despite his continued pro-choice, anti-nuclear power, pro-environmental beliefs, he found himself drawn to Republican national security policies. In 2004, he re-registered, made the anti-Kerry ad, appeared on a few talk shows to discuss his political conversion and “fell in with the dark side,” quipped his brother Jerry Zucker, director of “Ghost” and “Rat Race,” among other films.
 
“I still can’t believe I’m a Republican,” Zucker said. “There are just certain things ingrained in our Jewish roots. Our fathers voted for Roosevelt, and we voted for JFK, [Hubert] Humphrey and Clinton. But the Democratic Party has changed.”
 
He is not the only Jew to have defected to the Republican Party in the post-Sept. 11 world. Concerns about American national security and Israel have helped the Republican Jewish Coalition attract thousands of new members in recent years, RJC California director Larry Greenfield said.
 
Jews still vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and the party is fighting back against the Republican strategy of portraying them as weak on terrorism or anti-Israel (see story, p. 17).
 
But in 2004, this state’s RJC had 2,000 members and three chapters. Today, it has 7,000 members and 10 chapters. Zucker will speak at a national RJC gathering in December.
 
Sitting in his Santa Monica office, Zucker exudes the calm and confidence that comes with age and success. He looks much younger than his years but not in that unnatural skin-stretched-tight-as-a-drum sort of way. Perhaps having a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son keeps him youthful.
 
Alternately energetic and thoughtful, it quickly becomes clear that his actions are considered. Which is why he called his business manager before agreeing to make these new attack ads: He wanted to know whether he could afford a Hollywood shunning. The answer: “I’m OK as long as I don’t buy an $8-million mansion,” he said.
 
Surrounded by Davy Crockett memorabilia, including comic books, a framed first-edition autobiography and a rifle owned by the legendary 19th century American folk hero, Zucker said he admires Crockett’s willingness to speak out for his beliefs. In the early 1990s, Zucker spent two years working on a Crockett screenplay with University of New Mexico historian Paul Hutton. The historical drama never got made, much to Zucker’s chagrin.

The Art of Laziness


 

Here were my New Year’s resolutions: Clean out my house, get in shape, finish my novel, yada yada — the same ones I made last year. And if the first two weeks of 2005 are anything to go by, the next 50 are sure to bring about failure in this endeavor.

But at least I’m succeeding at one thing: sloth. Yes, one of the quote/unquote seven deadly sins can actually be viewed as a virtue — no, a lifestyle program, according to Wendy Wasserstein’s new book, “Sloth: The Seven Deadly Sins” (The New York Library/Oxford, 2005).

“Sloth is the fastest-growing lifestyle movement in the world, and that’s because it’s completely doable. If you embrace sloth, it’s the last thing you’ll ever have to do again,” Wasserstein writes in her “introduction” — purportedly the only thing in this book she’s penned; the rest of the book contains the actual sloth “program,” and Wasserstein is simply “delivering” it to us (because the “real” author was too lazy to write it).

Although it’s a bit gimmicky, it’s only mimicking the original form: the self-help book. (Introduced by some expert, written by some guru, or found in the mountains of Peru.)

This slim volume of a sometimes weak spoof not only pokes fun at the modern world’s intense obsession with self-improvement, it also mocks its antithesis, the new trend of guides to — let’s call it relaxation. On one side of the bookshelf we have “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” and on the other there is “The Lazy Way to Success” and “The Art of Slowness.”

Apparently, we need a program for everything, even for doing nothing. “Sloth,” one of seven volumes by various authors on the sins, gives us that program, from how to tell everyone in your life to get lost (“Say to your kid ‘do your own homework’ and leave the dirty pots and pans to someone else…”) to helping you focus on the two-week “lethargosis” period (not unlike Dr. Atkins’ two-week carb-cleaning “ketosis” process). Other tips include anti-improvement concepts like, stop competing, do not clean up, do not wash, don’t be good — or bad — and nothing is urgent.

Although I didn’t know it, for the last six weeks I’ve actually been following the sloth program pretty closely. Now, if only I can retroactively sneak that resolution into 2005, I’m well on my way to success.

Wendy Wasserstein will be appearing in conversation with Madeline Puzo, the dean of the USC School of Theatre, on Tuesday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m. as part of the “Aloud at Central Library” Series, Central Library Mark Taper Auditorium, 630 W. Fifth St., Los Angeles. For more information, call (213) 228-7025.

 

Shearer Enjoyment


On the sunny porch of his Santa Monica cottage, a scruffy-looking Harry Shearer, Los Angeles’ preeminent satirist, is describing his fascination with an all-male power retreat called the Bohemian Grove. It began about nine years ago when the caustic, 58-year-old humorist started interviewing Grove guests — and hookers — about the super-exclusive Northern California resort. The interviews eradicated every conspiracy theory he’d had about the place: "These guys aren’t micromanaging the world," says Shearer, best known for voicing myriad "Simpsons" characters and for his National Public Radio program, "Le Show."

Instead, the big shots — who’ve included Henry Kissinger and Robert F. Kennedy — liked to cavort naked through the woods, visit prostitutes, pee on redwoods and dress in drag. "What I found peculiar is that if you call a group of the richest and most powerful men in America and say, ‘Here’s a week apart from the cares of the world,’ what they choose to do is to regress to the status of college sophomores," he says with a laugh. "I think that’s funny. I find it a bit ‘twee,’ a British word meaning sort of silly and a bit below one."

So Shearer did what humorists are wont to do: He wrote a spoof of the Grove and turned it into his feature film directorial debut, "The Teddy Bears’ Picnic," which opens April 5 in Los Angeles. In the sharp but slowly paced comedy, chaos ensues when outsiders crash a fictional retreat called Zambesi Glen. Shearer says he picked the name, "Zambesi," "because the idea of these white guys choosing something African had a sort of class obliviousness that I liked."

To fact check, he finagled an invitation to the Grove; while he didn’t see any nude frolicking, he did note bacchanalian feasting and the imbibing of a "house drink" named after the narcotic drug Nembutal. The high point of his visit: finding a major corporate executive face down on the golf course, sleeping off his Nembutals. The low point: performing some of his irreverent humor — "a bad idea as evidenced by the lack of laughter and applause," he says.

Not that arch, wry Shearer is afraid of a little rejection. After all, he’s the guy whose politically incorrect fare has included a "debate" between Jesse Jackson and Jerry Falwell over whether a movie should be colorized.

After the Sept. 11 tragedy, he was perhaps the first satirist to officially skewer President Bush, doing one of his "Le Show" conversations between "43" and "41," as he refers to Bush junior and senior, the 43rd and 41st presidents of the United States. "I found my mission," 43 tells 41. "I haven’t been this focused and determined since the fourth time I quit drinking."

Even the Chabad Telethon — which Shearer actually likes — isn’t safe from his barbed wit. With a mischievous smile, he admits he hosts an annual Chabad telethon party where he "gets up and dances every time they show the tote board. I love watching Rabbi Cunin’s progression as a tummler each year. I remember times when he would literally engage in grabbing contests for the microphone with [telethon supporter and mega-producer] Jerry Weintraub; we’d just slow-mo the tape for the body language."

Shearer’s large hazel eyes turn serious when he describes how his Austrian father and Polish mother separately fled Nazi-occupied Europe in the late 1930s (they met in Havana). "The rest of my relatives were supposed to follow, but time just ran out," he says. "When my parents talked about losing their families, there was a lot of emotion so obviously it was painful."

The Shearers were also political and radio junkies who listened to everything from the satirists Bob and Ray to the Jewish Theological Seminary’s weekly show. By the age of 3, young Harry could not only name all his favorite radio programs, but what city they originated in and the times they were on. By age 7, he was a child actor on "The Jack Benny Show." The year after his father died of a brain abscess in the mid-1950s, he became bar mitzvah at Hollywood Temple Beth El.

After a brief political career, he turned up in the radio comedy group, "The Credibility Gap," on "Saturday Night Live" and as the horny bass player Derek Smalls in Rob Reiner’s 1984 rock mockumentary "This Is Spinal Tap," which he also co-wrote. Around the same time, he launched "Le Show," which he still does for free every week so no one can tell him what to do.

Shearer can afford it. He reportedly makes at least $50,000 per "Simpsons" episode, though he says he’s chagrined that many Hollywood executives still view him as "one of their refined tastes they’re not willing to share with the masses." He’s been accepting roles in blockbusters such as "Godzilla" to prove he can be, well, commercial: "Fame is a tool in this town," he says. "I need to become more famous to do the projects I want to do."

But he’s not averse to working in the margins, if necessary. When studios eschewed "Picnic," Shearer used the new digital production technology to make the movie independently, on the cheap. Like all his work, "Picnic" skewers political and pop culture establishments on the left and the right. "It’s like we used to say in The Credibility Gap," he says. "In my stuff, everybody’s an as—–."