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‘Reconquistador!’ Depicts Comedian Daniel Lobell’s Jewish Roots in Spain

A documentary film crew followed the couple, and now the footage is part of a new documentary and comedy special called “Reconquistador!” Minneapolis-based Stand Up! Records produced the film, which is going to be screened in theaters and festivals around the world, and available online. 
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October 20, 2022
Daniel Lobell in Spain (Screenshot)

When most couples go on their honeymoon, they don’t bring a camera crew to document it.

But when comedian Daniel Lobell got married in 2015, he and his new wife Kylie Ora Lobell (Community Editor at the Journal) traveled to Spain with more than a honeymoon in mind. They went not only to celebrate their marriage; while there, Daniel performed stand-up comedy and retraced the steps of his Jewish ancestors who were murdered and exiled in the Inquisition of 1492. 

A documentary film crew followed the couple, and now the footage is part of a new documentary and comedy special called “Reconquistador!” Minneapolis-based Stand Up! Records produced the film, which is going to be screened in theaters and festivals around the world, and available online. 

The documentary begins with a brief history of the Jewish population of Spain since the Spanish Inquisition.  In 1492, King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I issued an edict to exile the entire Jewish population. “Reconquistador!” is equal parts history, hilariousness and jamón (Iberian ham). As Orthodox Jews, the Lobells notice trayf everywhere. But Daniel qualifies the observations with the historical roots of the cuisine, particularly in what was formerly the Jewish quarter of the northeastern Catalonian city of Girona.

“This is the ruins of the people,” Daniel says in the film. “This is the story of how my family was forced into conversion, kicked out and then killed. I like tortillas, but all this jamón? Let’s not kid ourselves. We know why you’re hanging the jamón. It was to get rid of us.”

While walking around the former Jewish quarter, Daniel wastes no time approaching the townspeople to invite them to his comedy show.

 “This is what happens when you get rid of all of your Jews,” Daniel says to the camera. “You need to bring in your comedians because there aren’t any left.” 

As he approaches what looks to be centuries-old steps, he begins to wonder.

“You can feel the souls of the Jewish people that were here. And you can also feel that they wish they had escalators. They didn’t know what they were but … it’s a lot of stairs.” – Daniel Lobell

“When I see how beautiful this city is, it makes me even madder that all the Jews got kicked out because they had such nice real estate. Look at this place!” Daniel says. “You can feel the souls of the Jewish people that were here. And you can also feel that they wish they had escalators. They didn’t know what they were but … it’s a lot of stairs.” 

This is the constant during the documentary. Everywhere Daniel goes, he sees traces of how the Jewish people of Spain were persecuted half a millennium ago. While following his explorations, the documentary is interspersed with clips from his comedy show at the Tinta Roja Theater in Barcelona. The show was recorded for an album on Stand Up! Records, “The Nicest Boy in Barcelona.”

In “Reconquistador!” Daniel is constantly wondering, “Why did Spain do this to the Jewish people?” He addresses the horror with humor and curiosity. 

During a visit to the Museum of Jewish History in Girona, he explains how jarring it was to be in a museum about his exiled ancestors in a city from which they were exiled. 

“It’s very tough for me. I was asking the people who work here if they’re Jewish and they’re like ‘No! Are you Jewish?’” Lobell lets out an uncomfortable chuckle. “Even in the Jewish Museum I feel a little bit uncomfortable, like yeah I’m Jewish. I almost feel like I’m a target within the museum.”

While signing the guestbook at the museum, he has yet another hilarious interaction.

A museum employee says, “You are important person?”
Daniel says, “I think we’re all important people.”
Museum employee: “But you are?”
Daniel: “Sure, yes.”
Museum employee: “But who are you?”
Daniel: “You sound like my therapist.”
Museum employee: “I don’t understand you.”
Daniel: “A lot of people don’t.” 

Daniel’s excursion stands out for its earnestness. Most comedians use their jokes as a wall to resist vulnerability. Daniel is well aware of it and calls it out. 

“It’s painful for me, and a big impulse for me is just to take it seriously and try to accept and live within the pain of it and not walk around this museum making jokes,” Daniel says in the film. “Because that’s kind of how I deal with pain a lot. And I wouldn’t say all my humor comes from that. A lot of it doesn’t. A lot of my humor comes from joy, but it’s the comedian’s way. It’s like, ‘Oh, if it’s painful, I’ll make jokes out of it. And if it’s great, I’ll make jokes out of it too.’”

Daniel’s journey isn’t about elevating himself, just cracking jokes or collecting fleeting moments of being a fish out of water. It’s about connecting with the past while not holding a grudge in the present. 

“One part that we didn’t have in the film, because it was Shabbat, was that we went to Chabad in Barcelona, and there’s like armed guards in front of the Chabad with serious guns,” Daniel told the Journal. “And then they grill you to make sure that you’re Jewish before you can get in. And then they walked us to the rabbi’s house like we were fugitives walking through the streets of Spain, because we were coming from a synagogue. I felt like we’d done something wrong. Why do we have these armed escorts for just being ourselves to go to for dinner? It was insane.”

“Reconquistador!” is just over 60 minutes long, but will leave you wishing there were four more episodes in four more countries. 

“Reconquistador!” is just over 60 minutes long, but will leave you wishing there were four more episodes in four more countries. It even features a mix of flamenco and Lobell’s jazz, which he plays on his “mouth trumpet.”

Daniel, 39, lives in Los Angeles but hails from Long Beach, New York. In 2004, he started the first podcast to feature interviews with comedians, “Comical Radio,” and among his guests were George Carlin, Larry King, Chris Rock and Jackie Mason.

The comedian founded The Podcast Bus, a mobile recording studio inside of a converted school bus in LA, and he creates comic books about his life called “Fair Enough.” 

In the final scene of the film, Daniel discusses his bittersweet feelings about being in Spain. It’s a poignant and memorable moment, and one that’s relatable to so many Jews. Of course, in his signature style, he ends the moment with a joke.  

”[Spain] is emotional and fun and it’s beautiful. It brings up a lot of mixed feelings for me,” Daniel says. “It’s the home I got kicked out of in so many ways. Or maybe not that many ways. But at least in one way. I can’t be that deep. I just want to let everyone know, I’m not that deep. I am probably that deep internally but I’m never able to articulate it that well. But I’m probably adequately deep.”

To find out more, visit Reconquistadormovie.com.

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