February 22, 2019

Danny Lobell Draws on Pekar for Comic Book

Stand-up comedian and former Yeshiva student Danny Lobell of Los Angeles has just released an autobiographical comic book, “Fair Enough,” which includes the story of his friendship with Harvey Pekar of “American Splendor” fame.

“That friendship changed my life,” Lobell told the Journal.

Growing up in New York, Lobell’s career plan was to emulate two giants of the comic book industry: Stan Lee of Marvel Comics and Pekar.

Knowing his obsession with all things Pekar, Lobell’s grandmother insisted when he was 20 that he watch “American Splendor,” Pekar’s landmark autobiographical film. “I was mesmerized by the fact that Harvey Pekar was an ordinary guy with no connections and limited resources, but he was able to pursue his dreams, create his own art … find a fan base from it,” Lobell said.

Lobell was so taken by Pekar’s story that he called him at his home in Cleveland. “I was stunned when Pekar answered his own phone,” Lobell said.

That initial call was “just to tell him how much I loved his movie and how inspiring I found him to be,” Lobell said.

Twelve months later, the pair met for the first and only time. “I interviewed him for my college paper, the Baruch [College] paper, The Ticker,” Lobell said.

The two maintained a telephone friendship until Pekar’s death in 2010.

“Harvey Pekar was an ordinary guy with no connections and limited resources, but he was able to pursue his dreams.” — Danny Lobell

An avid artist, Lobell, 34, said he was repeatedly kicked out of class throughout his school years “because I was doodling or drawing or daydreaming.” He photocopied his drawings and sold them to his fellow students.

He recalled an incident in the fourth grade when his teacher, Mrs. Snyder, sent him to the principal’s office for drawing a picture of her.

“The principal looked at it and said, ‘Hmm, that kind of looks like her,’ ” Lobell recalled. After class, the principal called Mrs. Snyder in to see the drawing. She then asked Lobell if she could have the picture. “I said yes,” Lobell said. “But I wanted to tell her, ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have kicked me out if you wanted to take my drawing home.’ ”

Lobell continued to spend more time drawing than studying until he was eventually kicked out of yeshiva in the ninth grade, presumably for poor grades.

“Because that was so unusual, other schools must have thought a cover-up was going on,” Lobell said. “I must have done something egregious to deserve this treatment. None of the yeshivas wanted me.”

He eventually landed at the now-defunct Torah Academy of Suffolk County, a school that Lobell called “a sham. Parents were bamboozled. No proper education was going on there. It was more a baby-sitting service.”

An Orthodox Jew, Lobell withdrew and enrolled in public school for the first time.

Despite his wayward yeshiva years, Lobell stayed on good terms with his rabbis. “Throughout the years, I was kicked out of so many classes and sent to the same principal, Rabbi Glass [at the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach, N.Y.], that he and I became friends. Twenty years later, he came to my wedding. How do you like that?”

With his second comic book due out in June, life is looking good for Lobell.

“I hope this is not the peak,” he said, “though it is pretty good.”

“Fair Enough” is available online through fairenoughcomic.com.

My Husband, the Shabbat King

Screenshot from Facebook.

I’ve never fancied myself a balabusta. For the past eight years, I’ve assumed this role, however, in my relationship with my husband, Danny Lobell.

Because I was a freelance writer for most of our relationship, I would dutifully care for our two dogs, six chickens and tortoise, clean the house religiously and cook every meal. I’d make elaborate Shabbat dinners, invite over tons of people, and make the house look perfect, all the while writing for many clients and building my portfolio. On the side, I was also managing Danny’s comedy career.

Some Thursday nights, I would have two pots full of rice going on the stove and be panfrying 14 pieces of schnitzel while baking six loaves of challah and washing and drying loads upon loads of laundry. Often, I was up until 3 a.m. setting the table, then getting up around 10 a.m. and working all day on the finishing touches. I usually never left the kitchen on Fridays. Our home doesn’t have central air conditioning, so there were some fun (read: terrible) summer days I spent indoors preparing for Friday night dinner.

Danny played his own part by grocery shopping, entertaining the guests, cleaning up after dinner, and serving tea and whiskey. He did his part to help.

I decided I’d had enough of this working woman/housewife role. I applied for a full-time job, and a month later, I got it. Immediately, I felt that huge housewife burden vanish.

And although it wasn’t all bad on my end — I love cooking for Danny and Shabbat guests, caring for our adorable pets and having a clean home — I knew I was stretching myself too thin. I was getting crabby with Danny. I was anxious, tired and overweight. I didn’t have enough time for self-care. My brain was constantly in “go, go, go” mode.

Then, one day last year, I decided I’d had enough of this working woman/housewife role. I applied for a full-time job, and a month later, I got it. Immediately, I felt that huge housewife burden vanish.

As soon as I started going to work, I felt better. I knew it was the healthiest move I could have made.

Immediately, I felt closer to Danny, because I was able to focus on my work work, which I had always enjoyed much more than housework. I had money to hire a housekeeper, who made our home look sparkling clean before Shabbat. The only thing I worried about was if Danny would be able to put Shabbat together for us.

I should have learned after all these years that worrying is counterproductive. There was no need to be apprehensive.

At the end of the first exhausting week of work, I came home on Friday afternoon to a clean house, a delicious-smelling stew in the slow cooker, all the appropriate lights duct-taped for Shabbat and a table set for the two of us. A beautiful bouquet of flowers sat in the middle. As soon as I saw Danny, who was adjusting his tie in the mirror, getting ready to watch me light the candles, I hugged him and nearly cried. “You did it,” I whispered.

The next week, Danny made an even more elaborate meal, invited some of our wonderful friends, got another bouquet, and bought me a cute top from my favorite shop, Karen Michelle.

The following week, Danny’s parents came to visit, and he went all out, running to Got Kosher to buy the best challah and baba ghanoush in town, to Bibi’s to get some amazing rugelach and Yankee’s dips, to Glatt Mart to procure the juiciest brisket it had and smoked it for 12 straight hours.

One day, I hope that I have more time to cook again (cleaning, eh, not so much) and to get back to a few of the housewife duties I actually enjoyed. But right now, I know I’m in good hands with my husband, Danny, the Shabbat King, who continues to impress me.

Remembering Shelley Berman

Danny Lobell and Shelley Berman

The music blared as friends and family gathered around to welcome my bride and me. As we walked from the yichud room to the social hall, someone joined my side: an old man. He was not my grandfather, as most of the guests thought. He was the legendary comedian Shelley Berman.

Although he was 90 years old, Berman was keeping up with everyone, dancing to the loud Israeli music with his cane up in the air, and smiling from ear to ear. He was the life of the party on the dance floor.

I first met Berman in 2014, when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview him on my podcast. After the interview, Berman and his wife, Sarah,  invited my wife and me to look at Berman’s impressive knife collection and have some tea. We talked about how Sarah converted to Judaism, and how my wife, Kylie Ora Lobell, was in the process of doing the same. It turned out, in fact, that we all had a lot in common, and an instant friendship was born.

As a new couple in Los Angeles looking for another couple to hang out with, we had finally found our match. It just so happened that they were a few years older than we were.

They told us to stay in touch and we did. We drove up to Shelley and Sarah Berman’s house a few more times for lunch and became a fixture at their holiday party every Hanukkah. When Kylie and I got married in the summer of 2015, Sarah and Shelley Berman were there with their daughter, Rachel, celebrating with us.

The following Rosh Hashanah, Shelley Berman came to our festive meal along with his daughter and two grandsons. He had us all laughing throughout the holiday. He showed us how he ate pomegranates by first rolling them against the table to loosen the skin and then just biting into them. He said that nothing made him happier than a good pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah.

In fact, Rosh Hashanah was one of Shelley’s favorite days of the year, so much so that he had written a poem about the sounding of the shofar is his book “To Laughter With Questions: Poetry by Shelley Berman.”

The next time I was to hear this poem was sadly at Berman’s funeral; he died in Southern California on Sept. 1, 2017, at 92. The Chabad rabbi presiding over the funeral read it aloud, because it had been a gift to him from Berman, and Rosh Hashanah was only a few weeks away.

On Jan. 30, 2018, droves of people, including Kylie and me, went to the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach to celebrate Berman’s life and career with a memorial service. We heard from his contemporaries, friends and family, such as the host of the event, comedian Lewis Black, comedian George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, producer and writer Alan Zweibel, and comedians Laraine Newman and Fred Willard, who brought down the house with a story about the two of them grand marshaling a Hollywood parade. In attendance were many of Berman’s co-stars, including actors Larry David and Cheryl Hines, and comedians who wanted to pay their respects. Sarah Berman closed the afternoon by talking about their loving 70-year relationship.

Most people will remember Shelley Berman for his work on the comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” on which he portrayed Larry David’s father, Nat David. Or perhaps the older generation will remember his many television performances and famous telephone routine. Maybe he will be remembered for being the first comedian to win a Grammy for a comedy album, his 1959 work “Inside Shelley Berman,” and for changing the face of stand-up comedy.

I will remember him for being a mensch and a great friend.


Danny Lobell is a stand-up comedian.

‘Broke’ life is rich in comedy material for Danny Lobell’s show

Comedian Danny Lobell. Photo by Josh Lobell

Danny Lobell, a Shabbat-observing, struggling Los Angeles comedian, might get his big break soon by revealing how it feels to be “Broke as a Joke.”

In his one-man show, which opens June 8 at the Hollywood Fringe Festival, Lobell, 34, provides a comedic take on the not-always-funny life of a struggling stand-up, with a focus on the unusual jobs he’s had over the years, including selling lightbulbs door to door, hawking cassettes on a Broadway tour for Jackie Mason and trying to launch a hipster egg company with his neighbor, Blanco the gangster.

“Basically, it’s a collection of stories, jokes and anecdotes from my life that have been compiled into one cohesive piece of work, my funny stories that have come out of my struggles with money over the years,” Lobell said from Israel, where he was attending a wedding.

Binding together the stories in “Broke as a Joke” is the comedian’s menschlikayt as Lobell ultimately comes to realize that money is best spent toward improving the world.

“I discuss sort of my mentality with money and how it’s changed,” he said. “I discuss growing up with a family that struggled with money and being somebody who’s then struggled himself and where I’ve wound up with all of it.”

The show, which is meant for audiences age 18 and older, is one of more than 375 being staged across Hollywood through June 25 as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival, a showcase for emerging and underground artists.

Born in Queens, N.Y., Lobell was raised on Long Island in a religious family before he moved to Brooklyn as a young adult. His father, a photographer, and his mother, an occupational therapist, raised four boys. Lobell, the oldest, attended a yeshiva until he was kicked out for misbehaving. He was “sent to a [second] yeshiva for messed-up Jews in high school,” he said, which “led to me and a friend trying a hairless cat-breeding business” — another job spotlighted in his show.

Working with animals has been a recurring activity in the life of the comic, who wanted to be a veterinarian until he realized he wasn’t good at science. In the new show, he tells a story previously featured on the radio show “This American Life,” about how he and Blanco adopted chickens in the hope of starting an egg business. Unfortunately, their Brooklyn neighbors weren’t interested in being awakened by a rooster, and a city inspector was troubled by the idea of a rooster living in an apartment.

“Broke as a Joke” is Lobell’s first one-man show, but his body of work includes stand-up comedy, live storytelling and podcasts.

His podcast, “Modern Day Philosophers,” features interviews with well-known comedians and actors, including Carl Reiner, Mayim Bialik and Marc Maron, and up-and-comers like Jessie Kahnweiler of the internet series “Dude, Where’s My Chutzpah?” Lobell and Kahnweiler met on the 2013 Yiddish Book Center program “Tent: Comedy,” a professional development workshop in Los Angeles for promising stand-up comedians.

Lobell’s connection to Judaism runs deep. He wore a yellow suit to his bar mitzvah because he was in love with the Jim Carrey film “The Mask,” and he recorded his forthcoming comedy album, “The Nicest Boy in Barcelona,” in Spain because his family was kicked out in 1492 during the Inquisition, when Jews were ordered to leave Spain or convert.

“A lot of my stories are seen through the filter of a Jewish eye,” he said.

His current side job while he pursues comedy is no laughing matter. He works at Centered Health Adolescent Treatment Center, a rehabilitation facility in Malibu serving teenagers struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Drawing on his comedic skill set as well as his previous experiences battling alcohol and food addiction, Lobell records a podcast with the patients called “Media Therapy.”

“I empathize with a lot of them as someone who struggled with addiction for so many years,” he said. “The same feeling I get from stand-up, I get from working with kids.”

Danny Lobell’s performances of the hourlong “Broke as a Joke” begin with a preview on June 4, followed by shows on June 8, 10 and 11 at Sacred Fools Theater. For ticket information, visit sacredfools.org.

Meant2Be: A robot, she wasn’t

I had just finished my delicious pulled pork sandwich at the bar when I saw him talking to a group of people. He was my comedian friend’s roommate, and his name was Danny Lobell.

I introduced myself to Danny and felt something I had never before experienced. I was immediately drawn to this man. Although we talked for only a few minutes, I knew that I wanted to be with him.

So I did what any 21st-century gal does: I started stalking him online. Danny was also a comedian. I friended him on Facebook. He was on Facebook chat a lot. I’d turn my chat on for hours at a time and hoped he would message me, but he never did. When our mutual friend told me Danny ran a comedy podcast, and that I should intern for him for some senior year credit, I jumped at the chance. I got hired. 

My first day at the show, “Comical Radio,” I remember bringing Chris Hardwick up from security and getting lost with him in the maze that was the City University of New York at Baruch College, where the podcast was recorded. I was embarrassed, but Danny told me I did a great job. He invited me to see him do stand-up that week in the basement of the now-defunct club Comix on the West Side of Manhattan.

When I got there, only a few people were in the audience, which I learned was pretty typical for a New York City comedy show. I sat down and watched some mediocre comics go up and tell mostly dirty jokes. Then Danny went on. 

He did a joke about having an Israeli uncle who made the Humpty Dumpty story into a rant on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He did an impression of an aggressive African Bible salesman on the subway who also sold bootleg DVDs, and did a bit about the irony of Jesus being a carpenter and getting nailed to a cross.

I laughed hard. I’d heard enough. I wanted to be in Danny’s life.

Over the next few months of my internship, I took on more responsibilities booking guests on the show. We’d sometimes work out of Danny’s apartment in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where he had the sweetest dog I’d ever come across, named Juno — and a pet rooster. 

Danny was unlike anyone I had ever met. Even when everyone was miserable on the subway, Danny would talk to strangers and make them smile. He was best friends with his neighbor and co-rooster owner, Blanco, who frequently got hyped up and screamed “Showtime!” out of nowhere and ran a tattoo parlor out of his kitchen. Danny worked hard and didn’t let anybody tell him no. He’d wait his turn for hours to do a spot in the Village and then go on at 2 a.m. in front of an audience of five drunken people just to get some stage time.

After I graduated from college, I got an internship at the satirical news organization The Onion, which was located in Manhattan. The only problem was I had nowhere to live. I asked Danny if I could stay with him, and he said sure, I could take his room, and he’d sleep on the couch. I suspected he wouldn’t be on that couch for long.

Before I moved in, I wanted my friends to hear all about the guy I was crushing on. So, we tuned into an episode of “Comical Radio.” I used to be extremely shy and monotonic, and I always had a hard time showing my emotions. Danny’s co-hosts were joking around about how they thought I was a robot because of this. Danny defended me, saying, “Don’t call my Kylie a robot.”

“Did you hear that?” my friend Rachel said. “He called you ‘my Kylie!’ ” 

I couldn’t stop smiling.

I moved in. On the first night I got there, we were watching the awful Johnny Depp version of “Alice in Wonderland,” which Blanco had bought off a subway bootlegger. While we were sitting together, Danny reached for my hand. I held his. He squeezed mine. I squeezed back. 

All that time, Danny had felt that same spark, since he first met me. Before I arrived at his place in Brooklyn, he’d hoped and prayed that I liked him, too. He also suspected he wouldn’t have to stay on the couch too long. 

More than six years later, we’re married and living in Los Angeles. I gave up pork, among many other foods, and converted to Judaism, bringing Danny back to being observant in the process. He’s still plugging away at comedy, and I’m his committed wife as well as a manager. I’m a “wifeager,” if you will. 

We have our own little petting zoo now. We are the proud parents of Juno; a Boston terrier named Bayo; a tortoise named Mr. Tenenbaum; and five chickens: Sweetie, Bowie, Minaj, Air Force One and Peacock.

As for that couch, it turns out we were both right.

Freedom! (from pants)

For hundreds of years, Jewish people have been living in Scotland, completely nude. Well, nude of their own tartan, anyway. They may as well have been completely naked by Scottish standards.

In Scotland, every tribe has its own tartan, a cloth woven with various colors and stripes that shows which clan you’re from. “Clan” is a Scottish term for “tribe,” and if there is one people that consider themselves tribal, it’s the Scottish. (Well, also the Jews. And also … Africans, Native Americans … come to think of it, there are a lot of people who consider themselves tribal. But the Jews of Scotland — they’ve got to be the most tribal tribe of all.)

It was only this past March that the Scottish Register of Tartans officially recognized the first kosher Jewish tartan. (There was a previous tartan but it wasn’t registered and it’s not made anymore.) 

Developed by Glasgow’s Rabbi Mendel Jacobs, the tartan is pure wool and blue and white, like the Scottish and Israeli flags. It has a gold line through it to commemorate the ark, silver for the Torah and red for Kiddush wine. Most importantly, it doesn’t violate sha’atnez, the law in the Torah forbidding mixture of wool and linen. The tartan design can be ordered on kippot, prayer shawls, kilts, kilt pins and neckties. 

Danny Lobell. Photo courtesy of Danny Lobell

This is big news for people like me. I’m fully Jewish and half Scottish, and I’ve spent a lot of time in the country of about 6,000 Jews. Most people know it only from “Braveheart,” which, I have to admit, I’m torn about. As a Scotsman, it makes me proud to watch it. As a Jew, though, it’s hard to take scene after scene of Mel Gibson.

My mom was born in Glasgow, Scotland, as were my grandfather and great-grandfather before her. My family dates all the way back to the times of national hero William Wallace. We were the ones in his tent with him doing his taxes: “Mr. Wallace, a quick word? You have listed under dependents, ‘The entire Scottish people.’ I just think that’s a wee bit much. Just trying to avoid an audit here, sir.”

Overall, the Scottish and Jewish aspects of my heritage mesh quite well. Even the food is the same! Kishka is just Jewish haggis. From lochs to lox — invented by Scottish Jews — to whiskey — created by Scots for Jews (Don’t believe me? Go to any Chabad house), we have a lot in common. 

Take moms from the two cultures, for example: Scottish moms are critical; Jewish moms are critical. So can you imagine just how critical Scottish Jewish moms are? 

My mom, a Scottish Jew, will say things like, “Oh, you’re writing a column for the Jewish Journal? Well, you should own the Jewish Journal! In fact, you should own the Wall Street Journal! Actually, you should work on Wall Street! No, you should run Wall Street … as a doctor!” 

I don’t think in the entire history of Scotland there has ever been one mom who felt that what her son was doing was good enough. The Scottish people have accomplished some very big things. Take Scottish-born Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone. I imagine when he told his mom that he invented it, she probably complained and said, “Great. Now I have another monthly bill. Thanks a lot.”

So now Scottish Jews have their own tartan to wear. It’s about time that the Jews took to the Scottish battlefields, hurling logs in the caber toss and then burning them for Lag b’Omer services. We are proud that we can use either restroom according to the symbols on the door. (Scottish people were ahead of the curve on the transgender bathroom laws. They just put a symbol of a guy in a kilt on one door and a gal in a skirt on the other. Nobody knows which is which and boom! Suddenly you have restroom equality.) 

And next, we will start using the bagpipes instead of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Actually, better yet, we’ll combine the instruments to make the most unappealing sound any culture has ever heard. It’ll be called Celtic klezmer. Or Celzmer. 

So, guys, next time you’re in Scotland and you’re looking for a breeze where you had your bris, don’t settle for just any Scottish shmatte. You can finally enjoy a tartan all your own and, as Wallace would say, freedom (from pants)! 

Danny Lobell is an L.A.-based stand-up comedian who runs the podcasts “Modern Day Philosophers” and “The Mostly Bull Market,” as well as a monthly improvised storytelling show at the Hollywood Improv called “Bookshelf.”