November 20, 2018

Moving & Shaking: Shelley Berman Celebrated, Spotlighting Mizrahi Jews

From left: Actor Cheryl Hines; writer and actor Larry David; Shelley Berman’s widow, Sarah; comedian David Steinberg; and Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center, celebrate the National Comedy Center’s acquisition of late comedian Shelley Berman’s archive of material. Photo by Mike Carano

Comedy stars Larry David, Cheryl Hines, David Steinberg, Lewis Black and Fred Willard gathered on Jan. 30 at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach to celebrate the National Comedy Center’s acquisition of the archive of late comedian Shelley Berman.

Additional attendees included radio broadcaster Dr. Demento (Barret Eugene “Barry” Hansen), comedian Laraine Newman, producer Alan Zweibel and National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson.

Sarah Berman, Shelley’s wife of more than 70 years, also attended. She expressed appreciation to the National Comedy Center for preserving her late husband’s legacy.

“No longer the stepchild to the arts, comedy and those who make us laugh are about to have their own place in the world,” Sarah Berman said. “When I found myself surrounded by all of Shelley’s writings, I wondered what to do with all of it. Do I give it to some museum where they let it gather dust before they throw it away? Along came the National Comedy Center, driven by people who have the vision to know that this material and the material of other comedians has a value.”

Shelley Berman died in 2017 at the age of 92. His archive, which spans from the 1940s to the 2010s, includes photographs, contracts, scripts and rare footage chronicling his career in stand-up comedy, improv, television, comedy writing, film and theater.

The National Comedy Center is a nonprofit cultural institution and visitor experience dedicated to the art of comedy. A ribbon-cutting for the center, which is located in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, N.Y., is scheduled for Aug. 1-4.

From left: Angel and Susan, two Iranian-Jewish participants of the 30 Years After Legacy Project, attend the launch event for the initiative. 30 Years After requested their last names be omitted for their safety. Photo courtesy of 30 Years After

About 300 people gathered at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills on Jan. 30 to celebrate the launch of 30 Years After’s new initiative, the Legacy Project, an archive of video testimonies of Persian Jews who fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution.

The Legacy Project aims to professionally record and collect testimonies as a way to link the second, third and future generations of Iranian-American Jews to their history.

During the event, Legacy Project Chair Megan Nemandoust, Iranian American Jewish Federation President Susan Azizzadeh, American Jewish Committee Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs Saba Soomekh, 30 Years After President Sam Yebri and 30 Years After community member Liora Simozar shared their reasons for supporting the project.

“With an eye to the future, it is imperative that an easily accessible, professional digital archive exists, capturing the stories and experiences of my family, your family and countless others,” Nemandoust said in her speech at the event. “We are the heirs to Iranian-Jewish history, and through the Legacy Project we’re committed to preserving it for generations to come.”

The Legacy Project is supported by individual donors and families, and 30 Years After is seeking sustained funding from, and partnerships with, institutions and foundations as well as broader community support.

The project also is seeking additional testimonies.

“This project not only preserves these powerful stories and memories for posterity and academia but uses them to connect new generations of Jews of Iranian descent to their rich heritage, traditions and values,” Yebri said. “As we learn from Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”), no hurricane can uproot a tree with more roots than branches. It is imperative that our entire community join us in nurturing our roots in order for our community’s branches to flourish.”

The event began with a reception featuring nontraditional Iranian food, dessert and tea. The screening of the recently recorded interviews followed.

Since 30 Years After was founded in 2007, it has served to promote and engage Iranian-American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life, as well as connect local community organizations with the large Los Angeles community of Persian Jews.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Cantor Jack Mendelson (far right) is joined by Temple Judea Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Yonah Kliger in “The Cantors Couch,” Mendelson’s one-man show at Temple Judea in Tarzana. Photo courtesy of Temple Judea

Temple Judea in Tarzana held a journey through Cantor Jack Mendelson’s real-life stories based on growing up in 1950s Brooklyn in “The Cantor’s Couch,” which was staged at the synagogue on Jan. 21.

More than 400 people attended to listen to Mendelson paint a picture of a bygone day in Jewish America when Jews would flock to hear cantors at synagogues as if they were performing in a concert hall.

The one-man show wed a relatable story of childhood with joyous memories of music and celebration. Mendelson’s collaborator and accompanist, Cantor Jonathan Comisar, wrote original music for the production. Additional participants included Temple Judea Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Yonah Kliger.

Proceeds benefited the music program at Temple Judea.

Los Angeles Jewish Home honorees Michael Heslov (left) and Dana Roberts. Photo courtesy of L.A. Jewish Home

The Los Angeles Jewish Home’s annual gala on Jan. 23, “Celebration of Life: Reflections 2018,” honored Michael Heslov, a member of the Jewish Home’s board of directors and co-partner at Soboroff Partners, and Dana Roberts, chief executive officer at C.W. Driver, a contracting company that has worked with the L.A. Jewish Home.

The event at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel kicked off with cocktails, followed by dinner and the awards program. Actor and director Mike Burstyn emceed. The Skye Michaels Orchestra performed.

Co-chairs were Lenore and Fred Kayne, Karl Kreutziger, Pam and Mark Rubin, and Steve Soboroff.

“This was a great opportunity for people from the Home and the community to come together and celebrate philanthropy and what they’ve accomplished,” said Kathy Gutstein, senior marketing associate for the L.A. Jewish Home. “We’re always looking toward the future.”

The L.A. Jewish Home is one of the leading senior health care systems in the U.S., serving 6,000 seniors a year.

Rabbi Naomi Levy presents her husband, former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, with the Americans for Peace Now (APN) Press for Peace award at the APN gala. Photo courtesy of Americans for Peace Now

Americans for Peace Now (APN) honored former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Israeli music icon and peace activist David Broza during its Jan. 29 Vision of Peace Celebration at Paper or Plastik Café/Mimoda Studio.

On behalf of the organization, event co-chair Rabbi Naomi Levy presented Eshman, her husband, with the APN Press for Peace Award. Also presenting Eshman with the award was APN founder Mark Rosenblum, who hired and worked with Eshman at APN, Eshman’s first job in the Jewish world.

In his acceptance remarks, Eshman said he was “very honored to receive this award from the organization where I started my journey in the community, and I still believe what I learned three decades ago: Sometimes dissent is more important than unity, and we must never, ever, ever lose hope.”

APN President and CEO Debra DeLee presented Broza with the Cine-Peace Award.

Following the awards program, Broza treated the audience — veteran and newer supporters of APN, members of the board of directors, executive staff and friends, and family and fans of the honorees — to a short musical performance, closing with “Yihiye Tov” (Things Will Get
Better), a song written in 1977 that became the anthem for the Israeli
peace movement.

APN, the sister organization of Shalom Achshav, was established in 1981 to mobilize support for the Israeli peace movement. It has since advocated for positions that include the evacuation of Israeli settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state.

From left: Odin Ozdil, Los Angeles program coordinator at JIMENA; Iraqi-Jewish activist Joe Samuels; CUFI National Outreach Coordinator Dumisani Washington; Journal contributing writer Karmel Melamed; and Mizrahi Project filmmaker Raj Nair. Photo courtesy of Karmel Melamed

More than 50 local Jewish and Christian pro-Israel activists gathered at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles on Dec. 3 for a viewing of the “Mizrahi Project,” a film hosted by the San Antonio-based Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, and the nonprofit Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

The documentary is a collection of short, personal accounts from nearly a dozen Jews from Arab countries and Iran explaining the persecutions they faced in their home countries and their miraculous stories of escape.

“For almost 70 years, the stories of the nearly 850,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were forced out of the homes in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948 have been forgotten,” said Dumisani Washington, national outreach coordinator for CUFI. “With this film, we are hoping to educate pro-Israel Christian activists and others about these refugees who went on to become nearly 50 percent of Israel’s population and helped grow Israel into the thriving country it has become today.”

CUFI launched the “Mizrahi Project” in July 2016, recording video interviews of Jews living in the United States and Israel who left Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Turkey and Morocco.

Washington said CUFI has shown the film to large groups in St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco, and will continue to have screenings across the country. Likewise, CUFI staff members involved with the project said they will continue to record more interviews with Mizrahi Jews in the coming year to aid the project’s growth and to help their organization’s Israel advocacy efforts. Individual interviews from the film are available on YouTube and have garnered thousands of views to date.

After the film’s screening, a panel of Mizrahi refugees featured in the film spoke to attendees. The panelists included Joe Samuels, a local Iraqi Jewish activist, and Karmel Melamed, a Jewish Journal contributing writer and local Iranian-Jewish activist.

“We do not see ourselves as refugees or a victim because remaining a victim is a miserable way to live life,” Samuels said. “We picked ourselves up after fleeing the Arab lands and rebuilt our new lives in Israel and America — and, thank God, we’re very successful.”

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Are Jews the Only Ones Who Need a Thick Skin?

Screenshot from YouTube.

Why would Larry David stride up so confidently on the “Saturday Night Live” stage and joke about picking up women in a Nazi concentration camp? And why would he wallow in the fact that many of the recently accused sexual aggressors have Jewish names? Hasn’t he heard about anti-Semitism?

Here’s my theory: He assumes Jews can take it. At a time when everyone is allowed to get offended by the smallest slight, Jews are supposed to be, well, different.

College students can get offended by an email about Halloween costumes, but Jews should handle gross jokes about the Holocaust. Any student can yell about a micro-aggression, but Jews are expected to handle macro-aggressions.

Maybe David figured Jews are on another level. We’re the chosen ones, right? We’re the sophisticated Americans obsessed with education and with being loved by gentiles. Who has endeared the Jews to America? It’s not the lawyers, believe me. It’s the comedians.

For more than a century, from Burns to Benny to Allen to Crystal to Seinfeld, we’ve made America laugh by poking fun at ourselves. And why not? When you’ve been persecuted for 2,000 years and you finally find a place that accepts you, what better way to show your gratitude than by being entertaining?

And Larry David surely is an entertainer. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is my all-time favorite comedy. I love, among other things, that there’s no laugh track. No one cares whether I laugh or not. I get to eavesdrop on a wacko who obsesses over stuff that makes me squirm.

That’s the key word — eavesdrop.

Last Saturday night, as David was using the Holocaust to try to make me laugh, I wasn’t eavesdropping at all. I was looking straight into the eyes of a stand-up comic. This was not the David of “Curb” who was oblivious to my presence and just going about his crazy business. This was a guy who was pushing my buttons, who wanted something from me.

One of the extraordinary things about “Curb” is David’s ability to break virtually all taboos. I’ve often watched an episode and thought, “I can’t believe he’s pulling this off.” He’s poked fun at African-Americans, people with disabilities, Palestinian Muslims, and, yes, even Holocaust survivors, and, somehow, he pulls it off.

For one night at least, I wanted to yell to my fellow Jew to curb his enthusiasm.

His mistake last Saturday night was a professional one — he overlooked the context. What works in his “Curb” bubble doesn’t necessarily work under the bright lights of a live stage. The sacred cows he could slay on “Curb” ambushed him on stage.

The funny thing is, until he brought up the Holocaust, he seemed to understand those limitations. His act was quite funny. It’s only when he veered into the excruciatingly sensitive subject of a Nazi concentration camp that he blew it.

As Rabbi David Wolpe tweeted, David was “joking about how a starved, shaved and beaten woman might still reject him. I’m helpless with laughter.” Without the protective cover of his show, David just stood there, naked. On “Curb,” he’s an oblivious fanatic who can get away with almost anything. On “SNL,” he’s a self-aware comic with no margin of error. That’s not the best moment for a Holocaust joke.

After watching his act, part of me wanted to say, “Hey, we’re Jews. We can take it. We have a sense of humor!” But the other part wanted to say, “You know what? I’m tired of trying to be better. I want to be offended, just like other Americans.”

That side won out. For one night at least, I wanted to be like those college students and tap into my sensitive gene. I wanted to be an activist with Jewish Lives Matter and yell to my fellow Jew to curb his enthusiasm.

Comedian Melissa Rivers Responds to Larry David’s SNL Monologue

Melissa Rivers on Larry David SNL Controversy

What do you think about Larry David's SNL monologue?

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, November 6, 2017

Larry David Creates Firestorm After Saturday Night Live Jokes on Holocaust and Weinstein

In a controversial opening monologue, Saturday Night Live host Larry David ignited a firestorm with controversial jokes connected to the Holocaust and accused sexual harasser Harvey Weinstein.

David, of “Seinfeld” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” fame, noted the discomfiting pattern that many of the alleged sexual harassers who have been in the news are Jewish. “I don’t like it when Jews are in the headlines for notorious reasons,” he said in the monologue. “I want ‘Einstein Discovers Theory of Relativity,’ “Salk Cures Polio.’ What I don’t want? ‘Weinstein Took it Out.'”

This sent him on a tangential riff, musing about his “obsession with women,” wondering what it might have been like had he been in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Would he still be checking out women in the camp? He comes up with some conversation starters a person in a camp might use, to highlight the absurdity of trying to think of pickup lines in a concentration camp.

The reaction was immediate.

Many deride the joke as disrespectful, while others strongly hold that we should be focusing our anger on the people who oppress others, not those who joke about that oppression.

See the video here:


Larry David Goes One Cringe Too Far

With his appearance on Saturday Night Live this past weekend, Larry David, the undisputed king of cringe-comedy, may have finally crossed a line. It is a symbolic line, admittedly, one that artists draw for themselves both morally and aesthetically.  But it is a line nonetheless.

Of course, it’s not a line David would ever hesitate crossing again.  He’s taken that same devilish step many times in the past—all for laughs.

His monologue on SNL, however, doubled down on a theme that properly deserves to be forever buried and left alone.  That’s what we do with the dead, especially the victims of mass murder.  A certain amount of piety is expected, and one never dreams of desecration with such nightmarish events.

David pivoted from the recently disclosed sexual predations of certain men in the entertainment industry, making the unpleasant association that many of them happened to be Jews, to his own unseemly wolfish behavior.  Apparently, so indiscrete are his sexual urges that he can imagine checking out Jewish women in a concentration camp.  In fact, he gave a national audience a glimpse of David hypothetically approaching an attractive woman with death in her immediate future, and testing out pick-up lines.

Appalling, but perhaps not surprising.  David has been flirting with the Holocaust for many years.  And he keeps coming back, not taking no for an answer, a nebbish with a libido for bad taste.  Except the Holocaust is not a love interest.  It is an unsightly atrocity, incapable of attraction of any kind, and on any human scale.

This is the same man who conceived a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry was making out with a girl during a screening of Schindler’s List.  And another in which a disagreeable fast-food proprietor was renamed “The Soup Nazi.”  An episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm riffed on the Reality TV show, The Survivor, in which a winning contestant squared off at a dinner party with an actual survivor of a death camp, comparing their relative suffering.  In still yet another, a man with numbers tattooed on his forearm turns out not to be a Holocaust survivor, but rather just someone who temporarily inks his lotto ticket number each week so as not to forget.

So much for Never Again.

Yes, David’s entire act is predicated on projecting discomfort in his audience, forcing them to watch characters disgraced beyond redemption.  George Costanza, David’s doppelganger, was an enduring fool of humiliation, placed in recurring, squirming situations.  David took the Borsht Belt and twisted it into a straightjacket of Jewish self-loathing.

In France, the comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala has incorporated crude concentration camp humor (and jokes about gassing Jews) into his act.  And because of such material, he is routinely banned from performing and has been convicted for engaging in racial hatred.  In Belgium, he was imprisoned and forced to pay a $10,000 fine for inciting hatred.  In America, for expressing self-hatred, and mocking the Holocaust, David was honored with guest-hosting duties on SNL.

Of course, freedom of expression is a hallmark of American democracy.  David is merely taking extreme artistic liberties with his comedic imagination—Holocaust survivors be damned.  Moreover, unlike Dieudonne, David is himself a Jew.  Shouldn’t he be given the same leeway African-American comedians receive when their material invokes the “N-word”?  After all, concentration camp victims were known to tell jokes to each other in order to keep their spirits up and maintain their moral survival.

But those were their jokes to tell; they owned the experience, and they weren’t ribbing each other for laughs alone, one skeleton to another.  And there are still survivors living among us.  Isn’t there some gentleman’s agreement about un-ripened events “too soon” for comic exploitation?

And as for France and Belgium, they are democracies, too, with artistic licenses of their own.  They just happen to believe that common decency and a respect for the dead should not be debased for the sake of nervous laughter.

Larry David may have finally gone one cringe too far.  Surely, he didn’t violate any laws, other than the one of nature—with something as supremely unnatural as Auschwitz, go find another gag line.

But after all these years, shouldn’t the Holocaust be able to take a joke?  Actually, it can’t, and what’s more, it shouldn’t have to.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist and Distinguished Fellow at NYU School of Law where he directs the Forum on Law, Culture & Society.  He is the author of “The Golems of Gotham” and “Second Hand Smoke,” among other fiction and nonfiction titles.

Did You Hear About the Book on Jewish Comedy?

In “Jewish Comedy: A Serious History” (Norton), author Jeremy Dauber makes it clear that — at least in his opinion — Jewish jokes are no laughing matter.

“The story of Jewish comedy was almost as massive in scope, as meaningful in substance, as Jewish history itself,” Dauber writes about what he discovered when he started teaching a course on Jewish humor at Columbia University, where he is the Atran Professor of Yiddish Language, Literature and Culture. “The story of Jewish comedy — what Jewish humor did and meant for the Jews at different times and places, as well as how, and why, it was so entertaining — is, if you tell it the right way, the story of American popular culture; it’s the story of Jewish civilization; it’s a guide to an essential aspect of human behavior.”

I hasten to add that the book is always lively and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Dauber’s sources range from the Preacher of Dubno (an 18th-century Chasidic rabbi) to Sholem Aleichem (“the man who invented Tevye”), from Mort Sahl and Lenny Bruce to Howard Stern and Amy Schumer. Indeed, although Dauber proposes that roots of Jewish comedy go all the way back to the Bible — he uses the Book of Esther as a touchstone of Jewish humor — he also argues that America is the place where Jewish humor reached its highest expression, with Yiddish literature its seedbed.

“As the lingua franca of Eastern European Jewry, Yiddish was the vehicle for the most somber eulogies as well as the earthiest jokes, lyrical poetry along with shaggy doggerel or comments about gastrointestinal distress,” he explains. After Jews carried Yiddish to America, it became an ethnic marker for American comics such as Lenny Bruce, who once described his banter as a mixture of “the jargon of the hipster, the argot of the underworld, and Yiddish.”

Dauber finds a weighty subtext in every variety of Jewish humor.

Most impressive of all is Dauber’s ability to create a sky chart in which every Jewish comedy star can be fixed in place, not only Jerry Lewis and Danny Kaye — both of whom were tummlers in the Borscht Belt — but also such highly sophisticated comics as Mike Nichols and Elaine May. He includes not only practitioners of low comedy like Mel Brooks and Sid Caesar but also such elevated humorists as Jules Feiffer and Joseph Heller. And he reminds us of fading or wholly forgotten personalities like Mickey Katz and Belle Barth, while pointing out that the Jewish founders of Mad magazine “created that seminal countercultural satire by framing it Jewishly, through Yiddishized parody.”

Dauber repudiates what he calls “the lachrymose theory of Jewish history” and reminds us that Jewish humor always has sustained Jewish life, even at the grimmest moments. Writing shortly after the end of World War II, Irving Kristol argued that “Jewish humor died with its humorists when the Nazis killed off the Jews of Eastern Europe.” But Dauber proves that Kristol was wrong. Larry David, Sarah Silverman and Sacha Baron Cohen, all of whom have dared to tell jokes about the Holocaust, “mark the position of confidence and strength Jews have in American culture,” he writes.

Dauber finds a weighty subtext in every variety of Jewish humor. He describes Philip Roth, for example, as “our great comic cosmic writer of the modern period, the one who understands that telling jokes is in no small part a way of trying to deal with staring into the void, of grappling with the crisis of meaning.” Even Tony Kushner’s play about AIDS and homosexuality, “Angels in America,” he insists, “has its share of Jewish comic elements: the stereotypical Jewish male jokes, the use of Yiddish as punch line, and the transformation of the God-arguing tradition into something mixing the sublime and the ridiculous.”

“Jewish Comedy: A Serious History” is intended to be a work of scholarship.  Dauber, however, never takes himself or his subject too seriously.

Jonathan Kirsch, author and publishing  attorney, is the Jewish Journal’s book editor.

Knowing Kaddish Helps Cantor Land TV Roles

Larry David with Kenny Ellis. Photo courtesy of Kenny Ellis via JTA.

Kenny Ellis has been a cantor for 27 years, but before he got into Jewish liturgy, he was an entertainer — and he maintains a thriving side career as an actor and singer, which will be on full display in the coming days.

Ellis, who serves Temple Beth Ami in Santa Clarita, can be seen in a pair of television roles for which he’s perfectly suited: He portrays rabbis officiating at funerals on episodes of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and NBC’s “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders,” airing Oct. 22 and Oct. 24, respectively.

It would be nice to get something steady. Gotta pay those college bills. –Kenny Ellis

Being able to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish gave him the inside track at his auditions, he said.

Shooting the “Curb” scene last December was a reunion of sorts, reconnecting him with Larry David, the show’s star and creator, for the first time since the late 1970s. In those days, Ellis was a young stand-up comic in New York, and he became friendly with David, Richard Lewis, Elayne Boosler and others on the circuit.

“It was a chavurah of comedians. We’d share taxis to go from the Improv to Catch a Rising Star and go to delis after to hang out,” Ellis said. “I had not seen Larry in all these years, and I wondered if he would recognize me.”

On the set, Ellis said, David “looked at me kind of strangely and said, ‘Do I know you from somewhere?’ I said yes and told him who I was. We talked about all the people that we knew. I stayed in touch with a lot of people and was able to catch him up. He was very kind to me and I was very excited about that.”

While shooting the “Law & Order” scene of the funeral of attorney Leslie Abramson’s mother, Ellis got to spend time with star Edie Falco during breaks in filming.

“We were kibitzing the whole day,” Ellis said. “I felt like I knew her all my life. A lot of actors go back to their trailers, but she hung out and ate with us. She’s a sweetheart and an amazing actress.”

Ellis discovered his love of performing as a child when he and his sisters put on shows in their Philadelphia living room to entertain their parents. He sang in synagogue choir and took part in his high school’s band, choir and musical productions.

After his graduation from Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in theater in 1974, he moved to New York with his sights set on Broadway but ended up performing in the Catskills, Miami Beach and elsewhere. Jewish organizations like Hadassah, B’nai B’rith and ORT hired him for functions. He continued to pursue stand-up comedy and acting roles when he moved west in 1978.

Ellis was president of his United Synagogue Youth chapter and first went to Israel at 16. He credits his maternal grandmother for his “love of Judaism, Jewish culture and Yiddishkayt.” But he’d never considered becoming a cantor until a rabbi heard him sing at synagogue and suggested it.

He has been the chazzan at Temple Beth Ami, a Reform congregation, for eight years, and was at Temple Beth Haverim in Agoura Hills before that. But it was his first job at Valley Outreach Synagogue where he met his wife, Laura, who was in the choir.

“We’ve been married 25 years and have two sons,” he said. Adam, 21, is a UCLA senior and Aaron, 17, is a senior at Agoura High School.

Ellis, who grew up listening to Jewish music on the radio over lox and bagels every Sunday, deejayed his own Jewish music program while at Temple University, and currently he teaches a Jewish music class one Wednesday per month at American Jewish University. He released a big band-style album called “Hanukkah Swings” in 2005 and often performs his one-man variety show locally, around the country and in Israel.

Ellis hopes more roles are in his future, especially a recurring part, perhaps as a doctor, lawyer, neighbor or another rabbi. He worked with Mark Feuerstein in a movie two years ago, playing a rabbi who ordered a kosher meal on a plane, and he’d love to appear on Feuerstein’s new sitcom, “9JKL.”

“It would be nice to get something steady,” Ellis said. “Gotta pay those college bills.”

Improv founder Budd Friedman looks back in laughter in new book

Budd Friedman with Lily Tomlin (left) and his wife, Alix Friedman. Photo courtesy of Jeff Abraham

Budd Friedman helped launch the careers of some of comedy’s brightest stars, including Jerry Seinfeld, Lily Tomlin, Jay Leno, Andy Kaufman, Jimmy Fallon, Bill Maher, Larry David and Billy Crystal. He also invented the modern comedy club as we know it. Now, he’s released a book detailing the history of the club he founded.

Friedman’s book, “The Improv: An Oral History of the Comedy Club That Revolutionized Stand-Up,” co-authored by Tripp Whetsell, includes a foreword by Jay Leno and commentary from many of the comedians who appeared on the Improv’s stage over the years.

Friedman, 85, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Alix, said he decided to write the book because, “I thought everyone should see my side of things. I let the comics have their say about me and my accomplishments.”

Friedman opened the Improv on West 44th Street in Manhattan in 1963. He wanted it to be a place for Broadway performers to hang out after their shows because he had dreams of becoming a Broadway producer. Soon, people like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Christopher Plummer, Bette Midler and Dustin Hoffman dropped by, and the club became a sensation among the Broadway crowd.

As Whetsell recalled, one year after the club opened, comedian David Astor asked to go onstage and do his act. Other comedians started following because they’d rather perform there than open for performers at jazz and strip clubs. They’d do their act in front of the famous brick wall, which eventually became a staple at other comedy clubs.

“It was a very eclectic bunch of comedians,” said Whetsell, who is a comedy journalist. “They were very experimental. Even though singers were the main draw for many years, eventually the comedians became the main draw.”

In 1974, Friedman left New York for Los Angeles and opened up a second Improv, on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood. There, he discovered one of comedy’s biggest emerging acts: Robin Williams.

“From the moment he walked in, it was obvious to me and everybody else that he was going to become a big star, perhaps even one of the biggest we’d ever seen, which, of course, turned out to be true beyond anything we could have ever imagined,” he wrote in the book.

Comedians such as Williams, Kaufman and Leno were drawn to the Improv because of how Friedman treated them. “I’ve always had the attitude that the comedians are already right, even when they are wrong,” he said.

And Friedman also had standards for the comedians he booked at the club. “I looked for originality,” he said. “They had to talk in their own voice.”

Although the club was welcoming well-known comedians and taking off through the 1970s, Friedman was in a bitter rivalry with Mitzi Shore, owner of the Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard. Before the decade was over, the Improv burned down and Friedman was finalizing his divorce with his first wife. As his 46th birthday was approaching, he almost called it quits.

Instead, he turned it all around. He struck a deal with A&E to put out a weekly syndicated comedy show called, “An Evening at the Improv,” which ran from 1982 to 1996, and he started expanding his comedy empire. The New York location eventually closed, but the Improv has 22 locations in 12 states, including the rebuilt flagship L.A. location.

Although there have been many memorable moments at the club, what sticks out the most for Friedman is the night he met Alix, in 1981. “She came into the club and sat down, and I was immediately struck by her beauty,” he said. “I was dating a girlfriend of hers, but it was then that I decided that I was going to date Alix instead.”

Today, Friedman has taken a step back from managing the club. He spends his time with Alix and reflecting on his earlier years.

“I look out of my house, which is over the Los Angeles Country Club in Westwood, and I see myself in better years,” he said. “I used to look out over the terrace and yell down to the golfers, ‘Bend your elbows!’ ”

Friedman’s daughter Zoe has carried on her father’s legacy in the entertainment business, as a senior vice president of development at Blue Ribbon Content, a digital production company, and as co-founder of Comedy Gives Back, which leverages live comedy to raise money for charity. 

Whetsell said the Improv has played an integral role in the comedy industry that will live on. “It was the first comedy club in America that pushed comedy in a full comedic format. It created the template for comedy clubs today.”

Friedman added that his club shaped two generations of comedians. And even though platforms like Comedy Central, YouTube and Snapchat have made comedy accessible to everybody, he believes the clubs will continue to flourish.

“They’re here to stay,” he said. “Especially the Improv.” n

Larry David revives ‘Curb your Enthusiasm,’ finds Confederate Jewish roots

“I got tired of people asking me, ‘Is the show coming back?’ I couldn’t face that question anymore,” Larry David says of the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” reboot. Photo by John P. Johnson

When “Curb Your Enthusiasm” ended its eighth season in 2011, viewers of the HBO comedy wondered if Larry David had lost his own enthusiasm for the show. But as its return this fall with 10 new episodes affirms, David isn’t ready to abandon the fictionalized version of himself just yet.

“I was missing it, and I was missing these idiots,” he said, referring to the show’s co-stars Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman and J.B. Smoove, as they participated with him in a recent panel discussion for the Television Critics Association. “So I thought, ‘Yeah, what the hell?’ I got tired of people asking me, ‘Is the show coming back?’ I couldn’t face that question anymore. I thought, ‘Now I won’t have to be asked that anymore.’ ”

For the past six years, David had been jotting down ideas for awkward situations he could turn into episodes, but he would not confirm that there would be a ninth season. The next season premieres Oct. 1.

“Larry insists there won’t be another season until he has enough ideas,” said executive producer Jeff Schaffer, who has worked with David since “Seinfeld,” which the latter co-created. “Only after the season is mostly written do we tell anyone that we are doing it.”

David cited the “Producers”-themed storyline in the fourth season as an example. “I wrote the shows before I even asked Mel Brooks if he would let me do it,” he said. “I guess it might have been ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ if he didn’t agree to it.”

This year, guest-starring roles were written for Lauren Graham, Ed Begley Jr., Elizabeth Banks, Bryan Cranston, Jimmy Kimmel, Nick Offerman, Nasim Pedrad and Elizabeth Perkins, all of whom will appear. Richard Lewis, Bob Einstein, Ted Danson, Mary Steenburgen and Cheryl Hines (as Larry’s ex-wife) will continue to have recurring roles.

Although David wouldn’t divulge any new plots, Schaffer teased that the series “goes to this really strange, fun, crazy place. I can honestly say you will never expect where it ends,” he said.

From left: Lauren Graham (Photo from Wikipedia) and Susie Essman (Photo from IMDB)


Questions from the reporters in the audience subsequently turned to David’s spot-on impersonations of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on “Saturday Night Live” during the 2016 campaign. When David’s agent, Ari Emanuel, heard him imitate Sanders on the phone, he immediately phoned “SNL” producer Lorne Michaels and brokered a deal for his client.

Although David hadn’t publicly announced support for any candidate, he declared, “I love Bernie,” noting that he was delighted to learn that he and Sanders, both Ashkenazi Jews, are actually distant cousins — the topic of another show’s season premiere.

In the season-opening episode of the PBS genealogy series “Finding Your Roots” with Henry Louis Gates Jr. on Oct. 3, genetic tests show that David and Sanders share identical DNA on three chromosomes.

Larry David (let) and Jeff Garlin will reprise their roles in “Curb”
on HBO, based on a fictionalized version of David. Photo by John P. Johnson


That finding isn’t the most stunning revelation, however. It turns out David’s German paternal great-great-grandfather, Hirsch Bernstein, immigrated to Mobile, Ala., and founded a shoe company there. Bernstein fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and owned two slaves.

“Larry had had no clue about his Confederate, slave-owning heritage,” Gates said in an interview. “Though he speculates that keeping it secret is part of why his father never told him about the family’s past.

“Nobody could make this stuff up,” Gates added. “The mysteries on your family tree … who knows what you’ll find when you go back 100, 200 years. It’s like opening a secret door.”

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” premieres at 10 p.m. Oct.1 on HBO, and “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates, Jr.” premieres at 8 p.m. Oct. 3 on PBS.

Shelley Berman, comedian, dies at 92

Shelley Berman and Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

Legendary comedian Shelley Berman died early Friday morning at his home in California from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 92. Berman got his start in the Chicago comedy scene of the 1950s, alongside comics like Mort Sahl and Bob Newhart. He was known for his extended telephone monologues, performed while seated on a stool. In 2008, at the age of 83, Berman received his first and only Emmy nomination for playing Larry David’s father on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.



Larry David is upset that his hard work made Steve Bannon rich — but did it?

Steve Bannon on April 10. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The New Yorker’s Connie Bruck has written perhaps the deepest dive into what forces shaped Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s top strategic adviser.

We already know lots about Bannon: He helmed Breitbart News before he joined Trump’s campaign last year, and he called the outlet a platform for the “alt-right,” the loose assemblage of hypernationalists that includes white supremacists and anti-Semites, but also fierce defenders of Israel and Jews. Bannon launched Breitbart Jerusalem as a means of correcting what he perceived as anti-Israel media bias.

A former wife accused him of anti-Semitism; he has denied it. He was in the U.S. Navy, a Goldman Sachs banker, then a Hollywood broker, and then a producer of conservative documentaries.

Exploring his Hollywood years, Bruck details a litany of deals gone wrong. There are plenty of nuggets in the piece of Jewish interest. Here are four:

Larry David doesn’t like the ‘Seinfeld’ story – but is it all a George Costanza-style con by Bannon?

Bruck addressed one of the most media-beloved elements of Bannon’s rise: that he made a fortune off of negotiating a syndication deal for “Seinfeld.” In 1992, Bruck reports, Westinghouse hired Bannon’s private-equity fund to sell its small stake in Castle Rock Entertainment, the TV production company that owned the “Seinfeld” reruns. An assessment last year in Forbes said that if Bannon had a one percent stake in syndication, he would have made upwards of $30 million.

Larry David, the co-creator of the comedy starring his friend, Jerry Seinfeld, and the model for Seinfeld’s neurotic buddy George, was unhappy with the association.

“I don’t think I ever heard of him until he surfaced with the Trump campaign and I had no idea that he was profiting from the work of industrious Jews!” he told Bruck. Rob Reiner, who helped found Castle Rock,  was “sick” because of the association.But is Bannon really making money off the show? In a 2015 interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Bannon said he made five times as much as he expected on the deal involving Westinghouse’s sale of its stake in the show. He claimed to have deferred part of his fee for an ownership stake. He did not say what his stake was.

But here’s the thing: It’s not clear what Bannon’s stake – if any – was. Payouts to Bannon do not appear in available records, Bruck reported, although she noted that the first months of syndication are not available, and he might have been capped and paid out before records were available.

Bruck reviewed Bannon’s extensive divorce papers and found this:

In April, 1997, he submitted an “income and expense declaration,” indicating that his annual salary was roughly five hundred thousand dollars, and that his total assets were around $1.1 million. Any profit participations from “Seinfeld” should have shown up at that time. Either they were not substantial or Bannon failed to disclose them in a sworn statement.

(In 2005 papers related to the divorce Bruck also uncovered this: “He left blank the space for his salary, and reported $967,465 in stocks, bonds, and other assets, and $41,401,067 in other property. The figure is inexplicable, and inconsistent with his other publicly available filings.”)

Why would Bannon boast about a deal that does not appear to have brought him much in the way of return? It’s not the only such anomaly Bruck uncovered. Bannon recently claimed in an interview with the Washington Post to have driven up the price Seagram — then headed by Edgar Bronfman Jr. — paid for PolyGram by bringing in a Saudi prince as a bidder. He said he got “a big fee” for his efforts. But folks involved in the deal told Bruck they could not recall Bannon’s involvement in the deal or any bid from a Saudi prince.

Bannon found the Jewish common denominator.

Bruck found a telling line in one of Bannon’s first documentaries cast in a conservative slant, “In the Face of Evil.” The movie, which chronicles the rise of President Ronald Reagan, acknowledges that Reagan as an actor was never a major Hollywood draw. Why? Because Jewish executives made it so. But wait: It’s not like Bannon is blaming these powerful Jews. It’s more like he’s admiring them.

Studios, in an “unforgiving calculus,” found Reagan wanting, the film says. These “Jewish entrepreneurs,” the film explains, “differed in taste and style, yet shared two common elements: ruthlessness and uncompromising patriotism.”

There’s Goldman Sachs, and there’s also Goldman Sachs

We’ve noted before how Trump, during his campaign, repeatedly trashed Goldman Sachs bankers, and then proceeded to hire some of their top alumni for senior advisory positions.

Bannon also shares an animus toward Goldman Sachs, but is himself an alumnus. Bruck found a rare – perhaps the only – instance of someone asking him to explain the anomaly:

In October, 2010, he appeared on “Political Vindication,” a right-wing radio show in Los Angeles. One of the hosts said that Bannon had been “evil” while he worked at Goldman Sachs. He replied equably, saying, “It was a private partnership then, and a firm of the highest ethical standards,” but it had changed when it went public. He did not mention that since it went public, in 1999, he had made every effort to do business with Goldman.

More corroborating evidence for Bannon’s alleged issue with school-age Jews

Bannon’s ex-wife has said in post-divorce papers that Bannon objected to certain schools for their twin girls because he didn’t want them consorting with Jewish students. “He said he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats,’” Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 filing, referring to The Archer School for Girls.

She also reported that he asked another school director, at the Westland School, why there were “so many Hanukkah books in the library.”

Bannon has vigorously denied the claims. New York Magazine, in November, confirmed the “Hannukah books” incident with the Westland director, but she told the magazine she understood Bannon simply to be curious because the school was secular, and she did not detect an animus toward Jews.

Bruck uncovered an email between Piccard and Bannon in which she directly raises with him his alleged objection to the percentage of Jewish girls at Archer.

“As for the % of Jewish girls at Archer I have no idea what it is nor do I understand why that is such a concern for you,” she wrote in 2007. “I certainly have not been raising the girls to be prejudice[d] against Jews or anyone else for that matter.”

Bannon’s spokesperson told the New Yorker that he was not an anti-Semite, and noted that he paid the girls’ tuition at Archer.

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ to return for long-awaited 9th season

Larry David’s HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” will return for a ninth season, ending a five-year wait by fans.

The network made the announcement Tuesday, but did not set a date for the start of the new season. The show went on hiatus in September 2011.

David hailed his comeback in a tone typical of his comedic shtick.

“In the immortal words of Julius Caesar, ‘I left, I did nothing, I returned,’” the “Seinfeld” co-creator said in the HBO statement.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which debuted on HBO in 1999, has become the network’s longest-running show with 80 episodes over eight seasons. David, who writes and stars in the comedy, plays an exaggerated alter-ego version of himself.

David, who grew up in a Jewish family in Brooklyn, has had his fair share of Jewy moments on the show, from pretending to be Orthodox to deciding between Israeli and Palestinian food.

“We’re thrilled that Larry has decided to do a new season of ‘Curb’ and can’t wait to see what he has planned,” HBO’s new programming director, Casey Bloys, said in the statement.

Don’t believe David’s misquote of Caesar — he’s actually been quite busy. During his “Curb” sabbatical, he has written and starred in the Broadway play “Fish in the Dark” and made several appearances on “Saturday Night Live” imitating Jewish presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. In one sketch, David and Sanders appeared together as Jewish immigrants on a ship to the United States.

David’s last work for HBO was the 2013 film “Clear History.”

Why the Republican Party is dying

Last Sunday, 2016 Republican presidential nominee front-runner Donald Trump appeared on CNN with Jake Tapper. Tapper — in the mold of many journalists of leftist persuasion — attempted to smear Trump with those who support him by asking Trump about former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Trump had repeatedly disavowed support from Duke, once in August 2015 and then again on Feb. 26. In 2000, Trump explicitly predicated his abandonment of the Reform Party on Duke joining it; he wrote, “So the Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. [Patrick] Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. [Lenora] Fulani. This is not company I wish to keep.”

So when Tapper asked Trump about Duke and the KKK, Trump’s answer should have been simple: He should have said that he had already repeatedly disavowed any support from Duke and the KKK and told Tapper that he should have asked Barack Obama about support from anti-Semite Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Communist Party.

Trump didn’t.

Instead, he equivocated, and pretended ignorance. He said, “I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. … I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I’d have to take a look.”

Trump’s followers defended him — defended the indefensible — vociferously.

All of which raises the question: Why is Donald Trump winning? What is driving millions of Americans into the arms of a personally authoritarian ignoramus, a blustering bully, a policy dilettante, a parodic mashup of Rainn Wilson’s Dwight Schrute from “The Office” and Joe Pesci’s Tommy from “Goodfellas”; a reality television star most famous for his tacky hair, tackier taste in women and tackiest taste in hotel adornments?

It certainly isn’t conservatism.

The left couldn’t be more excited about Trump’s rise — he provides them an easy club with which to beat the conservative movement. But the conservative movement opposes Trump wholesale. Fox News has made clear its disdain for Trump: In the first Republican debate, Megyn Kelly hit him with everything but the kitchen sink for his sexism and corruption. National Review ran an entire issue titled “Against Trump.” I’ve personally cut a video viewed more than a million times in just one day titled “Donald Trump Is a Liar.” This week, the hashtag #NeverTrump took over conservative Twitter, with thousands upon thousands of conservatives vowing never to pull the lever for The Donald. For months, Trump has had the highest negatives in the Republican field.

Conservatism stands for small government, individual liberty, constitutional checks and balances, strong national defense, and social institutions such as churches and synagogues promoting responsibility and virtue. Trump stands for large government (he’s in favor of heavy tariffs as well as government seizures of private property for private use, and he says he’ll maintain all unsustainable entitlement programs), executive authority (he has never spoken of the constitutional limitations of presidential power), and foreign and domestic policy based on personal predilection (he’s friendly to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin because Putin praised him; won’t take sides between democratic Israel and the terrorist Palestinian unity government out of his pathetic, egotistic desire to make a “deal”; and has never held a consistent conservative policy position in his life).

So what the hell is going on? What is driving the Donald Trump phenomenon? Why is it set to destroy the Republican Party?

Anger at ‘the Establishment’

Americans on all sides of the political aisle are angry with the way Washington, D.C., operates. That anger isn’t well defined — it’s not merely a specific anger over failure to negotiate by Republicans and Democrats, or anger over bureaucratic incompetence. It’s a generalized anger that the entire system has failed to operate properly — a feeling that they’ve been lied to about the supposedly booming economy, about the supposedly non-rigged game. A year-end CNN/ORC poll showed that fully three-quarters of Americans said they were dissatisfied “with the way the nation is being governed,” with 69 percent “at least somewhat angry with the way things are going in the U.S.”

Americans on the left believe that Washington, D.C., has climbed into bed with Wall Street and corrupted the political process to the benefit of the few; Americans on the right believe that Washington, D.C., has become a cesspool of government avarice in which those elected to stop the government from usurping power turn on their own constituencies in favor of promoting their personal political interests. In both cases, Americans have turned against the “establishment” — people whom they imagine defend the status quo in Washington, D.C., as not all that bad. If this seems vague, that’s because it is: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are widely perceived to be members of the “establishment,” but they disagree about virtually everything. Everything, that is, except for a generalized belief that it’s better to go along to get along than to stand strong against determined opposition.

On the left, this has resulted in the surprising rise of a 74-year-old socialist senator from Vermont who strongly resembles Larry David. On the right, it has resulted in Trump. Sanders will lose to Clinton on the left — the anger against the Democratic Party isn’t strong enough on the left to destroy the party wholesale for an openly socialist temper tantrum. 

On the right, however, the anger against the Republican Party is palpable. That CNN/ORC poll showed a whopping 90 percent of Republicans dissatisfied with national governance, and 82 percent angry with the way things are going in the country. Among Trump supporters, that number was 97 percent dissatisfied and 91 percent angry. Republicans look at their leadership and see people who lied to them over and over again: lied about how “mainstream” candidates such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would earn the love of the media and sweep to victory; lied about how if Republicans took over Congress in 2010, they’d stop Obamacare dead; lied about how if Republicans took over the Senate in 2014, they’d kill President Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty.

If this is the best the professionals in the establishment could do, many Republicans believed, then it is time for an outsider — someone who can take an ax to the system. Poll after poll for the past year has demonstrated that Republicans prefer an outsider to a candidate with experience in Washington.

Anger at political correctness

That generalized anger at the establishment alone wouldn’t have skyrocketed Trump to the top of the polls. After all, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has spent his entire career in the Senate ticking off the Republican establishment, to the point of calling McConnell a liar on the floor of the chamber. Republican establishment types hate Cruz with the fiery passion of a thousand flaming suns; they despise Cruz so much that former Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole said he’d prefer Trump to Cruz, a perspective mirrored by much of the GOP establishment.

So why not Cruz instead of Trump? Because Trump channels a second type of anger better than anyone else in the race: full-scale rage at political correctness. Political correctness is seen — correctly — by non-leftists as a way of silencing debate about vital issues. Political correctness quashes serious discussions with charges of racism, sexism, Islamophobia and homophobia, and in doing so, destroys the possibility of political honesty as well as better solutions. The Obama administration has brought political correctness back from the brink of extinction to place it in the central halls of power: The White House and its media lackeys have suggested that legitimate criticism of Obama’s policies represents bigotry, that serious concerns about radical Islam represent Islamophobia, that real worries about encroachment upon religious liberty represent homophobia, and that honest questions about individual responsibility for crime represent racism. And establishment Republicans, eager to be seen as civil, have acquiesced in the newfound reign of political correctness.

Trump entered the race vowing to bring that reign to an end. Because of his celebrity, he’s been able to say politically incorrect things many Republicans believe must be said: that Muslim refugees to the United States must be treated with more care than non-Muslim refugees thanks to the influence of radical Islam, for example, or that illegal immigration brings with it elevated levels of criminality. He’s slapped the leftist media repeatedly, something that thrills frustrated conservatives.

But Trump has gone further than fighting political correctness: He has engaged in pure boorishness. His fans have lumped that boorishness in with being politically incorrect. That’s foolishness. It’s politically incorrect — and valuable — to point out that single motherhood rates in the Black community contribute to problems of poverty and crime, and that such rates are not the result of white racism but of the problematic values of those involved. It’s simply rude and gauche to mock the disabled, as Trump has, or mock prisoners of war, as Trump has, or mock Megyn Kelly’s period, as Trump has. The list goes on and on.

Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in Houston, Texas, on Feb. 25. Photo by Mike Stone/Reuters

The distinction between being a pig and being politically incorrect is a real one. But Trump and his supporters have obliterated the distinction — and that’s in large part thanks to the pendulum swinging wildly against political correctness.

Anger at anti-Americanism

Even the revolt against political correctness wouldn’t be enough to put Trump in position to break apart the Republican Party, however. Republicans have railed against political correctness for years — Trump isn’t anything new in that, although he’s certainly more vulgar and blunt than others. No, what truly separates Trump from the rest of the Republican crowd is that he’s a European-style nationalist.

Republicans are American exceptionalists. We believe that America is a unique place in human history, founded upon a unique philosophy of government and liberty. That’s why we’re special and why we have succeeded. In his own way, Trump believes in American exceptionalism much like Barack Obama does — as a term to describe parochial patriotism. Obama infamously remarked in 2009, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.” Obama meant that dismissively — American exceptionalism is just something we do because we’re American, not because we’re actually special. But Trump means it proudly. His nationalism is a reaction to Obama’s anti-nationalism. It says: “Barack Obama may think America isn’t worthy of special protection because we’re not special. Well, we’re America, damn it, even if we don’t know what makes us special.” According to Trump, we ought to operate off of the assumption that Americans deserve better lives not because they live out better principles or represent a better system, but because they’re here.

This sort of nationalism resembles far more the right-wing parties of Europe than the historical Republican Party. The Republican Party has stood for embrace of anyone who will embrace American values; extreme European right-wing parties tend to embrace people out of ethnic allegiance rather than ideological allegiance. Trump uncomfortably straddles that divide. His talk about limiting immigration has little to do with embrace of American values and much more to do with “protecting” Americans from foreigners — even highly educated foreigners willing to work in the United States without taking benefits from the tax system. It’s one thing to object to an influx of people who disagree with basic constitutional values. But Trump doesn’t care about basic constitutional values. He simply opposes people coming in who aren’t us. There’s a reason so many of his supporters occupy the #altright portion of the Internet, which traffics in anti-Semitism and racism.

The rise of ‘The Great Man’

Trump poisons the brew of justified anger at the establishment, justified anger at the political correctness and justified anger at anti-Americanism from the left. People feel victimized by a government that centralizes all power in the back corridors of D.C., a media dedicated to upholding nonsensical sloganeering as opposed to honest discussion, and a president who sees America as a global bully and an international pariah in need of re-education. Trump has channeled that sense of victimization into support. 

But there’s one more spice he adds to that toxic concoction: worship of “The Great Man.”

Republicans have typically been wary of The Great Man. Democrats have not. Woodrow Wilson wrote in 1906, “The president is at liberty both in law and conscience to be as big a man as he can. His capacity will set the limit.” Franklin D. Roosevelt came as close to dictatorship in America as anyone in history. Barack Obama obviously sees little limit to executive authority; he chafes at constitutional restrictions on his power. The presidency, according to Democrats, is a position of elected dictatorship — at least when Democrats run the show.

Conservatives have always believed in the constitutional checks and balances. Republicans have not; there were Republicans who cheered the Bush administration’s abuses of executive power, for example. But as the proxy for the conservative movement, the GOP at least paid lip service to the idea that power resided in the people, then local government, then the states, and last and weakest, the federal government. Republicans supposedly stood for the proposition that the government was the greatest obstacle to freedom.

Trump overthrows all of that. Thanks to Obama’s usurpation of power, many Americans are ready for a Reverse Obama — someone who will use the power of the presidency to “win” for them, as opposed to using a powerful presidency to weaken the country. And that’s what Trump pledges to do. He pledges to singlehandedly make deals — great deals! He promises to make America great again, not through the application of constitutional liberties, but through the power of his persona. He’ll be strong, his supporters believe. When he expresses sympathy for Vladimir Putin and says at least Saddam Hussein killed terrorists and admires the strength of the Chinese government in quashing protest at Tiananmen Square (in a 1990 interview with Playboy), his supporters thrill. Because Trump is a strong leader. He’s no wimp. Give him control, and watch him roll!

Like Obama, Trump has built a cult following on worship of power. Big government has prepared Americans for tyrannical central government for a century. Republicans resisted that call.

Trump does not. 

Is this the end of the Republican Party?

If Trump is nominated, there will be a split in the national GOP. There will be those who hold their noses and vote for him, but who see him as a horrible historical aberration; there will be those who stay home altogether. There may be a third party conservative who decides to provide an alternative to the evils of Trumpism. The Republican Party will remain a major force at the local and state levels regardless; national elections do not reshape parties at these lower levels immediately.

But over time, they can. Is Trumpism temporary, or is it here to stay? The answer to that question may lie with the establishment Republicans, who will have to make peace with actual conservatives if they hope to stanch the rise of populism. Establishment Republicans got behind Jeb Bush in this election cycle, and they stayed behind him even as he flailed; they made clear they’d prefer Trumpism to hard-core conservatism. Now we’re seeing the result. 

The Republican Party can come back, but only if it recognizes that decades of standing for nothing breed reactionary, power-addicted, nationalist populism. That’s a hard realization, but it will have to be made. Otherwise, the Republican Party will, indeed, become the party of Trump rather than the party of Lincoln and Reagan.

Benjamin Shapiro is editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire, senior editor-at-large of Breitbart News, host of “The Ben Shapiro Show” and co-host of “The Morning Answer” on KRLA-AM in Los Angeles and KTIE-AM in the Inland Empire. He is also the author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left's Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences America,” Simon *& Schuster (2013).

On ‘SNL’ with Larry David, Bernie Sanders plays the Jewish idealist

Bernie Sanders and Larry David finally met live on Saturday night, on “Saturday Night Live” — and things got prettay, prettay Jewish.

In running for the Democratic presidential nod, Sanders has not shied from his doppelganger. He told CNN’s Anderson Cooper this week that he is, in fact, Larry David, and his campaign has used the comedian’s Sanders impressions for votes and money.

David, a former Seinfeld show-runner and now go-to Sanders impressionist, did three identity-bending turns with the Vermont senator on Saturday night.

In “Bern Your Enthusiasm,” a take on David’s HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” David’s Sanders loses the Iowa caucus by a hair’s breadth (as the real Sanders did), because on the last day of voting, he alienates five voters — enough to hand Hillary Rodham Clinton the state.

Sanders and David later appear together on stage to throw over to the night’s musical guest. Asked by David about his lead in New Hampshire, Sanders replies with his version of the famous “Curb Your Enthusiasm” line: “It’s pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.”

In their final rendezvous of the night, Sanders and David both play turn of the 20th century Jewish immigrants on a ship bound for Ellis Island. They sound and look alike, down to their outfits.

But they have fundamentally different outlooks. Sanders’s character can’t wait to land and begin exposing income inequality. David’s, spooked by a squall, balks at the captain’s order to save “women and children first,” demanding to check the “pubes” on a child boarding a life raft.

Sanders’ character doesn’t hold himself apart from his fellow passengers.

“I’m Bernie Sanderswitzky,” he says. “We’re going to change it when we get to America so it doesn’t sound so Jewish.”

“Yeah, that’ll trick them,” David’s character replies.

It’s a sly, self-deprecating nod to Sanders’ reluctance — until very recently – to speak about his Jewish background and upbringing.

But it also goes to American Jewish ambivalence about Sanders’ campaign.

Who do American Jews more identify with: The idealist who would conceal his Jewishness; or the realist — and survivor — who knows his Jewishness will inevitably out?

Bernie Sanders, Larry David to appear together on ‘SNL’

Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders will appear with comedian Larry David on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend, according to several media outlets.

Tad Devine, a senior adviser to Sanders, told CNN: “We’ll be live in New York.”

David, who has portrayed the Vermont senator multiple times on “Saturday Night Live” this season, is scheduled to host the show this week. In addition to his popular Sanders’ impressions, David — who like Sanders is Jewish and originally from Brooklyn — is best known for TV shows “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which he starred in, and “Seinfeld,” which he co-created, co-produced and wrote.

Sanders would be the third presidential candidate to be a guest on the show this season. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is competing with Sanders for the Democratic nomination, came on in October. Republican Donald Trump appeared in November.

Larry David calls Trump a racist on ‘SNL,’ earns $5,000

Comedian Larry David heckled billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump during his appearance on “Saturday Night Live” and will pocket $5,000 for it.

“You’re a racist. Trump’s a racist,” David yelled from offstage during Trump’s opening monologue on Saturday night.

The Deport Racism PAC had offered a $5,000 bounty for “anyone on the set of the show or in the studio audience who yells out or gets on camera during the live TV broadcast clearly heard in the TV broadcast saying “Deport Racism” or “Trump is a Racist.”

The organization later thanked David for yelling at Trump and promised to pay up.

Asked by Trump for an explanation, David replied, “I heard if I yelled that, they’d give me $5000.” “As a businessman, I can fully respect that,” Trump replied.

The heckling was written as part of the opening monologue, Raw Story reported.

The previous week, David appeared on the show as Bernie Sanders.

Will Larry David’s Broadway show add to his Jewish file?

In Larry David’s fake real-life world on the HBO sitcom “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he is tapped by Mel Brooks to take over the Zero Mostel-Nathan Lane role of Max Bialystock in the megahit Broadway adaptation of “The Producers.”

Just as Max and accountant Leo Bloom set out to make money by producing a surefire bomb, Brooks picks Larry with the (secret) goal of killing the Tony Award-winning musical and getting his life back. But in an art-imitates-art twist, Larry (like “Springtime for Hitler”) miraculously becomes a hit.

Now comes news that the real real-life Larry David is set to make his Broadway debut in 2015 with a play titled “Fish in the Dark.” David wrote the script and will star in the show.

David isn’t saying much about the details except that it is a comedy about a death in the family. Before the official announcement, the buzz was that the show would be called “Shiva.”

So odds are good that David will be adding to his already sizable Jewish canon.

OK, he’s not Philip Roth. But who is? Few in showbiz have tackled as many Jewish topics with as much attitude and as prominently as David has on “Curb” and as the co-creator/lead writer of “Seinfeld.”

Among the highlights:

Survivors and making out during ‘Schindler’s List‘

It was fitting that in 2004, David dedicated the entire fourth season of “Curb” to the Larry-gets-cast-in-”The Producers” plot line. Few have followed as boldly in Brooks’ footsteps as David when it comes to turning the Holocaust into a punch line. In fact, you could argue that David has attempted a far more daring (some would say offensive) maneuver — whereas Brooks deployed comedy as a weapon against Hitler, David has taken aim at the hallowed status of survivors and Holocaust memorialization.

First came the “Seinfeld” episode (“The Raincoats”) when Jerry is caught making out with his girlfriend during a screening of “Schindler’s List.” As it turns out, the roots of the gag were actually the doldrums of synagogue.

“I think it must have come from sitting in temple,” David said several years ago in an interview packaged with the release of the series on DVD. “I would sit in temple wondering what would happen if I reached over and touched my wife’s breast now or something like that. I can’t pay attention; my mind wanders.”

Count Jerry Stiller, fictional father of George Costanza on “Seinfeld,” among those who was a little squeamish about the bit.

“I just felt that they had gone over the line with that one,” Stiller, who is Jewish, once commented about the episode. But he quickly added with a laugh, “Then I said, ‘Well, Jews go over the line.’ ”

David would cross the line again — this time in an episode of “Curb” featuring a showdown between a Holocaust survivor and a contestant on the reality show “Survivor” over which one had it rougher.

Israel activism and tribal loyalty

In 2011, between the last two large-scale Israel-Hamas conflicts, David gave us a “Curb” episode titled “Palestinian Chicken.” A lesser artist would have settled for interethnic feuding between supporters of the Jewish deli and the new Palestinian chicken place, but David also delivered a biting take on the often tedious sniping between Jewish universalists (Larry, who has a yen for the chicken and lusts after the Palestinian owner of the restaurant) and tribalists (a yarmulke-clad Marty Funkhauser disgusted by Larry’s betrayal).

Bonus factoid: Funkhauser is played by Bob Einstein, whose brother is Albert Brooks (yes, that’s right, real name: Albert Einstein).

Mohels and rabbis

Jewish clergy haven’t fared too well in David’s creative hands (then again, few people do). The rabbis on “Seinfeld” and “Curb” are always flawed, either incapable of keeping a secret or self-absorbed. And then there’s the shaky-handed mohel from “The Bris” episode of “Seinfeld.”

The seder

On “The Seder” episode of “Curb,” Larry takes “Let all who are hungry come and eat” to a new level — inviting a registered sex offender at the last second.

Jewish self-hatred

“Curb” ended its fifth season with a multi-episode arc featuring Larry being told he was adopted and tracking down his supposed birth family — a collection of decidedly un-neurotic and extremely kind religious Christians. In short, the exact opposite of Larry. The result is a new, gentile, gentler Larry. Until he discovers it was all a mistake, at which point he returns to his old self (following a brief trip to heaven). Implication: The Jews and the Jewish are responsible for all of Larry’s loathsome characteristics.

It’s hard to think of a more decidedly anti-Jewish message on television.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that — as long as it’s funny.

Jerry Seinfeld reveals new collaboration with Larry David

Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have teamed up for a new project, and it’s big. And…well, that’s it.

Other than the fact that the thing is about “intentional mumbling” and that we will see it “eventually,” Seinfeld revealed little else about the script while answering audience questions on Reddit’s AMA, or “Ask me Anything,” feature allows members of the popular social website to ask questions to significant figures. Seinfeld opened up to questions on Monday.

Although he was reticent about the new mystery project, he was more vocal on other topics. In the interactive interview the comedian spoke about going for bagels and lox with his kids, scrapping an episode of “Seinfeld” in which Jerry buys a handgun, his favorite supporting character on the show (Newman!), and much, much more.

Oh yeah, and there was also that plug for season three of his web series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, with a debut episode featuring Louis C.K. It’s no “Seinfeld” part two, but it’ll do until “eventually” finally hits.

Larry David displays his ‘clear’ enthusiasm

It’s been nearly two years since Larry David’s eighth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” aired on HBO, but there’s good news for fans of David’s quirky, idiosyncratic comedy. The movie “Clear History,” his latest project for the cable network, has much of “Curb’s” same DNA, meaning it’s improvised, and David is still tactless, immature, lacks a filter and gets into absurd situations of his own making, then tries to fix them and inevitably makes matters worse. 

In “Clear History,” he plays Nathan Flomm, a marketing maven, who, in 2003, quits his job at the start-up California car company Electron Motors and gives up his 1 percent in stock because he hates the plug-in vehicle’s name, Howard. Big mistake. When the company takes off, he becomes the butt of humiliating jokes, loses his marriage and his home, and retreats to Martha’s Vineyard, where he’s happily living incognito a decade later — until the arrival of his billionaire former boss (Jon Hamm) jeopardizes his anonymity. 

David’s plot is inspired by a story he’d heard about someone who sold his Apple shares early on, before the company took off, but David himself is also no stranger to quitting: He walked away from “Seinfeld,” too, at least temporarily. At a question-and-answer session during the Television Critics Association press tour, the long-running sitcom’s head writer and executive producer confirmed that he had declared, “I quit!” several times in the course of “Seinfeld,” then reconsidered, but, he added, “Let’s just say the show might not have been as good” if he’d followed through.

Weighing his options for what to do next, “Clear History” or another season of “Curb,” “I thought perhaps its time I tried something else, so I decided to do the movie.”

In addition to “Mad Men” star Hamm, the cast includes Eva Mendes; Michael Keaton; Bill Hader; Danny McBride; J.B. Smoove from “Curb”; Kate Hudson as Hamm’s wife, Rhonda; and Liev Schreiber, unbilled and nearly unrecognizable in a beard, long hair and a thick accent as a Chechen thug named Tibor. “We had a list, and I have to say we got most of the people on the list, fortunately,” David noted, adding, “I could say great things about all of them. No buyer’s remorse.”

They worked from a 35-page outline that described all of the scenes and what would happen in them, but no dialogue. “All of the actors were game to work in the improvised format. Everybody just took to it so easily,” David said. 

One throwaway line he says in reference to a sports jacket establishes his character’s Jewish identity — “I was bar mitzvahed in seersucker” — but the movie includes the Jewish sensibility David brings to everything he does. “It comes from Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay, Apartment 1D, Nostrand Avenue,” he said. “Obviously, wherever you grow up impacts your entire life, and I grew up in a building with six floors, about nine apartments on each floor, and Jews in every apartment. So it rubbed off on me a little bit,” he said.

“Clear History,” however, was filmed in San Jose as well as Essex County in Massachusetts, which stands in for Martha’s Vineyard, where David, a divorced father with two daughters, has a home.  “I’ve been there for 13 summers.”

As the film opens, David looks almost biblical in long, shaggy hair and a beard. “The makeup was intolerable. Sitting in that chair for an hour every morning to put that on, it felt like I had 10,000 insects on my head. I couldn’t stand it, but I thought I cut quite a figure,” he said, though he was relieved to do the rest of his scenes as his clean-shaven, balding self. 

Not unexpectedly, David sidestepped the question of whether there will be a ninth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “I really don’t know,” he said, chalking up his procrastination to laziness. “Ask me in six months.”

“Clear History” premieres Aug. 10 on HBO, with other play dates throughout the month.

Uncle Leo, helloooooo