Category Archives: Jewish Columns

Tent–A Jewish Seminar Big Enough to Encompass It All

In March of 2013, I had the fortune of being invited to what was described to me as a “Jewish Comedians Seminar”.  My first reaction was, “That’s a bit redundant, ay?”
I learned about Tent via Twitter of all places after writing one of my snarky Jewish satire pieces for GatherTheJews. tent logo

What it was really titled was “Tent:  Encounters with Jewish Culture”, a new program started by the Yiddish Book Center.  The program aims at showing how a commitment to Jewish culture can be a portal into deeper and more inspired Jewish self-awareness—and ultimately professional development.

And the year 2014 is going to be a BIG one for Tent:

In 2014, 10 Tent seminars, taking place in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and the South, will gather twentysomethings who are passionate about food, comics, music, journalism, fashion, social justice, art, history, and contemporary Jewish culture.  Applications are available and deadlines are fast approaching:  http://tentsite.org/apply

Twenty applicants will be accepted for each of the week-long programs. Tent is offered free to all accepted applicants. Each of the seminars will explore aspects of modern culture through a Jewish lens. Tent programs are designed to help young people to discover how much of what’s exciting in contemporary America from stand-up comedy to serious literature, from pop music and theater to film, law, and cuisine – have rich Jewish histories.

My experience?  I attended the Tent: Comedy seminar.
When I applied, I only knew a few details:  The Seminar would last one week.  It would be held in Los Angeles.  There would be twenty Jewish comedians between the ages of 21 and 30.  We would meet established Jewish comedy writers in LA.  Tent would pay for many of the meals.  So free food.  Funny people.  Schmoozing with funny people with my dream job.  And a week away from the daily grind of my current job.
For an entire week, we would open the morning with free food.  Score!  And then for two hours, we would have a lecture and discussion on topics such as “what is Jewish comedy?” and “why us?”.  A prominent Jewish Cultural History professor, Tony Michels of the University of Wisconsin-Madison would lead us from the comedy scenes of Ellis Island to the Catskills to Carnegie Hall to Tinseltown.  From Groucho Marx to Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld to Sarah Silverman.

To compliment the morning lectures, Tent arranged to have an established figure in the Los Angeles comedy scene do a question and answer session with us.  One question I recall was asked of Simpsons writer Ken Levine, “what’s the best way to network in the comedy scene?”  Levine replied, here’s what not to do:  “shortly after a parent died, I was at the funeral home picking out a casket, and one of the funeral home workers asked me if I would read his script.”  Point noted, Ken.

We also met with a writer from The New Yorker, an improv workshop from a former Saturday Night Live performer, and several television actors.

In the evenings, we would attend comedy shows, and several Tent members had the fortune of meeting Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin, comedian Todd Glass, Sarah Silverman, Ed Helms, Kevin Nealon, and Pete Holmes.
We also visited Cantors Famous Deli, and toured historic Boyle Heights, the former epicenter of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

By the end of the week, I could hardly stop repeating to my new friends, “If I found out about this program next week, I would be SO jealous of me.”  Modest?  No.  Honest?  Definitely.

And now, eight months later—-and a week before I move to LA to begin a dream career in a new city—- I am confidant that the new friends I made, the introspective Jewish identity I cultivated, and new career goals I visualized while at Tent Comedy will serve me splendidly on my next journey.

If you haven’t already checked out the 10 programs in 2014, do it now–and if you haven’t applied do that now too. Where else will you get the chance to spend a week with a cohort of like-minded Jews–and it’s all free!


Jewish Comedian Spotlight: Lenny Bruce

Anyone who has ever ranted to their friends about something they despise, something obscene, something taboo that you just had to get off your chest and broadcast to those around you—- you need to know the story of the legendary Lenny Bruce.

Born Leonard Alfred Schneider in 1925, Lenny was dead by the age of 40.  And in that short life, he laid the groundwork for the best comedians of the last fifty years.  Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin, Joan Rivers, Bill Cosby, Jon Stewart—-each has listed Lenny Bruce as an influence.

First, to understand Lenny Bruce’s comedy, you need to have a perspective on what the United States was in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.  The United States was not politically correct in the way it is today.  It was homogenized.  In the public sphere, there was much deference to authority, the government, properness and social restraint.  For entertainment, people didn’t go to coffee shops and listen to up-and-coming comedians tell dick jokes.  On television, comedians were not even allowed to say the word “pregnant”.

His early stints in comedy were while he was in the U.S. Navy in the 1940s.  He was kicked out for dressing in drag and being under the suspicion of engaging in homosexual activities.***  Even then, his wit was splashed in the face of authority.

Fourth Officer:  “Do you enjoy wearing women’s clothing?”
Lenny:  “Sometimes.”
Fourth Officer:  “When is that?”
Lenny:  “When they fit.”

Lenny made light of his Jewishness as part of his routine.  One of his more famous routines, Jewish vs. Goyish still bites as hard as it did when he first performed it as a master of ceremonies at the slummiest of strip clubs in Los Angeles.

Lenny was also known to skewer politicians on their hypocrisy and vapid personalities, much like Jon Stewart does today.  The big difference?  Lenny was only on television six times.

“I could never visualize Eisenhower even kissing his wife.  Not on the mouth anyway.  He didn’t even go to the toilet either, he just stood there.  He didn’t even go to bed, he just sat up all night, with his clothes on, worrying.”

“And even Nixon–well, he kissed his wife, but on the forehead, and only on Thanksgiving, in front of his in-laws.”

But not everyone was laughing with Lenny.


Anyone who has ever touted their First Amendment right to free speech needs to know the story of the legendary Lenny Bruce.

It seemed like the government was the only big threat to Lenny.  Still, the audiences were enthralled with his audacity and profane profoundness.

In 1961, Lenny was arrested in San Francisco for obscenity in public.  And by public, it was a comedy show.  Where people go to see people break social norms for sport.  This became a habit for Lenny.He spent the last four to five years of his life getting arrested for pushing the comedic envelope.  Transcripts of the most entertaining parts of the trials can be found in his wildly amusing autobiography, “How to Talk Dirty and Influence People”  Still, Lenny stood trial, was convicted, and died not long after—way too soon— in 1966.

As a significant side-note, Lenny was a raging heroine addict.  If he got his addiction under control, he would likely still be around today.

The system was out to get him.  In fact, when he died, the police took his pants off and photographed him as a final smite against the guy who taunted their masters so pointedly.

In a time when comedians were telling straight-up jokes, Lenny Bruce made people THINK.  He told stories that made people question the system around them.  In the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, nobody on TV or the radio was talking like that.

Now turn on Comedy Central in the year 2013.  Lenny would fit right in.

***To be fair, Bruce would have been reprimanded for this behavior in 2012.

YOUR HOMEWORK:

Watch Dustin Hoffman’s Academy Award nominated portrayal of Lenny Bruce in the film “Lenny” on Netflix. 

To see the best amateur standup comedy show in Washington, DC, be sure to go to RFD in Chinatown every Thursday at 8:30 PM.  Free.  In the back room.  810 7th St NW  Washington, D.C. 202-289-2030To stay in the loop about the best amateur standup comedy in Washington, D.C. go to https://www.facebook.com/DistrictComedy

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at http://www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at http://www.BrianFishbach.com. Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


Jewish Comedian Spotlight: Sarah Silverman

The term “Jewish comedian” sounds a bit redundant.  Or perhaps it just sounds unnecessary since so many members of the tribe have made a living being a lingual muse.

Either way, 42-year-old comedian Sarah Silverman is ambivalent when it comes to the “Jewish comedian” label.  And for good reason:  Her father was Jewish, her sister Susan is a rabbi, and her last name is SILVERMAN.

And in 2008, Silverman helped orchestrate “The Great Schlep”, which encouraged young Jewish voters to get their Jewish grandparents in South Florida to get off the golf course and vote in the Presidential election.

Still, in an interview with Movieline in 2011, Silverman says “I’m so associated with being Jewish — and I do it myself — but I have no religion. To me it’s cultural, it comes out of my pores. I can’t control it. I wasn’t raised with any religion, I have no religion, but it’s become such a part of me. ‘Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman!’ You know what I mean?

The “comedian” label needs not much clarification.  A quick look through Silverman’s YouTube videos, quotes, or book The Bedwetter, you will see that being a Jewish girl is just one of the countless topics Silverman touches with her pointed prose.

Along the way, Silverman has appeared on almost every late-night talk show since the late 1990s.  In 21 years on the comedy circuit, Silverman has had a part in so many television shows and films that she has proven to be a pretty reliable talent, always ready to work with her fellow comedian pals.

Silverman even had a cameo in the film adaptation of the musical Rent.<

Profane?  Yes.  Insightful?  Absolutely.  Shocking?  No doubt.  “Jewish comedian”?  The label is distracting.  But Silverman is certainly a bright and talented comedian—-a modern-day Lenny Bruce with a hint of Jewishness and a hunk of obscenity.


What North American Schools Have the Largest Jewish Populations?

With Labor Day weekend just around the corner, millions of students in the United States are heading back to class at their respective colleges and universities.

And shortly thereafter, the Jewish students will be interrupting their study sessions, keg parties, football games by attending High Holidays services.

In that spirit, here is a list of which schools in North America have the most Jewish students and largest percentage of the student population that is Jewish.

A few takeaways:

  • University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and University of Maryland have the highest total number of Jewish students, each topping over 5,000.
  • The largest Jewish population at a school west of the Mississippi River is the University of Texas, University of Arizona, and UCLA, each topping over 3,000.
  • The Big Ten Conference is the most Jewish athletic conference represented on the top 60 list, with Northwestern, Maryland (in 2014), Rutgers (in 2014), Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan State, each with over 2,500 Jewish students.

CLICK ON THUMBNAIL PICTURES BELOW FOR THE FULL LISTS

(Facts courtesy of Reform Judaism Magazine and Hillel.   http://bit.ly/17mbO1z)

 


Jewish Comedian Spotlight: Lewis Black

Published on August 14, 2013 on Gather the Jews.com

On the outside, Lewis Black features a gruff voice, thick-rimmed glasses, and gyrating neck jowls.  On the inside?  Insightful chaos.   Unlike many comedians, Black has shied away from humor intended to shock audiences, but rather leave them walking away with a sense of both irreverence and education.

Straight outta Silver Spring, Maryland, comedian Black epitomizes the word “curmudgeon”.  In his book, “Nothing’s Sacred”, the Jewish-raised comedian chastises the name of the town where he was Bar Mitzvahed in 1961 as lacking both “the seasonal spring” and a “single silver-miner”.  Small irritations such as these have led Black to have an enormous career in comedy that has spanned over thirty years.

His screaming commentary on American politics have been a favorite of Jon Stewart, who has featured Black’s rants countless times on “The Daily Show”.

And for two seasons, Black hosted his own television show on Comedy Central.  ”The Root of All Evil”, which aired in 2008, pitted the pros and cons of topics such as Olympic Games vs. Drinking Games, NRA vs. PETA, and High School vs. American Idol.

In this 2008 video of Black at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in DC, he describes what it was like to be the first Jew his roommates had ever met at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o1SwGK8Gf4 (Warning, language is rated R)

He turns 65 years-old this High Holiday season.  While well-versed in the traditions of Judaism, Black has offered his own sermon for the community:  ”There are things about the Jewish religion that I carry with me to this day. Chief among them is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, as it’s so happily called. It had a profound effect on my innocent young mind. The service opens with the organ playing “Kol Nidre,” one of the spookiest pieces of music ever written. You hear it and literally are surprised bats and shit aren’t flying around.”

Perhaps a jazzy Kol Nidre melody would suit Black’s mood better (because despite all of his blood-pressure-raising anger, Black’s music of choice is not thrash metal, but contemporary Jazz.

He is almost always on tour.  Check out Lewis Black’s website for more information:  http://lewisblack.com/.

Brian Fishbach is a writer and comedian.  You can read Brian’s weekly satire news articles at http://www.TheComedyNews.com, and enjoy his late-night jokes at http://www.BrianFishbach.com. Join The Comedy News’ Facebook page for updates.


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