Monday, November 30, 2009

The Big Bubkis: A Complete Gentile's Guide to Jewish Vaudeville - Now Playing in New York

Shane Bertram Baker, unquestionably the biggest star in Yiddish vaudeville today, returns in his mega-hit sensation, The Big Bupkis! A Complete Gentile's Guide to Yiddish Vaudeville for the first open-run of a Yiddish-related show in twenty years.
 
When it was first performed, under a different name, "The Big Bupkis!" was the most talked-about, highly praised, successful and critically acclaimed Yiddish show in recent memory. The new and improved The Big Bupkis! performs twice a week, on Saturdays at 9pm and Sundays at 7pm, now in previews at 9pm, opening Saturday December 5 at 9pm, at The Workmen's Circle, 45 East 33rd Street, and running indefinitely until every last, living, breathing lover of theater on the planet has seen this show.

Co-conceived and directed by Allen Lewis Rickman, a battle-hardened veteran of Yiddish theater (but nowhere near as adored as Baker), "The Big Bupkis!" is an evening of cheap jokes, magic, ukulele music, hypnotism, unpleasant stories about Sophie Tucker, transvestitism, and a Yiddish bullfight poem, among other theatrical indignities. Giving nothing away, the show ends with Mr. Baker attempting to behead a volunteer from the audience.

Produced by the New Yiddish Rep, downtown's upstart Yiddish theater, The Big Bupkis! mixes English and Yiddish, with English supertitles projected over the stage. According to Artistic Director David Mandelbaum, who insists that this is not his great-grandmother's Yiddish theater, the Rep "is catering to the tastes, and cultural needs of a huge and underserved young audience for Yiddish."

Kansas City native Shane Bertram Baker, widely recognized as the leading matinée idol in the Yiddish vaudeville today, is acknowledged to be the first non-Jew (or Gentile) to ever get this far in that particular arena. How he became fluent in Yiddish; how he became a fixture in New York's booming Yiddish vaudeville community; how he became the executive director of the Congress for Jewish Culture (an esteemed Yiddish literary organization); and how he amassed credits as an actor, director, magician, and puppeteer of such accomplishment are all richly described and illustrated in this fascinating show.

Among his many credits: He assisted Tony-winning director Doug Hughes (currently "The Royal Family" and "Oleanna") on "The Grey Zone;" worked on Peter Sellers' Los Angeles Festival; has performed at P.S. 122, ShowWorld, and with Great Small Works (an anarchist puppet troupe), and played Carla the Gypsy Wildcat in The Ridiculous Theatrical Company's "Turds In Hell." As a child he was mentored in magic by vaudeville veteran H. Claude Enslow. He is also an authority on the plays of Henry Fielding and an early contributor to the current burlesque revival.

Mr. Baker will be accompanied by the legendary Steve Sterner. A veteran Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Yiddish theater performer, Mr. Sterner is best-known for accompanying and composing music for over 300 silent films, at MoMA, BAM, the Museum of the Moving Image, and Film Forum, where he is house pianist. As an accompanist, he has played with Robert Merrill, Jerry Vale, Joan Collins, and JoAnne Woodward, among many others.

Co-conceiver and director Allen Lewis Rickman's Yiddish credits include adapting and directing "The Lady Next Door" and "A Novel Romance," and co-adapting, directing, and acting in the Drama Desk-nominated Yiddish version of "Pirates of Penzance," as well as performing with Lillian Lux, the late Bruce Adler and the Joseph Papp Yiddish Theater. He can be seen acting in Yiddish onscreen in the Coen Brothers' "A Serious Man" (currently in release) and onstage in his play "The Essence: A Yiddish Theater Dim Sum" (in produced by New Yiddish Rep and due next year in an anthology edited by Harvey Pekar).

"The Big Bupkis!" performs at the New Yiddish Rep's permanent home at the Workmen's Circle building, 45 East 33rd Street. Performances are Saturdays at 9pm and Sundays at 7pm. Previews are going on now, and the opening is Saturday December 5 at 9pm. Tickets are $25, and a student discount is available. For tickets and more information visit www.NewYiddishRep.org.

In the video clip below, Here, Shane Baker reminisces about meeting Arthur Tracy, the Street Singer, at the Yiddish Artists and Friends Actors' Club, then presents a bit of "tidy tearing" while reciting a Yiddish version of Tracy's hit Trees. Trees was written by Joyce Kilmer, the Yiddish is by Mates Olitsky. Steve Sterner accompanies with Oscar Rasbach's musical setting.

In this second video, Shane Baker hypnotizes Mendel, the rubber chicken
(Hat tip to Anonymous, who commented on this post December 17.)

Chanukah - 12 Days to Go: IDF Soldiers and Chabadniks Whoop It Up on an Army Base



Our Hanukkah Countdown continues with only 11 more days to go. While you're waiting, enjoy this Hanukkah celebration at an Israeli army post two years ago. A group of Chabad Chassidim from Mayanot joined a group of IDF soldiers in Chanukah song and dance, followed by the candle lighting ceremony.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Making Trouble: A Tribute to the Great Female Jewish Comedians

 
Here's a film you probably never heard of, but it's probably worth seeing. That is, if you can find it.

Making Trouble covers more than 100 years of theater, film, and television, highlighting the comedy of Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner, and Wendy Wasserstein.

It includes interviews with experts, scholars, and entertainers including actor Martin Short, author Gary Giddins, and LA Times movie critic Kenneth Turan.

The film takes the form of a documentary, presented as a gabfest at Katz's Delicatessen among four current Jewish female comedians, Judy Gold, Jackie Hoffman, Cory Kahaney, and Jessica Kirson. These four reminisce about the veteran comedians' performances and how they shared the gift -- and the burden -- of being funny, being Jewish, and being female.

You won't find the DVD on Amazon or Netflix, but it can be purchased at the Making Trouble website for $24.95. Here is the film's trailer.


Chanukah Countdown: Tom Lehrer's Chanukah in Santa Monica


With only 12 days left until we light the first Chanukah candle, let's take a trip down memory lane to 1990, when songwriter Tom Lehrer wrote Chanukah in Santa Monica to remedy the lack of good Chanukah songs. Here is a video of the Lake Forest High School Glee Club singing this classic. Enjoy!

Friday, November 27, 2009

A New Joke to Start Your Day: The Rabbi and the Pope

A few centuries ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave Italy. Naturally there was a big uproar from the Jewish community. So the Pope agreed to have a religious debate with a Rabbi selected by the Jewish community. If the Rabbi won, the Jews could stay. If the Pope won, the Jews would leave.

Th
e Jews realized that they had no choice. So they picked a wise Rabbi to represent them, but they asked for one condition to be met. Since the Rabbi didn't speak Italian or Latin and the Pope didn't speak Hebrew or Yiddish, neither side would be allowed to talk. They would use only hand gestures. The pope agreed.

The day of the great debate came. The Rabbi and the Pope sat opposite each other for a full minute before the Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. The Rabbi looked back at him and raised one finger.

The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. The Rabbi pointed to the ground where he sat.

The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. The Rabbi pulled out an apple.

The Pope stood up and said, "I give up. This Rabbi is too smart. The Jews can stay."

An hour later, the cardinals surrounded the Pope, asking him what happened.

The Pope said: "First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground and showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?"

Meanwhile, the Jewish community had crowded around the Rabbi. "What happened?" they asked. "Well," said the Rabbi, "First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole country would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here."

"And then?" asked a woman.

"I don't know," said the Rabbi. "He took out his lunch and I took out mine."

Hanukkah Countdown with the Ventriloquist Dummy Choir

Our Hanukkah countdown is now at 14 days and counting. It's getting harder and harder to come up with funny versions of Chanukah songs every day, but we'll keep it up as long as we can.

Here's that overplayed song, I Have a Little Draydel, sung by a really unique troupe, the Ventriloquist Dummy Choir on the Conan O'Brien show. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Kosher Comedy to Shtick To...In Australia

Jewish comedy knows no bounds, in content, format, and geography. You really can't get away from it. If you try, and make it all the way Down Under to Sydney, Australia, you'll find that there's no escape. Kosher TheatreSports, Sydney's longest-running annual Jewish comedy improvisational game show is set to return to Bondi Pavillion Theatre on Sunday, December 6. It's being billed as the ultimate night of Jewish comedy. This year, six groups, including one calling themselves Shmux in Tux, will battle it out for the famous Kiddush Cup.
Here's how the event is being covered by the Australian Jewish News.

Chanukah Countdown: Lights: Celebrate Chanukah Live in Concert

As we get closer to Hanukkah (16 days to go) let's join Craig Taubman and an all-star cast in the finale from their concert last year, Lights: Celebrate Chanukah Live in Concert.

The concert was a once-in-a lifetime gathering of some of the best in Jewish music to celebrate Hanukkah, in spirit, in joy, and in song. From familiar and beloved faces to exciting new friends, lights includes performances by Craig Taubman, Alberto Mizrahi, Grammy-award winners The Klezmatics,Laurence Juber and nominee Dave Koz,Academy Award-nominee Mare Winningham, Gospel musician Joshua Nelson, Michelle Citrin and Josh Nelson.

This concert aired nationally as a PBS Pledge Drive throughout December 2008. It was produced by the team who produced Celtic Woman and Yanni Live at the Acropolis for PBS. The CD is available from Amazon.com and from Craig Taubman's web site.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Rabbi Walks Into a Bar...But Tells Only Clean Jokes


Rabbi Bob Alper is a Reform rabbi. He is also a comedian who manages to enthrall audiences with clean jokes in nightclubs, synagogues, community centers and at private parties. Alper has released a DVD of his performances than runs 102 minutes, and includes a live performance, an interview, and 33 of his best jokes. He bills himself as the only practicing clergyman doing standup comedy...intentionally.

Alper, 64, started doing stand-up comedy in 1986 in Philadelphia. He's been at it ever since, doing about 60 shows a year across the USA. He served congregations for 14 years, but now only officiates at High Holy Day services in Philadelphia.

Here is a sample of one of his routines about his days at the seminary where he was ordained, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

Hanukkah Countdown Continues With Flash Mob Singing and Dancing in Jerusalem


With only 17 days to go until we light the first candle, let's join the flash mob of 150 people brought in by Nefesh b'Nefesh to Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem to sing and dance with joy in anticipation of Chanukah.

If you're not familiar with the term, here is the Wikipedia definition of "flash mob."
A flash mob (or flashmob) is a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse. The term flash mob is generally applied only to gatherings organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails. The term is generally not applied to events organized by public relations firms or as publicity stunts.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November is Jewish Book Month: Jewish Humor Central's Top Ten List for Chanukah Reading and Gifting


November is Jewish Book Month, and Chanukah is when most Jewish books are bought for gift giving. What a happy coincidence! And don't forget, some of the best gifts are those you give yourself.

So before November ends and before Chanukah begins, we'd like to share with you our list of ten choice books for gift giving and receiving. While humor is the common denominator, they also touch on learning, mystery, science fiction, food, and music.

In other words, something for everyone. This is not a countdown list from number ten to number one. In our opinion, every one of these books is at the top of the list.

We present a short review of each book and links to Amazon.com where you can buy them.

Please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post, giving us your thoughts about these book choices. Let's start a lively discussion about books that bring out the best in Jewish humor.

Save the Deli by David Sax
As a journalist and life-long deli obsessive, David Sax was understandably alarmed by the state of Jewish delicatessen. A cuisine that had once thrived as the very center of Jewish life had become endangered by assimilation, homogenization, and health food trends. He watched in dismay as one beloved deli after another—one institution after another—shuttered, only to be reopened as some bland chain-restaurant laying claim to the very culture it just paved over. And so David set out on a journey across the United States and around the world in search of authentic delicatessen. Was it still possible to Save the Deli?
Join David as he investigates everything deli-- its history, its diaspora, its next generation. He tells about the food itself—how it’s made, who makes it best, and where to go for particular dishes. And, ultimately, he finds is hope-- deli newly and lovingly made in places like Boulder, traditions maintained in Montreal, and iconic institutions like the 2nd Avenue Deli resurrected in New York.

Shtick Shift by Simcha Weinstein

In this slim volume (142 pages) Simcha Weinstein analyzes the shift in shtick (modern Jewish humor) from Jack Benny and the Marx Brothers to Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and Adam Sandler. Along the way, he reviews the success of Jon Stewart and his fake news show, The Daily Show.

Weinstein defines the shtick shift as the new comic sensibility where today’s Jewish comics aren’t afraid of proclaiming their ethnicity, and have the confidence to laugh about their frailties.

The book addresses issues of Jewish identity and assimilation, and covers years of Jewish comedy from the lower east side to vaudeville, movies, and sitcoms.

It contains a glossary of Hebrew and Yiddish words, and 20 pages of footnotes.
Murder at the Minyan by Shulamit E. Kustanowitz
Murder at the Minyan is much more than it seems. Sure, it’s a mystery, but it is filled with situations that anyone who attends synagogue or is involved with Jewish organizations will find humorous and wistfully familiar.
Of course, there is a murder. One congregant finds a most dastardly solution to inadequate shul attendance because it interferes with his need to say Kaddish. But there’s a lot more to the story than the murder.
As the plot unfolds, we meet the many Jews that make up our people and the conflicts that they live with: the religiously observant Conservative rabbi and his unschooled congregants; the dedicated lay leaders who lack any loyalty to tradition; the Orthodox rabbi who won’t judge a big donor’s motives; Holocaust survivors with divergent views of non-Jews; one child who has just goodness in his heart and another who has only selfish needs, and the woman who expects her rabbi to deliver “enough bang for the buck.”

And then there’s the rabbi’s Chanukah shopping trip to a mall that is all decked out in its finest December decorations and plays Christmas carols to increase seasonal joy. And the rabbi knows all the words! That scene alone makes this book a perfect gift for Chanukah.
The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
In The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. explores the Bible chronologically, from Old Testament (crucial, given the Ten Commandments) to the New Testament (crucial, given America's powerful evangelical movement and its literal interpretation of the Bible) -- and lives the Bible on every level. He obeys the Ten Commandments, he is fruitful and multiplies (A.J.'s wife had twins during his year!); he remembers the Sabbath and keeps it holy. But he also obeys the oft-neglected rules, such as avoiding clothes of mixed fibers, and refraining from shaving the edges of his beard (Leviticus 19:27). So throughout the year A.J. is commonly mistaken for a member of ZZ Top. Or Moses.

Jewish Humor by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
First published in 1992, this book is a classic in the field of Jewish Humor. Rabbi Telushkin, a well-known author and authority on Jewish life, focuses on comedy as the mirror of Jewish culture, woven around more than a hundred of the best Jewish jokes -- some classic, some new. This is not just a compilation of jokes, but an analysis of w hat is Jewish about Jewish humor, the inescapable hold of the Jewish family, Jewish intelligence and theplayful logic of the Jewish mind, the Jew in business, self-loathing, self-praise, and other Jewish neuroses.



A Fine Romance by David Lehman

Does It Ain't Necessarily So, George Gershwin's song from Porgy and Bess, have its basis in the blessings before reading the Torah? Is his introduction to Swanee based on the melody sung while returning the Torah to the ark? That's what David Lehman suggests in his warm, humorous, nostalgic look at the period between 1914 and 1965 when most American popular music, now known as the American Songbook, was written by mostly Jewish songwriters and composers.

During that rich musical time, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser, and the Gershwin brothers were responsible for creating the music that America sang and played. These Jews were immigrants or their American-born children, and they used wit and romantic lyrics and melodies to express the American dream. Even Cole Porter, a millionaire Episcopalian from Indiana, told Richard Rodgers that he found the key to success by writing "Jewish tunes."
The Big Book of Jewish Humor by William Novak and Moshe Waldoks
If you have a collection of books of Jewish humor in your house, you almost certainly have this one. The Big Book of Jewish Humor is one of the true classics in the field. But just in case you don't, here's a quick summary of what you're in for when you pick up this book. The editors, William Novak and Moshe Waldoks, have produced a volume that has Talmudic overtones, with two facing columns in the center and two narrow columns of commentary on many pages. But unlike the Talmud, readers should be aware that some of the jokes are not family-friendly and use language that some may find offensive.

After a 25 page introduction to the 25th anniversary edition published in 2006, and the 15 page intro to the first edition (1981) we get into the book itself, which comes with instructions on how to read its 308 pages.

The Big Book of Jewish Humor also has lots of cartoons, and contributions from dozens of famous writers and comedians. It will keep you busy and laughing for a long time.
Wandering Stars: An Anthology of Jewish Fantasy and Science Fiction by Jack Dann (Editor)
Wandering Stars is the landmark collection of Jewish science fiction and fantasy. The first of its kind, it is an established and enduring classic.


This is the first time in a science fiction collection that the Jewish People—and the richness of their themes and particular points of view—appear without a mask. Wandering Stars is a showpiece of Jewish wit, culture, and lore, of the blend of humor and sadness, cynicism, and faith. In these pages you’ll find superlative tales of fantasy and science fiction by masters.


Oy! by David Minkoff
David Minkoff has probably compiled more Jewish jokes than anyone on the internet or in the universe. Last month his second "ultimate complilation" of Jewish jokes, "Oy Vey: More" was published by Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Press in hardcover.

The first book, Oy: The Ultimate Book of Jewish Jokes is now out in paperback. I keep a few copies on hand to give as get-well gifts to friends who have been hospitalized. They say that laughter is the best medicine, and I include a fake prescription blank recommending two jokes three times a day and three jokes just before bedtime. It works wonders!
The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

In meticulously drawn detail, the creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, and other 1960's comic classics successfully tackles the formal English text of the first book of the Bible and brings it to life in a surprisingly sympathetic and non-critical form.

This book is hard to put down as it draws you from one page to the next, pulling you deeper and deeper into the stories that have been told and retold for millennia. The difference is that this time, seeing each sentence depicted with images of real people forces a human connection between the reader and the characters who we thought we knew so well, but who always seemed distant and other-worldly.

The characters that Crumb draws are real, maybe too real. The women are zoftig and the men are hairy and grubby, probably a more accurate depiction than the people we imagined while reading the weekly portion of the Torah. After all, the events depicted predate Avon, Clinique, Gillette, and Aqua Velva.

The illustrator, a declared atheist, surprised me with his reverential treatment of all the Bible stories. In his introduction to the book and in the endnotes for the chapters, he uses the term B.C.E., not B.C. as is usual in non-Jewish writings. He also reveals that he studied the midrash on Bereishit to get perspectives on the stories that enabled him to make them come alive.

I was prepared to dislike this book, given Crumb's association with the hippie movement of the 1960's, but he deserves a lot of credit for bringing new life to the oldest book known. He even draws a unique face for each of the "begats", not an easy piece of work.

Though it took Crumb three years to produce this volume, the material he had to work with in Genesis included lots of interesting characters and lots of stories. I can't wait to see what he does to illustrate Vayikra (Leviticus.)

18 Days Until Hanukkah: The Countdown Continues at Laguna Beach

With 18 days to go, join us in our Chanukah Countdown by celebrating with the Chabad Jewish Center of Laguna Beach, California, as they sing and dance around a unique menorah built from nine surfboards.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sex and the Shtetl: Yiddish As You Never Knew It

Everyday life in Eastern European shtetls, or small towns, was expressed in Hebrew and Yiddish -- Hebrew for the sacred, and Yiddish for everything else. Until now, who would think that everything else included...SEX?

Last week, San Franciscans were able to take part in Sex and the Shtetl, a three-day exploration of sexual mores and practices in the prewar Yiddish world sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union.

As Sue Fishkoff reports in The Jerusalem Post,
Life in the shtetl wasn't all Shabbat candles and milking cows, say experts who come from as far away as Boston, London and Jerusalem to discuss cross-dressing in early Yiddish film, baby farms in late 19th-century Vilna and the Freudian underpinnings of Jewish jokes.
Yiddish songs, some of them bawdy, were sung and translated at the conference, and there was a lot of discussion about Jewish sexuality in the late 19th-century Yiddish world. Cantor Sharon Bernstein, who sang the Yiddish songs at the electric piano, said that some of the more "juicy" song lyrics were set to traditional learning chants, adding "Someone was having a lot of fun with this."

Sex and gender roles in Yiddish literature and film was a hot topic for discussion, with many examples cited of stories where women passing for men was a common motif. These include S. Ansky's The Dybbuk, I.B. Singer's Yentl, popularized in the 1983 film with Barbara Streisand, and the 1936 film Yidl Mitn Fidl, in which Molly Picon ran away with a klezmer band, dressing as a man for most of the film. Here is a video clip of Picon singing the title song.



Chanukah Countdown Continues: Epcot's Voices of Liberty Sing a Hanukkah Medley

With 19 days left to Chanukah, we thought you'd enjoy a change of pace in Chanukah songs. So here is a medley of Hanukkah songs performed by Voices of Liberty, the a cappella group that has been singing at Disney's Epcot Center's The American Adventure since it opened.

OK, they're dressed as Dickens carolers, but it's nice to see them singing our songs for a change. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

In "Zero Hour" Jim Brochu is Zero Mostel in One-Man Show

ZERO HOUR, the one-man show from Jim Brochu, is playing a limited engagement in New York City. The show is at the St. Clement's Theatre now through Jan. 31, 2010.

ZERO HOUR features Brochu as Zero Mostel. The play is directed by Piper Laurie, and is produced by Kurt Peterson and Edmund Gaynes in association with The Peccadillo Theater Company.

Set in theatre legend Zero Mostel's painting studio on West 28th Street, a naïve reporter attempts to interview the famously volatile artist, prompting an explosion of memory, humor, outrage and juicy backstage lore. Mostel is remembered for his comedic genius and his definitive roles, but in the 1950's he was equally known for his place on the infamous Hollywood blacklist.

Directed by three time Oscar nominee Piper Laurie (The Hustler, Carrie), Jim Brochu's striking portrayal brings all of Mostel's swagger, ferocity, intelligence and fantastic wit back to the stage in this mesmerizing and hilarious tour-de-force. Since its Ovation Award-winning debut in 2006 Zero Hour has played to sold out houses all over the country and was named one of the ten best plays of the Los Angeles Theatre Season (2007) as well as one of the ten best of the South Florida Theatre Season (2008). Jim Brochu won the 2009 South Florida Carbonell Award as Best Actor in a Play for his performace as Zero Mostel.

St. Clement's Theatre is located at 423 West 46th Street, New York City.

Tickets will be available by phone at (212) 239-6200/800-432-7250 outside NYC, or online through Telecharge.com.

For more information, visit www.zerohourshow.com.

Here's a video clip of the opening minutes of the show, filmed at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, Florida.


Hanukkah Countdown Continues: My Menorah


Only 20 days left to Chanukah. To get you in the mood as we continue our Chanukah countdown, here's a little takeoff on the 1979 Billboard Number One hit, My Sharona. It's My Menorah, released in December 2004 by the American Comedy Network.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Chanukah: The Countdown Continues! Left to Right


Yesterday we brought you the first of a series of special bonus Chanukah posts, as we count down the days until Hanukkah with Adam Sandler singing the Hanukkah Song that he first sang on Saturday Night Live.

Today, with 22 days left to go, our installment is a production called Pass the Candle, created last year by William Levin and Michelle Citrin, the team that also created Rosh Hashana Girl and 20 Things To Do With Matzah.

This video is a composite of about 50 short video clips submitted by people around the world, including some familiar and some very unusual locations.

The vocal is by singer and songwriter Michelle Citrin as she opens and closes the video by lighting a full set of candles. You'll probably have to watch a few times to pick up all of the locations and nuances. If you look carefully, you may even spot Esther Kustanowitz passing a candle from left to right in the Hollywood hills at one minute and 49 seconds into the song. But don't blink, or you'll miss it.

Woody Allen: The Standup Comedy Years


Last night I attended a lecture on Woody Allen's early years as a standup comedian. It was one of three lectures on Jewish comedians by Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan.

Woody Allen wasn't expected to show up, so it wasn't a surprise that he didn't. Because most of the work of Allen's standup years (1961-1968) is available only in audio on CDs, we didn't get to see any film clips, but Dauber played audio clips throughout the evening to illustrate the developmental phases of Allen's comedic persona.

One aspect of Allen's comic genius is his persistence at building a character that audiences can recognize and sympathize with. Drawing on his own Jewish family, he builds an image with stereotypical Jewish characteristics. His jokes, stressing his own weakness and neuroses, and those of his family, can appear to be intellectual and anti-intellectual at the same time.

Around 1965, Allen moved from standup comedy and nightclub acts to writing and directing for the stage and screen and acting in many of his movies. It's too bad that he hasn't returned to doing standup comedy. Many of the audio clips that we heard, although funny, (and the mostly older audience reacted with smiles and laughter to many of them) were replete with references to terms and personalities from the 1960's. It would be great fun to hear Woody apply his wit to the contemporary scene as well, but he seems to find satisfaction in personal performances these days in playing the jazz clarinet.


During the lecture we listened to an audio clip of one of his most famous routines, The Moose. I found a video of him delivering it on English television in 1965 and here it is, courtesy of YouTube. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A New Joke to Start Your Day: When Does Life Begin?

A priest, a minister and a rabbi are asked the question "When does life begin?"

The priest says: "The moment of conception".

The minister replies: "The moment of birth".

The rabbi thinks for a few seconds and replies: "The moment the kids are married and the mortgage has been paid off."

Hanukkah: The Countdown Begins! Adam Sandler Sings The Chanukah Song


With Chanukah beginning on Friday night, December 11, there are 23 days remaining until the start of the holiday. Also 23 shopping days because with internet access there is no day free from shopping.

Today Jewish Humor Central inaugurates our Hanukkah Countdown. Each day from now until the end of Hanukkah we will have a special daily Hanukkah post in addition to the regular daily post of a joke, video, or real event occurring in the Jewish world.

Be sure to check Jewish Humor Central daily from now through the last day of Chanukah, December 19 for your dose of fun and an extra special Hanukkah video, joke, event, or shopping tip.

By the way, we alternate spellings of the holiday as Chanukah and Hanukkah to maximize chances of these posts getting picked up by Google and the other search engines.

We start the countdown today with Adam Sandler singing his now classic Chanukah Song. Enjoy!

(A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY ON SOME COMPUTERS AND TABLETS.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Genesis Arrives in Comic Book Form (PG)

No, the PG does not stand for Please God. It stands for Parental Guidance, which is what the publisher, W. W. Norton, recommends for readers of The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Comic strip icon R. Crumb.

In meticulously drawn detail, the creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, and other 1960's comic classics successfully tackles the formal English text of the first book of the Bible and brings it to life in a surprisingly sympathetic and non-critical form.

This book is hard to put down as it draws you from one page to the next, pulling you deeper and deeper into the stories that have been told and retold for millennia. The difference is that this time, seeing each sentence depicted with images of real people forces a human connection between the reader and the characters who we thought we knew so well, but who always seemed distant and other-worldly.

The characters that Crumb draws are real, maybe too real. The women are zoftig and the men are hairy and grubby, probably a more accurate depiction than the people we imagined while reading the weekly portion of the Torah. After all, the events depicted predate Avon, Clinique, Gillette, and Aqua Velva.

The illustrator, a declared atheist, surprised me with his reverential treatment of all the Bible stories. In his introduction to the book and in the endnotes for the chapters, he uses the term B.C.E., not B.C. as is usual in non-Jewish writings. He also reveals that he studied the midrash on Bereishit to get perspectives on the stories that enabled him to make them come alive.

I was prepared to dislike this book, given Crumb's association with the hippie movement of the 1960's, but he deserves a lot of credit for bringing new life to the oldest book known. He even draws a unique face for each of the "begats", not an easy piece of work.

Though it took Crumb three years to produce this volume, the material he had to work with in Genesis included lots of interesting characters and lots of stories. I can't wait to see what he does to illustrate Vayikra (Leviticus.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Joke to Start Your Day: The Famous Writer

An American tourist in Tel Aviv was about to enter the impressive Mann Auditorium to take in a concert by the Israel Philharmonic. He was admiring the unique architecture, the sweeping lines of the entrance, and the modern decor throughout the building.

Finally he turned to his friend and asked if the building was named for Thomas Mann, the world-famous author and Nobel laureate.


No," his friend said, "it's named for Frederic Mann, from Philadelphia.

"Really? I've never heard of him. What did he write?

"A check."

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs

Does It Ain't Necessarily So, George Gershwin's song from Porgy and Bess, have its basis in the blessings before reading the Torah? Is his introduction to Swanee based on the melody sung while returning the Torah to the ark? That's what David Lehman suggests in his warm, humorous, nostalgic look at the period between 1914 and 1965 when most American popular music, now known as the American Songbook, was written by mostly Jewish songwriters and composers.

During that rich musical time, Irving Berlin, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser, and the Gershwin brothers were responsible for creating the music that America sang and played. These Jews were immigrants or their American-born children, and they used wit and romantic lyrics and melodies to express the American dream. Even Cole Porter, a millionaire Episcopalian from Indiana, told Richard Rodgers that he found the key to success by writing "Jewish tunes."

Lehman's book, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs was published last month by Nextbook press, and would make a nice gift for Chanukah, together with some CDs of the music that these talented songwriters produced.

Here's a short video with the author introducing his book.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

2000 Year Old Secrets Revealed by Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks

New York Times reporter Ari Karpel visited Carl Reiner's Beverly Hills home last month for an interview with the 87-year-old writer, producer, and director, and his guest, 83-year-old partner-in-humor Mel Brooks. The interview was held in anticipation of the release on November 24 of a remastered box set of The 2000-Year-Old Man, which will include three CDs and one DVD. The interview appears in today's New York Times, and you can read it here.

The pair, friends for almost 60 years after meeting on Sid Caesar's TV show, Your Show of Shows, are responsible for a long list of movies and TV shows. Brooks wrote, directed and starred in movies like High Anxiety, Blazing Saddles and Silent Movie, created the TV series Get Smart and turned two of his movies, The Producers and Young Frankenstein, into Broadway musicals. Reiner created The Dick Van Dyke Show, directed the movies Oh, God, The Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, and has published eight books.

The 2000-Year-Old-Man skit has been one of the classic examples of Jewish humor that has found its way into the mainstream of American humor. Here is a six minute clip from the original recording.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hassidic Screenplay Writer Wannabes Looking for Spielberg: Film Preview Parody or Real Short Comedy? Anyway, It's Funny.


Today we came across a funny video that we just had to share with you. We're not exactly sure of where this is heading, but it seems to be a preview of a movie that has not yet been completed, a movie-to-be that is looking for some funding and further development. In any event, the ten minute clip is well done, respectful, accurate in its use of Hebrew and Yiddish, and funny.

Titled Changing Hollywood, it depicts the adventures of two Williamsburg Hassidim, Shaya and Itche, who write a screenplay and travel to Hollywood to find Steven Spielberg so they can pitch the screenplay to him. Along the way, they encounter a variety of characters. Their interactions and the blending of the cultures of Williamsburg and Hollywood are what makes this production fun from start to finish. Be sure to watch for cameo appearances by Batman, Catwoman, and Jeremy Piven.

A little research revealed that one of the "Hassidim" is Los Angeles-based standup comic Mordechai (Modi) Rosenfeld and that the film was produced by Sleepless City Productions.

A SPECIAL NOTE FOR NEW EMAIL SUBSCRIBERS:  THE VIDEO IS NOT VIEWABLE DIRECTLY FROM THE EMAIL THAT YOU GET EACH DAY.  YOU MUST CLICK ON THE TITLE AT THE TOP OF THE EMAIL TO REACH THE JEWISH HUMOR CENTRAL WEBSITE, FROM WHICH YOU CLICK ON THE PLAY BUTTON IN THE VIDEO IMAGE TO START THE VIDEO.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Four Seasons Lodge: "Like a Funny Visit to Your Grandparents, Multiplied by a Dozen"

That's what New York Magazine had to say about this new film which opened yesterday at New York's IFC Center.

In an inspiring and startling documentary, a remarkable tribe whose members are fast disappearing come together for one final summer in the Catskill Mountains, where they cook, gamble, fight, flirt, and dance - they’re Holocaust Survivors with a captivating joie de vivre and a bracing sense of humor.

From the darkness of Europe's death camps to the lush mountains of New York's Catskills, FOUR SEASONS LODGE portrays the final season for a community of Holocaust survivors who come together each summer to celebrate their lives. Directed by New York Times journalist Andrew Jacobs, beautifully photographed by a team of cinematographers including Albert Maysles (GIMME SHELTER, GREY GARDENS), FOUR SEASONS LODGE is a counterintuitive film about the Holocaust, one that captures the Lodgers' intoxicating passion for living, in bracing contrast to lives harrowed by loss. The documentary is about tightly bonded friendships and the quest for inner peace in spite of haunting memories, as experienced through compelling people and the richness of their intensely close lives. As one of them tells us, "We live with the past, and hope for a good future. When you compare the good times to the bad, we came out winners."


In 2005, Andrew Jacobs wrote about this Shangri-La as part of a series on Catskills summer life. Astounded by their spirit, energy and wit, he wanted to do justice to these remarkable people, their raucous poker games, intoxicating laughter and dancing that goes on till dawn.
FOUR SEASONS LODGE, moving and surprisingly funny, is the last chance to visit a vanishing world and discover the men and women who trumped Hitler's Final Solution.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Queen, the Rabbi, and the Handshake

London - Rabbi Aryeh Sofrin was anxious just like the scores of other people scheduled to meet the Queen of England, but for a different reason: what would he do if she reached out for a handshake?

The Chabad shaliach to Ilford, Essex, located northeast of London, was about to be dubbed Member of the British Empire for 18 years of work as head of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center that serves Jews, Christians and Muslims and even has an imam on the staff.

He had been briefed on proper protocol, but did not know what to do about the handshake that ends every audience with the Queen. And on this particular day, she had chosen not to wear her gloves

But she must have been briefed about him, concludes Rabbi Sofrin, because at the end of their short meeting the 83-year-old Queen Elizabeth II remembered to avoid the customary handshake.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Shavua Tov, Rabbi...and All That Jazz!

No, it's not a shofar. It's a saxophone.

That's what newly installed Senior Rabbi Greg Wall was playing at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue after Shabbat ended on October 31.

Rabbi Wall, a well-known jazz musician and a leading figure on the avant-garde music scene, received his rabbinic ordination in 2006 from two Orthodox rabbis in Jerusalem. He traveled a long and winding road from observance to non-observance, with a few encounters with Chassidim in the world of music leading him back to observance, study, and ordination. As Senior Rabbi of the Modern Orthodox, OU-affiliated shul in Manhattan's East Village, Rabbi Wall has found a way to combine his two greatest passions, music and religious study.

As reported by the New York Times,
Rabbi Wall brought his manic energy to what amounted to the convergence of a decadeslong career of artistic projects on the downtown avant-garde scene. The concert included performances by Unity Orchestra, a seven-piece ensemble that played electronically influenced world music; Klezmerfest, an effusive Klezmer band featuring accordion, trumpet and clarinet; and an elegiac saxophone-guitar duet of “Sunrise, Sunset,” on which Rabbi Wall collaborated with Gary Lucas, who played with Captain Beefheart and also leads the psychedelic rock band Gods and Monsters. Rabbi Wall is also a leading figure on the avant-garde Jewish music scene. The week before, he was a featured soloist at Carnegie Hall with the famed Israeli cantor Dudu Fisher. He had also rehearsed original compositions with the choreographer Carolyn Dorfman and her 10-piece repertory company, and still managed to get to daily prayer services and prepare a sermon on Abraham’s journey to Israel. The morning after his installation, he and Mr. Fisher took a train to Boston for a Sunday night performance at Symphony Hall.
(Photo by Aidan Levy for The New York Times)

Monday, November 9, 2009

For Netanya Chassidim, Love and Marriage Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage















(Photos by Moshe Goldstein)

More than 10,000 Chassidim gathered in Netanya last week to celebrate the wedding of Meir Meshulam, son of Sanz Grand Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Halberstam, the Klausenberger Rebbe, to his cousin, Bracha Unsdorfer.

According to the report in Israel's ynetnews.com,
In the past few days, massive tents were erected for the guests. Among the many guests who attended the wedding were grand rabbis from other large Hasidic sects, such as Ger and Belz. The groom and his father, the grand rabbi, were escorted into the ceremony on an ornate horse-drawn carriage accompanied by Hasidic notables, who rode in on horses.

Before the meal, 1,800 chickens, 800 kg (1,764 lbs) of beef, 1.2 tons of carp, and a 30 meter (30 yard) challah were prepared – for the men only. Kitchen manager and Sanz Yeshiva chef, Aharon Levinstein, reported that he worked for a month straight preparing some 19,000 dishes for the wedding and the surrounding celebrations. He said he hasn't been home since last Shabbat.

Lots of eating took place in the women's tent as well. The womens' dishes were supplied by an external catering company from Bnei Barak.

The Sanz-Klausenberg Hasidic dynasty, considered one of the largest today in Israel, was started in Europe by the author of "Divrei Chaim," Grand Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz. The dynasty in Israel numbers a few thousand households, most of which are located in Netanya's Kiryat Hahasidut.

We didn't get an invitation to the wedding, and we assume neither did you, so here's a rare opportunity to join in the biggest simcha of the year and wish a big mazal tov to the bride and groom, shown in the video below as they share their first dance. L'chayim!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sholom Aleichem Comes Alive at National Yiddish Theater

The world of Sholom Aleichem comes alive this week at the National Yiddish Theater - Folksbiene in New York City, in a new show, Laughter Through Tears, a one-man show with Theodore Bikel playing the famous Yiddish writer. The show opens today and runs through December 13.

Sholom Aleichem’s stories introduced the world to Tevye the Milkman and inspired the landmark Broadway musical, “Fiddler on the Roof.” Theo Bikel played Tevye more than 2,000 performances onstage… Now as playwright and star, Bikel brings back to life one of literature’s most beloved authors and a bevy of the unforgettable characters he created.

He tells their stories… he sings their songs… he magically melds times long gone with matters that tug at our heartstrings even today. Singing in English and Yiddish, Bikel captivates his audience with an enchanting trove of music from Eastern Europe played live onstage by world-renowned musical director Tamara Brooks and acclaimed accordionist Merima Kljuco.

Sholom Aleichem’s last will and testament implored that we remember him only with laughter… and laugh you will as Theo Bikel’s heartfelt creation touchingly fulfills that wish.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Golden Classic Film: The Frisco Kid

We were amazed to find that not everyone has seen The Frisco Kid, probably the funniest Jewish film ever made. This gem, starring Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford, first appeared in 1979, but since DVDs weren't invented yet, it didn't get released as a DVD until a few years ago.

Now Amazon.com is selling it for only $5.79, and every collector of Jewish humor should get a copy for watching again and again.

Here's a summary of the plot from Amazon.com:

It's 1850 and new rabbi Avram Belinski sets out from Philadelphia toward San Francisco. Cowpoke bandit Tom Lillard hasn't seen a rabbi before. But he knows when one needs a heap of help. And getting this tenderfoot to Frisco in one piece will cause a heap of trouble - with the law, Native Americans and a bunch of killers. Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford are one feisty team as rabbi and rescuer in this rough-'n'-ready romp that rivals Wilder's earlier Blazing Saddles in Wild West hilarity. Director Robert Aldrich is a seasoned hand at blending roughhouse and laughter, as fans of his earlier The Dirty Dozen and The Longest Yard will attest. With a full posse of screen talents, The Frisco Kid rides tall in the comedy saddle.

In the following clip, Rabbi Belinsky (Wilder) encounters a group of Amish men who he thinks are fellow Chassidim. One oddity of this clip is that it's dubbed in Italian. We couldn't find an undubbed clip on YouTube. But you get the idea.


Thursday, November 5, 2009

A Joke to Start Your Day: The Jewish Talking Dog

Sol visits Dr. Bloom, the veterinarian, and says,
"My dog has a problem."

Dr. Bloom says, "So, tell me about the dog and the problem."

"It's a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk,"
says Sol...

"He can talk?" the doubting doctor asks.

"Watch this!" Sol points to the dog and commands:
"Irving , Fetch!"

Irving , the dog, begins to walk toward the door, then
turns around and says, "So why are you talking to me
like that? You always order me around like I'm nothing.
And you only call me when you want something. And
then you make me sleep on the floor, with my arthritis..
You give me this farkakteh food with all the salt and fat,
and you tell me it's a special diet. It tastes like dreck!
YOU should eat it yourself! And do you ever take me
for a decent walk? NO, it's out of the house, a short pish,
and right back home. Maybe if I could stretch out a little,
the sciatica wouldn't kill me so much! I should roll over
and play dead for real for all you care!"

Dr. Bloom is amazed, "This is remarkable! So, what's
the problem?"

Sol says, "He has a hearing problem! I said 'Fetch,'
not 'Kvetch!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hava Nagila, Texas Style


Christians United for Israel (CUFI) has held 95 Nights to Honor Israel in cities all across America since February 2006. The evenings attract thousands of Christians who rally to support Israel and contribute millions of dollars every year to Israeli charities.

Israeli music and dancing are a big part of these evenings, and last October one of the biggest rallies was held in San Antonio, Texas, home of Pastor John Hagee's Cornerstone Church.

The Cornerstone Orchestra and Choir performed a very energetic Texas style version of Hava Nagila and medleys of popular Israeli songs. Here is a Hava Nagila that's unlike any you've heard. Wanna get pumped up and start your day on a bright and sunny note? Just click below and enjoy!