Latest Posts

Brent Weinbach Is Killing Me

January 9, 2013 | , , ,

In the first 15 minutes of his third album, Mostly Live, released last year, comedian Brent Weinbach briefly speaks in the accents of the following people: a teenage Latino video blogger; a reggae hype-man; a Frenchman singing “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio; “a Vietnamese jazz vocalist who works as a waiter during the day”; Karen, “a young woman … wearing a beige blouse and a brown knit skirt”; and James, “a professional black male living in San Francisco.”

Weinbach does these voices sure-footedly, if always not pitch-perfectly, but he isn’t exactly an impressionist. Neither is he the kind of voice-character performer, like Nick Kroll, for whom the stand-up stage seems like a place to try out bits while waiting for a sketch show to begin filming. What Weinbach is, exactly, can be a little difficult to describe in prose. It helps, maybe, to say that in 2007 he won the Andy Kaufman Award. Or just to say that he’s one of the most formally inventive stand-up comedians currently practicing. (more…)

James Deen vs. the Nebbishes

October 21, 2012 | , , ,

One of the constants, to date, in the media coverage of the 26-year-old pornographic performer James Deen — a wave burgeoning as the release of The Canyons, in which he’ll star opposite Lindsay Lohan, approaches — has been obligatory passing mention of Deen’s Jewishness.

Stories about Deen, whether in GQ or on ABC’s Nightline, have focused on his appeal to young women and teenagers, because of his atypical, un-porny physical features. He’s thin, unmuscled, baby-faced, cute. Noting that he’s Jewish helps to encapsulate all of this, because male Jewishness in our pop culture functions as the yin to machismo’s yang. That’s what Gaby Dunn, whose blog profile of Deen in June 2011 set the tone for all the ensuing pieces, meant when she wrote that “he was almost like a guy that you would just hang out with at Hebrew school.”  (more…)

Tel Aviv’s Comics Knock-Out

June 18, 2012 | , ,

Paris is generally a great city for readers of comic strips, or what the French call bandes dessinées. But this spring, the City of Lights truly outdid itself, offering major museum retrospectives of the careers of two great American cartoonists: Art Spiegelman, at the Centre Georges Pompidou; and R. Crumb, at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. (more…)

Non-Jews Telling Jokes

June 13, 2012 | ,

If old Jews telling jokes is a timeless phenomenon, it’s also one that, at the moment, offers very little insight into either the current state of comedy or the place of Jews within that field. This wasn’t always the case, of course: Jokes told by Jews in the 1940s, in Europe and America, were anything but trivial, and the puns swapped by assimilated fin de siècle Viennese wags assisted Freud in developing his theory of wit.

But I hereby submit that if you want to understand what today’s comedy reveals about Jews, the people to consult aren’t the ones retailing in-jokes to heymishe audiences, but rather our masterful goyishe comedians and the jokes they tell about us. (more…)

Tropical Storm

November 11, 2011 | , , ,

This fall marks the half-century anniversary of the first Grove Press paperback of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, the edition through which that notorious dirty book, first published in Paris in 1934, finally reached hundreds of thousands of American readers rather than handfuls. (more…)

Bride Shipped from Shtetl to South Dakota

September 29, 2011 | , ,

The Little Bride
Anna Solomon
Riverhead Books, 320 pages, $15

In her classic 1912 memoir of immigration to the United States, “The Promised Land,” Mary Antin notes: “A long girlhood, a free choice in marriage, and a brimful of womanhood are the precious rights of an American woman.” Tell that to Minna Losk. (more…)

Yiddish Icons, Portrayed in Cartoons

Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land
Edited by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle
Abrams ComicArts, 240 pages, $29.95

People don’t admire paintings they haven’t seen, or dance to music they haven’t heard, but they do all sorts of crazy things with languages they don’t speak. This is what Rutgers University scholar Jeffrey Shandler described in his 2005 book, “Adventures in Yiddishland” (University of California Press), as “postvernacular culture”: Just because people don’t know a language doesn’t mean they won’t hold intense beliefs about it, long for it or revile it, and, in ways both brilliant and bizarre, put it to use.

“Yiddishkeit,” an anthology co-edited by comics great Harvey Pekar, who passed away last year, and leftist scholar and non-Jewish Yiddish-speaker Paul Buhle, does not attempt to teach its reader a selection of Yiddish words, unlike Michael Wex’s and Leo Rosten’s best-sellers. And it is not a history or an analysis of Yiddish culture, nor a collection of Yiddish literature translated into English. It’s weirder, more puzzling and more difficult to describe: We might call it a postvernacular tour de force. (more…)