Comedy Isn’t Kosher, But It Can Be Funny

May 20, 2014 | , , ,

A surprising number of people have a professional interest in something they call “kosher comedy.” Now, there’s something compelling about the idea of a God-fearing stand-up, even more so than a pious painter, novelist, filmmaker, or musician. Notwithstanding the plot of Chaim Potok’s My Name Is Asher Lev, you can always paint mountains or abstractions and not encounter any serious second-commandment objections. You can narrate, on the page or on screen, the gender-segregated lives of good people and still pass religious muster. You can sing or even rap about your faith in Hashem, and it doesn’t sound absurd—or, at least, not inevitably so. But comedy is fundamentally irreverent, isn’t it? How can one square that with religion?

The answer, for the most effective of contemporary Orthodox comedians, is that you simply don’t. (more…)

Our Naked Desire for ‘Truth’

May 2, 2014 | , ,

For the past decade or more, American literary critics have been either celebrating a “memoir boom” or wringing their hands about it. Some said the boom was just a marketing campaign, and others wrote it off years ago. But surely the genre’s moment can’t be totally over if the most zeitgeisty character of our day, Hannah Horvath of HBO’s “Girls,” aspires to publish not novels or film scripts, but personal essays.

Life-writing is, of course, nothing new for Jews. (more…)

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…)

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…)

Generous Mentor, Worthy Adversary

February 12, 2009 | , , ,

Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon
Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse

Edited by Justin Daniel Cammy, Dara Horn, Alyssa Quint and Rachel Rubinstein
Harvard University Press, 750 pages, $75.

In September 1976, Commentary printed the letters of three novelists who had taken umbrage at appraisals of their work, in a previous issue, by a relatively unknown Yiddish professor named Ruth Wisse. Cynthia Ozick, the most fervent of the respondents, judged Wisse guilty of a “fundamental (and, for a good reader, unforgivable) critical error”: confusing literature with sociology.

This old contretemps bears recalling less for its substance — authors and critics have bickered about the relationship between fiction and life for centuries — than for what it reveals about Wisse’s personality. (more…)