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…)

The True Name of Gary

May 27, 2006 | , ,

Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan is the hilarious tale of Misha Vainberg, the obese son of one of Russia’s wealthiest men, and his exploits in a decrepit post-Soviet republic. Before being blown up by a landmine himself, Misha’s Beloved Papa, a passionate Zionist and decidedly non-traditional entrepreneur, murdered an American businessman, and so the American government is refusing to readmit Misha, even though he is a proud alumnus of Accidental College, a Midwestern temple of the liberal arts. Stranded in St. Petersburg and pining for his Bronx-raised girlfriend, Rouenna, and his Upper West Side analyst, Dr. Levine, Misha zips down to Absurdistan in the hopes of finagling a passport that will get him back to Manhattan. A comedy of errors ensues, of course, and the book is not only laugh-out-loud funny on nearly every page, but also a poignant exploration of our increasingly globalized, and increasingly absurd, world.

A couple of days after his punim graced the cover of the New York Times Book Review, and just before he set off on a coast-to-coast publicity tour, I sat down with the author to discuss the new book, his imaginary friends, and—what else?—the future of the Jews. Appropriately enough, we met for a drink in Shteyngart’s neighborhood, Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in a dim hipster bar surrounded by Asian grocery and hardware stores, and catercorner from the grand old Forward Building, now being transformed into high-rent condos but still bearing the busts of Marx and Engels on its façade. Recent immigrants, a healthy dollop of Jewish history, Communist icons, more than a whiff of the East in the air: this is the territory Shteyngart has staked out as his own, and it is as much the homeland of his globe-trotting fiction as Newark is for Philip Roth’s. The following are some excerpts from our conversation. (more…)

The Sacred and the Profane

December 9, 2005 | , ,

Like her prize-winning debut novel, “In the Image” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2002), Dara Horn’s remarkable second work spans generations, continents and languages. “The World To Come,” which will be published in January 2006 by W.W. Norton, centers on former child prodigy Ben Ziskind and his twin sister, Sara, who live, love, mourn and steal art in contemporary New York. Tracing the mysterious provenance of a Marc Chagall painting, the book also relates the real-life tragedy of the Yiddish writer known as Der Nister (the Hidden One), who was murdered by the Soviets before completing his masterpiece. Horn recently discussed the new book with Josh Lambert, who reviews contemporary Jewish fiction for such publications as the Forward, the San Francisco Chronicle and Canada’s Globe and Mail, among others. (more…)