Archive » March 29, 2007
By Steven Libowitz
Stay Close to Jew
It would be natural to think of “JEWMONGOUS” – the Jewish-themed comedy song variety show from Sean Altman that arrives at SOhO on April Fool’s Day – as a one-note, one-off from one more struggling comic. But a quick check of Altman’s résumé reveals there’s substance behind the punnery.
The singer-songwriter was one of the founding members of Rockapella, the five-man a cappella musical group formed by Brown University alumni who appeared at the end of every episode of the “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” PBS-TV game show (Altman wrote the theme song) and contributed a series of Folgers Coffee commercials (a post-Altman version of the group also played Sings Like Hell six years ago). Altman later recorded several solo albums before creating “What I Like About Jew,” a comedy act that was featured on NPR's “Fresh Air With Terry Gross,” and is currently being fashioned into an off-Broadway musical.
The new show features numbers such as “What the Hell is Simchas Torah?” which delves into the little-known Jewish holiday, and “They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat),” Altman’s anachronistic and convoluted retelling of the story of Passover, which starts less than 24 hours after his show ends.
So don’t plotz. It’s a safe bet Altman will be avoiding the schmaltz making it worth your while to schlep to SOhO. But perhaps you may want to first brush up on “The Joy of Yiddish.”
Q. How did “JEWMONGOUS” come about?
A. I was looking for something new. As a lark, I started writing some Jewish-themed comedy songs and before I knew it had turned into “What I like About Jew.”
So what keeps this from being a novelty act?
It is a novelty act. And I’m very comfortable with that. Let’s face it, if you saw Sean Altman was coming to town, you wouldn’t be on the phone talking to me…. But being funny is as big a part of my personality and so is being Jewish. Even though I’m not religious, I’ve always longed for something that would make me feel closer to my Jewish-ness. Now, by accident, I’ve become part of the Jewish hipster comedy/music movement, and I’m quite proud about that. It alleviates my guilt for not being more observant, or rather, not observant at all. Instead of going to (temple) I write filthy, Jewish-themed comedy songs.
The Jewish hipster comedy movement? Say what?
(Laughs) I had never heard of it either until I was part of it. It’s a movement of brash, proud Jewish humor typified by people like Sacha Baron Cohen and Sarah Silverman that has a subversive element, unlike the earlier generation of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks, who were more apologetic. They portrayed Jews as timid and wimpy, who coveted all the shiksas and are embarrassed by their own Jewish-ness. I was a fan of Allen Sherman – but that’s everything I’m trying to avoid. It was cute but it’s not at all subversive.
I do this punk anthem called “Jews for Jesus” which talks about my hatred and disdain for them. And there’s my Irish drinking song, “Christian Baby Blood,” which makes a mockery of the “blood libel” that has been used to persecute Jews through the ages, that myth that Jews drink the blood of gentile babies. Those earlier comics would have been worried about offending the goyim, but I don’t care so much about that. I just want to make my own people laugh. That being said, twenty percent of the audience at my shows aren’t Jewish. And they’re very welcome. I promise I’ll only pick on them a little bit.
(“JEWMONGOUS” plays at SOhO on Sunday, April 1 at 8 pm. Tickets are $20 or $18 with dinner. For more info call 962-7776 or visit www.sohosb.com.)
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