Tag Archives: comedy

Andy Samberg’s Semitic Appeal

by Amanda Walgrove

Andy Samberg is one of three geeky brains behind the comedy troupe, The Lonely Island, whose sophomore album, Turtleneck and Chain, was released last month. Along with Akiva Shaffer and Jorma Taccone, the trio is responsible for the hilarious Digital Shorts that interrupt the live performances of SNL. Some have even argued that the videos are the only remaining aspect of the thirty-six year old sketch comedy show still worthy of watching.

Since Samberg emerged on the scene in 2005, his curly hair and prominent nose have made him a Semitic sex symbol for tweens, twentysomethings, and possibly Cougars (Cameron Diaz’s SNL skit said it, not me.) Born David Andrew Samberg, the 32-year-old grew up in a Jewish household and his maternal grandfather, Alfred J. Marrow, served as the executive chair of the American Jewish Congress. Add to that his most charming quality, the one by which he makes a living—his sense of humor—and he’s quite the kugel-eating catch.

In an interview with MSNBC, Samberg noted that he was inspired by funny Jewish forerunners such as Adam Sandler, with his 1993 debut album They’re All Gonna Laugh At You!, along with Mel Brooks and the Marx Brothers. Back in 2008, Samberg told schmooze that he was saturated with Jewish comedy growing up and now, since he considers it family comedy, he tries not to let it inform his own routines: “I’m never laughing when the punch line is something like, ‘Oh, just a couple of Jews!’ To clarify, there’s Jewish comedy and there’s Jewish comedy. If it’s done the right way—it’s funny not just because it’s Jewish, but because it’s really funny—that’s great.”

Executive Producer, Lorne Michaels’ ability to see something valuable in Samberg’s talents prompted him to hire the young stand-up comedian as a cast member, while bringing Shaffer and Taccone onto the writing team. The digital shorts, which the boys produced as side projects without expecting a profit, quickly went viral, and SNL began to reach its young, digitally savvy audience in new ways.

Beginning with their 2009 debut, “Incredibad,” The Lonely Island churned out faux music videos, glorifying the awkwardness of sexual inadequacies and inabilities to impress females. Chock full of parody and self-deprecation, the comedic styling of Samberg and team tug strongly at the Jewish roots of comedy. Their ability to take something conventional, question it and stand it on its head through a satirical filter is the basis of aggadic midrash. Bring musical interludes into the mix and you’ve got yourself a full service.

Boosting their commercial value, the off-beat videos have developed a reputation of being star-studded, boasting surprise guests such as Justin Timberlake, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga, Michael Bolton, Rihanna, Susan Sarandon, and T-Pain, who are equally willing to make fools of themselves. Natalie Portman famously satirized her own goody two shoes, Jewish girl image in her video, “Natalie’s Rap,” where her SNL alter-ego dropped a few beats about engaging in criminal activities while at Harvard.

The Lonely Island has parodied rappers, hip-hop songs, Rastafarians, 80’s R&B, “Creeps” (aka John Waters), and E.T. on their debut album cover. While the structure of their creations pays homage to Samberg’s comedic ancestry, the young pop culture sensation has yet to take a direct comedic crack at the Jews—not even a klezmer parody. He’s not looking to overdo the stereotypical Jewish punch line.   Then again, Sandler debuted his acclaimed Hanukkah song on SNL; we trust that Samberg can find his own clever spin, too.

Yoo-hoo, Ms. Rivers!

by Amanda Walgrove

As she’d be the first to joke about, Joan Rivers has tough skin. While her 2010 documentary, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, received mostly shining reviews, the film was snubbed during award season because it wasn’t “significantly relevant.” Rivers told the New York Times, “I thought it was about age, I thought it was about perseverance, I thought it was about courage, about getting up again, about women’s place in the world, and I think they’re wrong. I’m angry. Next time I’ll carry around a baby.” Since the ‘50’s when Rivers emerged in show business, she has found numerous ways to reapply herself and remain relevant. Even though the 77 year-old broad will not be added to this year’s list of Jewish Oscar nominees, retirement has never been a discussion.

The powerhouse comedienne has proven to be a resilient businesswoman in the entertainment industry. Bringing in the new year, she can be seen promoting her jewelry line on QVC, debunking wardrobe mishaps on Fashion Police, and touring her stand-up comedy routine, all while providing her own self-deprecating commentary on Twitter. Most recently, Rivers added a new project to her list: The WeTV reality show, Joan and Melissa Rivers: Joan Knows Best follows Joan as she uproots herself from her New York apartment and moves into Melissa’s Malibu home. Joan comes to stay with the intention of creating new memories with her daughter and grandson, but it doesn’t take long for her inner-overbearing Jewish mother and grandmother to emerge.

While the family dynamic and eclectic cast of characters is designed as a recipe for comedy, Joan Rivers will always be a one-woman show. Her strained relationship with Melissa provides ample material for churning out one-liners, packed with shock-value. Joan jests: “Melissa knows just how to push my buttons…which is great, until I’m on a respirator.” But Rivers has no problem meddling in her daughter’s affairs. As matriarch, she actually feels a certain entitlement to such interference. Bothered by the fact that Melissa hired the gorgeous, Swedish Dominica as a nanny for nine-year-old Cooper, Joan tries to take charge. After Melissa stands up for Dominica, Joan slyly dubs the well-endowed nanny, the “Hunchfront of Notre Dame” and personally takes her shopping for some more appropriate work attire.

A veteran in the business, Rivers has the impressive ability of keeping her comedy fresh and contemporary, but the familial conflict at the heart of Joan Knows Best is built on a strong history of Jewish humor. Whether her version of the Jewish mother is based on shtick or sincerity, Joan is indebted to her female forerunners, most notably Gertrude Berg.

Berg’s 1950’s sitcom, The Goldbergs, marked the small screen debut of the archetypal Jewish mother. Just as much of a force as Rivers, Berg was her own screenwriter and producer. She created a clothing line for housewives, published a cookbook, and wrote an advice column called Mama Talks. Like Rivers, Berg’s life produced a documentary, however, hers was posthumous. Aviva Kemper’s 2009 film Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, profiled the career and personal life of Gertrude Berg.

While the yiddishe mamme character of Molly Goldberg was an exaggerated caricature of Berg, many viewers related to the middle-class TV family. In The Paley Center’s film, Remembering Gertrude Berg, Gary David Goldberg recalled the verisimilitude of the show, stating that it was like watching a documentary. He then added, “Years later I remember watching Father Knows Best and thinking, ‘Who are these people? Nobody’s screaming!’” Here in 2011, with reality shows pervading television programming, viewers have their choice of nagging families to watch. New to the roster, Joan Knows Best serves up a combination of the formatted sitcom with plenty of impromptu screams.

Family members often accused the fictional Molly Goldberg of meddling in other people’s affairs, to which she replied, “Not mixing is not fixing.” After moving in, Joan decided to surprise Melissa by redecorating her entire living room against her will. Even though Joan was only trying to make her daughter happy, Melissa responded, “Next time you want to make me happy, let me know.” Joan chose not to acknowledge the few boundaries that existed between mother and daughter.

For a dramatic mother-daughter duo that is used to being in the spotlight, it must be easy to confuse shtick with reality. In the premiere episode, Joan gloats about her relationship with Melissa: “We’re very close. I always say we’re almost like mother and daughter.” Through the comedic portrayal of a Jewish mother, the fine line between the woman and the artist was also drawn thin while producing a sitcom. Berg once said that she played Molly for so many hours in the day that she didn’t know where Gertrude ended and Molly began.

Even though sitcoms are slowly being phased out by reality television, the universal humor of family conflict is alive and well. And so is the Jewish mother. As Joan said while redecorating Melissa’s living room: “Out with the old and in with the new. Except for me.”

The Israeli Daily Show

By Daniel Hoffman

The controversial educational video from the Israeli Ministry of Education opens with a kindergarten teacher asking tough questions “to prepare the children for the complicated life in Israel.”  Shockingly, the tots reply straight off with traditional right-wing arguments. When the teacher wonders what Israel needs to have peace, the answers come from all sides. “There’s no one to talk on the other side!” one cutie cries. “I got to be a leftist but I became disillusioned,” another admits. “It’s proven, removing settlements doesn’t bring peace,” a third says. The video goes on, parodying many clichés of Likud rhetoric, such as the world’s hostility toward Israel and the country’s famous “PR problem.”

The hilarious skit is an excerpt from the comedy show Eretz Nehederet (Wonderful Country), broadcast on Channel 2 since 2003. One of the most influential TV programs in Israel, it gathers one million viewers every Friday night, more than 50 percent of the television audience. Like The Daily Show or Saturday Night Live, the show is a humorous reflection on Israeli society in its most ludicrous and laughable aspects. No burning issue (the conflict, the religious tensions, the political mess) and no side (left, right, Israelis, Palestinians) are spared by the writers’ caustic pens. In a country where anguish and tensions are ubiquitous, the black humour and satire Eretz Nehederet brings is a weekly relief for many.

Many clips from Eretz Nehederet have gone viral on the ‘net. A few years ago,  the show made fun of French tourists, depicting them invading Israeli beaches during summer and creating a buzz among the French Jewish community. Another famous clip is this spoof on the dancing Na Nachs, and this brilliant video from last November, watched 360,000 times on YouTube, parodies the failed peace negotiations, using characters from the iPhone app Angry Birds to “embody” Israelis and Palestinians.

Like its American counterparts, the show mocks the grotesque and the absurd in political discourses, helping citizens better understand the thorny issues and have a somewhat more sane, more relaxed debate about them. They are not “just for fun” programs; they fulfill an important social role, greasing the wheels of political debate.

Eretz Nehederet also highlights a paradox of diaspora Jewry. Connoisseurs of Israeli culture and society know that there is no other place in the world where the criticism against politicians, the army and religion is so virulent as in Israel. Yet it is in the diaspora that Jews find it difficult to distance themselves from these topics. Even if they rarely agree with everything Israel does or says, many diaspora Jews think that they have to defend it to restore the balance (See Moment‘s “From the Editor” on the difficulties of discussing Israel within the American Jewish community).

Israelis don’t feel this type of obligation at all. On the contrary, they use
self-deprecating humor and self-criticism as a weapon. A weapon that
helps them preserve and strengthen their most important asset:
democratic vitality. It is a “wonderful country,” indeed.