This article appeared in the Dec. 14, 2006 Jewish Advocate.http://www.thejewishadvocate.com/this_weeks_issue/entertainment/?content_id=2274
Turning up the schlock
By Susie Davidson
Movie, Chinese, or Sean Altman and Rob Tannenbaum? Over the past few years, What I Like About Jew has been a popular option for those with Xmas time-to-fill. This season, they can X out two nights, as the bawdy boys of genre-defying holiday entertainment individually showcase all-new revues.
"Good for the Jews," a new Chanukah/Hanukkah holiday tour presented by New York-based popsters Tannenbaum and David Fagan, hits the Paradise Lounge on Sat., Dec. 16 amid a 7-show tour that includes stops in Chicago and Milwaukee. Rock journalist Tannenbaum, who is the music editor of Blender Magazine and a regular contributor to The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Details and other media, shared the stage with Altman in WILAJ, created to promote their hit "Hanukah with Monica." The show, which left audiences alternately screaming with laughter and running for the door, sold out Passim in 2003 and double shows at Ryles over the past two years. Their first CD, last year's “Unorthodox,” was featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air With Terry Gross," quickly made Amazon.com's Top 50, and is being produced as an off-Broadway musical.
The duo, who originally met at Brown University, brought equally cockamamie side acts into the show. Past guests have included Moby, Matisyahu, Andy Shernoff of the NYC punk band The Dictators, and locals Roger Greenawalt of the 80’s Boston band The Dark, Somerville resident Joe Kowan, and Jedediah Parish.
This continues with Tannenbaum's "Good For the Jews". "New name, same snarky attitude," says Tannenbaum, who was featured along with Jon Stewart and Sara Silverman in Time Out New York's cover piece on "The New Super Jews," and in the New York Times story on "the Jewish hipster moment." He affirms a kinship with Heeb magazine, Silverman, Stewart, or Jonathan Kesselman (who wrote and directed the movie "The Hebrew Hammer"). "It's a fully-assimilated generation that doesn't identify with the archetype of Jews as nebishes and losers," he explained. "Our response is to make fun of those images and ideas, to take the sting out of them." While African-Americans, women, Asian-Americans and gays have been doing this for years, Tannenbaum says that for some reason, Jews have been much slower to follow. "When I wrote '(It's Good To Be) A Jew At Christmas' in 1998, there weren't many other people doing this. There was no Heeb magazine. Back then, Matisyahu was eating baconburgers." Today, he says it's easier to find Jews who confront rote perception. The Good For The Jews shows in NYC will include performances by Comedy Central star Todd Barry and music and TV star Lisa Loeb.
Tannenbaum's song "(It's Good To Be) A Jew At Christmas" appeared on "Now That Sounds Kosher," a 2005 Shout Factory CD with songs by Mel Brooks, Tom Lehrer, and Kinky Friedman. He appears frequently on VH1 and wrote and starred in the VH1 special "So Jewtastic."
A Stamford, Conn. native, Tannenbaum's roots were in the Lower East Side. "Two of my grandparents lived there for $15 a month," he said. "They worked very hard so they could assimilate and move their families out to the suburbs. And then, of course, I moved back to the Lower East Side as soon as I could, although my rent was more like $3,000 a month, for the same size apartment," he said.
"The new band has an irreverent and unorthodox approach to celebrating Jewish culture, traditions and humor," he continued. In addition to some What I Like About Jew songs, there are new jokes and songs, including one about Mel Gibson, and another wanton tune called "Shiksas Are For Practice." The grueling winter tour is important, as December can be a difficult month for Jews, he says. "We're surrounded by Christmas music and tinsel and TV specials, and it's easy to feel outnumbered. This is a chance to feel like the majority, for an hour or so." And to celebrate Chanukah. "I think of Chanukah as the Jewish Kwanzaa," he says. "After all, it began as a minor Jewish holiday, and grew mostly in competition with Christmas."
So why does he write songs and tell jokes? "Because it was easier than going to law school. And in law school, no one applauds, pinches your cheek, and offers to fix you up with their daughter," he responds.
David Fagan, of the New York-based The Rosenbergs, has toured with No Doubt, The Strokes, and Duran Duran.
Although his songs have been heard on Dawson's Creek, Party Of Five, One Tree Hill and Queer Eye, among other TV shows, Tannenbaum says that Fagan "finally made his parents proud when he lectured on the business of music at Harvard Law School." Local comedian Dan Hirshon, who won the 2006 Boston Carnival Cruise Challenge, performed in the Boston Comedy Festival and was a finalist in the Las Vegas Comedy Festival, will open the evening. "All faiths are welcome!" stressed Tannenbaum.
If you have recovered by Dec. 27, you can then catch Altman's new JEWMONGOUS! revue at Club Passim at the tail end of their 8-city tour. JEWMONGOUS!, which Altman calls his colicky, uncircumcised brain child, is a Jewish-themed, comedy-song variety show.
Altman proudly asserts his checkered past, which dates back to his stated expulsion from nursery school. "My Dad is a great joke teller," he recalled, "and the jokes I learned outside the synagogue as a teenager have greatly influenced my sense of humor." He did the requisite Catskills busboy stint, founded the a capella group Rockapella, which starred in the TV series "Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?," sings with Kol Zimra Jewish A cappella and Voices For Israel, and has released three critically acclaimed solo CDs, one with the GrooveBarbers (the group currently stars in a TV commercial for Astelin Nasal Spray), and WILAJ's "Unorthodox." Altman has also produced CDs for the vocal group Minimum Wage and for Kol Zimra, and has written songs for numerous TV shows and two off-Broadway shows.
"I would get bored writing in any one style, lyrically or musically," he said. "I love writing and singing angst-ridden and bittersweet pop songs that make people cry, and I equally enjoy writing and singing provocative, sometimes raunchy songs that make people laugh."
Altman recently appeared solo in Boston with the Brandeis vocal group VoiceMale. JEWMONGOUS! will include comic entertainers Todd Barry, Jonathan Coulton, Tammy Faye Starlite, Cynthia Kaplan and Steve Goodie. Altman says that in addition to WILAJ favorites "They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat)," "Jews For Jesus," "Taller Than Jesus," "Jews Jews Jews," and "Reuben The Hook-Nosed Reindeer," he will perform many new songs, which include "Just Too Jew For You," "What The Hell Is Simchas Torah?," "My Pact With Satan," and "Blow, Murray Blow," which, he says, is about "a shofar blower so great that his playing purges listeners of all their sins, no matter how despicable."
"I'm proud to continue the trend (that What I Like About Jew started) of new Jewish comedy that is more aggressive, fearless, and ignores the bounds of political correctness," he said. Music, he believes, softens the effect of his oft-licentious lyrics. "It allows me to get away with expressing ideas that otherwise might offend," he says. "It makes the naughty pill easier for me to dispense and easier for the audience to swallow."
In future shows, JEWMONGOUS! will appear with The Bobs and Five O'Clock Shadow, and at The GrooveBarbers holiday show with Elliott Kerman & His Jumpin' Jazz Combo.
Tickets for the Sat., Dec. 16, 18+ show "Good for the Jews" are $15 in advance, $17 day of show, and can be purchased atwww.thedise.com or at the Paradise Lounge, 969 Commonwealth Ave., Boston. Doors open at 7 p.m., show at 8 pm. For information, visit www.MySpace.com/GoodForTheJews.
To purchase tickets for the Dec. 27 Jewmongous Chanukah concert at Club Passim, please visit clubpassim.org or call 617-492-7679. For more information, please visitwww.jewmongous.com, call 212-995-0273 or email email@example.com.