This article appeared in the Dec. 27, 2013 Jewish Advocate (issue came out on Dec. 24)
Christmas Eve laughfest directed at Jewish audience will return to Club Passim stage
By Susie Davidson
Special to the Advocate
Joe Lieberman, then a U.S. Senator, meets “Jewmongous” creator Sean Altman at a White House holiday party.
No Chinese – but lots of cheese.
For the past several years, Sean Altman has been providing a gut-busting alternative to your Christmas Eve chasm. Boston should indeed be proud that Altman, who sports an esteemed musical pedigree as well as a rip-roaring repertoire of Jewish-tinged comedic classics, has chosen our city for that special date. Let’s face it, the chicken wings and egg rolls are tasty, but the laughs are few at Chinese joints. How about some decidedly un-kosher, but sidesplittingly entertaining songs instead, after which you can always head to Chinatown?
This year, his show “Jewmongous” takes place on the actual 2,000th anniversary of Jesus’ bar mitzvah, according to Altman. “The food was so awful that the bar mitzvah boy and all the guests decided to convert to Christianity,” he told The Advocate. “Needless to say, that caterer hasn’t worked since.”
Altman opens the show with a new song celebrating this milestone called “Jesus Christ’s Bar Mitzvah,” and he closes with another new original called “Hooked On Hora,” which he says is “the only love song extolling the virtues of our people’s celebratory circle dance.” He explained that it is a takeoff on the old “Hooked-on...” infomercials from the ’60s and ’70s, in which he says that any song at all can be done to a hora tempo.
“Indeed, the song seamlessly morphs from ‘Heveinu Shalom Alechem’ into ‘Hava Nagila’ into ‘YMCA’ without dropping a beat,” he said. But this show, the second consecutive Jewmongous’ Christmas Eve at Club Passim in Cambridge (“a frequency which I believe constitutes a tradition,”he said), will feature another meaningful debut: Altman singing in Yiddish. “I’m attempting to learn the language of my grandparents exclusively via The Barry Sisters, and I hope to Hashem that they’ve got it right!” he said. “As an Ashkenazi Jew, I feel it’s my birthright – even my obligation – to occasionally spout in the mother tongue,” he continued. “That being said, I’m not very good at it and as such I’m in no danger of becoming the Molly Picon of my generation.”
No worries, as Altman has already carved out some notable accomplishments in his genre, whatever that may be. He led the a capella vocal group Rockapella, and wrote the theme song for the Emmy-winning PBS-TV series “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” His Passover tune “They Tried To Kill Us (We Survived, Let’s Eat)” has been featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross. Other originals include “Today I Am A Man,” “The Least Jewy Jew In Jewville,” “Just Too Jew For You,” “Phantom Foreskin” and “Taller Than Jesus” (not better, just taller, he notes).
On two occasions, Altman performed at the White House Chanukah party. He has also performed with artists who have ranged from Billy Joel to Ramones lead singer Joey Ramone, and recorded with XTC, Richie Havens and other musical acts. A mensch to the core, he also sings for hospital patients at their bedsides as a volunteer with Musicians On Call. Jewmongous has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, Israel, and even once in China (maybe there, you got the food).
“All believers and heathens are welcome,” he says, while cautioning that Jewmongous is not appropriate for children “unless you’re training them to be sailors.” Press accolades have come from media including The Boston Globe, The Jerusalem Post and The Philadelphia Daily News, which deemed Altman to be “part of a new breed of Jewish hipster comedy that includes Jon Stewart, Sacha Baron Cohen, Sarah Silverman and Heeb Magazine.”
Jewmongous’ debut album Taller Than Jesus, which can be procured via Jewmongous.com or iTunes, is a tribute by the 6-foot-3-inch Altman to John Lennon’s oft-misunderstood 1966 statement that The Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” The LP also includes a cover of the Ramones classic “I Wanna Be Sedated.”
The stage will certainly be set for some laughs. Altman noted, “G-d Almighty just tweeted, ‘Thou shalt honor your Jewish audience by featuring Jewmongous’ Holiday Comedy Songfest at Club Passim in Cambridge on Christmas Eve, Tuesday, Dec. 24.’”
Visit www.jewmongous.com for more information.