The best class I took in my last quarter of college didn’t have tests or quizzes. The teacher made us laugh. Our homework was (literally!) fun. And the final exam was an oral presentation… in the back of a bar. Bad grades? Not an issue. Bad jokes? Now that was something to stress over.
I was one of a handful of funny ladies enrolled in Level One of a new kind of comedy called The Feminine Comique. Founded by Chicago comedian Cameron Esposito, the classes are the nation’s only all-female workshop for stand-up comedy. I first heard about FemCom, as it’s known, at a storytelling event in Chicago, and even though I hadn’t been onstage since my eighth-grade production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” I could tell this class would be something worth wandering off campus for. It was senior year, after all, and what better way to prep for the slings and arrows of the so-called real world than by grabbing a mic and baring my soul for the amusement of others?
The classes met at night in a rec center so far north of the University of Chicago campus that it felt like a different country. For five weeks, our teacher Kelsie Huff — a comedian and storyteller who does improv and one-woman shows in Chicago, and even took the FemCom class herself before taking the reins from Esposito — asked us to write exercises, scribble jokes and, most importantly, practice talking to an audience. The one ironclad rule when you got up for your set? No apologizing.
Once upon a time there were two Jewish sisters. One grew up to be a Reform rabbi and the other one of America’s more profane comics. These two sisters — Rabbi Susan Silverman and Sarah Silverman — could not be both more different and more alike. The sacred and profane mingle in their DNA, which led, in a recent joint appearance, to them exploring their genetic predisposition for “Jewiness.” Sarah says she’s “Jewy beyond my control,” while Susan says she is “attracted to the glamour of Jewiness.”
And so it went for over an hour on November 8 when the two women appeared together at Boston University’s Center for Cultural Judaism and Department of Religion. The duo’s appearance was officially billed as “Sister Act: Growing up Jewish in New Hampshire and Making the Best of It.”
The Silvermans grew up in Manchester, where they claimed they were more in the minority as Democrats than as Jews. But as children, they fended off their fair share of anti-Semitic bullies. They recalled being accused of deicide with insults hurled at them at school. Sarah said that she’d tell kids, “If I killed your God, think about what I could do to you.”
Four years ago, when “Saturday Night Live” comic Andy Samberg wore a National Organization of Women shirt to a Spike TV event, feminists wondered whether he was just ribbing us. Best known for the satirical rap videos he produces with his comedy trio, The Lonely Island, Samberg trades in dick jokes and fake vomit — not in feminist theory. So when Samberg said that his sartorial choice was “totally sincere,” in an interview with Nerve.com, even the most accommodating among us had a difficult time believing him.
But now, with the recent release of The Lonely Island’s new album, “Turtle Neck and Chain,” it’s safe to say that Samberg was, in fact, sporting his feminist bona fides at the Spike show. I’d even go one step further: Andy Samberg is the first Jewish feminist male comedian.
Samberg gets the feminist moniker not because of his portrayal of women — in fact, most ladies in his videos are stereotypical hotties with zero personality — but because of the way he depicts men. Samberg holds a mirror to the most loutish of American males, rendering Peeping Toms, self-righteous belligerents, and cocksure ladies’ men with heavy-handed mockery. The fact that Samberg so brutally lampoons sexist men and yet remains extremely popular among the “bro” cohort is a testament to his dexterity. Samberg is doing what feminists have asked of their male allies forever: Instead of marching alongside women, Samberg is talking to other men.
The Smithsonian writes about the emergence of gender-specific baby clothes in the 20th century.
Over at Tablet, Dvora Meyers examines the importance of jeans skirts for the young and the modest.
Dumped by his girlfriend, 28-year-old struggling comedy writer Justin Halpern packed up his life in Los Angeles and returned back to San Diego to live with his parents. And it was there at home that he discovered comedy gold: his Jewish septuagenarian father. Justin began transcribing the daily musings of his father, Sam, whose sayings Justin describes as a mixture between Socrates and Lenny Bruce, for a Twitter feed. The Twitter feed, full of profanity-laden gems, quickly became a viral success. ”Before long, the Twitter account turned into a bestselling book, and now it is the basis for a new TV show”$#*! My Dad Says,” starring William Shatner as Sam.
But we think Jewish mothers are pretty funny, too. And so we at The Sisterhood are asking our readers to send in “$#*! Their Moms Say.” Send us some of the words of wisdom — precious or silly — bestowed upon you by your mothers. The subject matter can be anything, as long as the voice is theirs. You can email them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or post them in the comments section below.
To get started here are a few from the Sisterhood friends and family:
Legendary comedian Jean Carroll (née Celine Zeigman) passed away on New Year’s Day at the age of 98. A pioneering stand up comedian, Jean Carroll was a regular headliner in nightclubs and theaters in the ’40s and ’50s. She was featured on the Ed Sullivan Show, and she even had her own sitcom on ABC in the 1953-1954 season.
Jean Carroll began her career as a vaudeville performer, but is best known for her achievements as one of the first female performers to do stand up. During this period, nightclubs were not considered “fit” places for “ladies” to inhabit. Female comics usually performed in couple acts with a man alongside them. Jean Carroll originally performed as part of a duo with her husband, Buddy Howe. When Howe was drafted into the Army during the Second World War, Jean Carroll began her solo act. When Howe returned, even he could see that she was better on her own. Rather than rejoin his wife on stage, he became her agent.
Much like Sophie Tucker, Jean Carroll’s routine’s were risqué by the standards of her time. She made jokes about shopping, raising children, and her husband. As the New York Times wrote, “Genteel by today’s standards, Ms. Carroll’s humor was radical in its day — radical, that is, in the hands of a lone woman with a microphone in front of her and an audience at her command. For a female comic to wield that sort of power was unheard of then, especially in the smoke-filled universe of nightclubs.”