Tag Archives: judaism

Jewish Comedy Blues

29 Mar

“Mrs. Woolf, why aren’t you coming to the Storytelling Festival?” A fourth-grader asks me sweetly.

I’ve told them it’s Ms like 40 million times but it’s March and if they don’t call me Ms. by now, it’s a lost cause.

“I have work. I run trivia at a bar next to my apartment.”

“A bar….with alcohol?” Another kid asks.

“Noooooo….a candy bar.”

*Silence*

“Haha! I’m kidding. Obviously an alcohol bar. Duh.”

I can’t believe it’s March already. I have learned so much long-division and so many facts about the Thirteen Colonies. It fills like 1/3 of my brain now. Do you know how often those things come up in conversation? None times. I have nothing to add to conversations now except what new thing Tim and Moby taught me. Oh, you don’t know who Tim and Moby are? They’re just some child/teen? boy and his friend robot who answer snail mail for some reason and know freaking everything. Bleep bleep blorp.

 

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Things get really weird in the later episodes when Moby gets into drag.

 

Stand-up/Improv is going really well.

I’m performing weekly for Thunderbolt Comedy starting this Sunday. It’s really the first time I’m with a team of improvisers who make me so anxious with their talent (why anxious? Because when you have Obsessive Disorder, anxiety is an appropriate response to everything!). They’re so good! And I’m not just saying that because I want you to come to our shows. Though you should. They’re only five dollars. C’mon. They’re also awesome because when I said I couldn’t hang out on a Friday/Saturday they were like “Oh man! Let’s hang out on Thursday then! We want everyone to be a part of it!” My heart was warmed as I checked my calendar and saw that that Thursday was Purim, a Jewish holiday. Shoot.

When I first started telling people I was a comedian, the immediate response a lot of people had was “But what about Shabbat? How are you gonna be successful when you can’t do shows on Shabbat?”

It’s a good question. A kind of rude one but a valid one. But since I was so new, I’d never really had any problems with conflicting  events since it’s not like people were begging me to be on their shows anyways. I signed up for Sunday shows, took classes during the week, not a problem.

Last month, a very nice man from the Broadway Comedy Club offered me a spot on an “industry night.” A show that’s for bookers and agents to assess new comedians and give them feedback. It seemed awesome. The producer called me and told me about what a good opportunity it was and how they’d love to have me.

“We do these shows about eight times a year. Our next one is…..the third Saturday in May at 7pm.”

My heart sunk. There’s no way I would be able to make it. I told him I wouldn’t be able to make it since I’m orthodox and keep Shabbat, getting there before 9pm just wasn’t an option in May. He wouldn’t let it go.

I’ll look up what time sundown is,” he offered. “I know about the different times because I do a lot of hiking.”

I laughed, sure go ahead.

“Hmmm….May, May, May….ah. Sundown, here it is. 8:13pm. Oh. That doesn’t work.”

“I know.”

“Can you walk? Can you stay by a friend? Can you take a train if someone else pays for it?”

I appreciated his interesting Halachic (Jewish law) questions about work and travel on Shabbat but still, I respectfully declined the offer.

I felt really bad. Like, not bad for him that I cancelled, but bad for myself. I threw myself a little pity party in the teacher’s bathroom. It wasn’t fair. I deserved this opportunity and I had to cancel it because of some random covenant with God? But through my quick and superficial disappointment, I understood that I had set these parameters when I started. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and that I wasn’t going to make exceptions. Shabbat has “booked” me for those 25 hours for the rest of my life and it’s not a gig I can back out of easily, nor is it a particularly good idea to. Shabbat is when I’m not working on my “brand.” It’s when I’m not checking my Twitter follower count or my blog page hits. I’m not seeing how many likes my statuses have. Buy mostly, it’s when I can sleep for a blissful 12 hours and spend time with people in my immediate vicinity.

A few weeks later, when my Harry Potter improv team wanted to switch to Saturday evenings, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be able to commit to that, our coach immediately responded that we’ll keep it to Sundays. It was the most amazing thing – it really confirmed my feeling that if you work hard enough and are talented enough, people will wait for you. Of course sometimes they won’t, or can’t, but as long as you’re doing your thing, do it for you. Not them. I’ve met some really special people in this community who have such a respect for religion and culture, it’s incredible. Those are the people you want to build something with.

 

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Specifically this. Thanks Del Close!

A lot of people I meet have ultimate goals to be on Saturday Night Live. That can’t be mine and I know that. I just want to perform and have fun, maybe make some money. Maybe do a commercial or two for a bank or insurance. Who knows?

Just like I tell the kids I teach: “Stop yelling and please step back you are really inside my personal space right now.”

 

 

Thoughts From a Broken Brain

24 Nov

Hello there!

It’s kind of snowing outside. I mean, I haven’t actually seen this for myself but there’s about 6 posts on Facebook proclaiming this. And I verified with Weather.com so I feel confident in making this announcement.

I hope your Saturday has been sufficiently productive and/or relaxing.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been having some brain problems. Or what my psychiatrist called a “mental break.” Which seems to be a conglomeration of depression, anxiety and OCD. For weeks after this “break,” last month, I would just cry. For not really any reason at all – or for crazy reasons that I didn’t know why I was thinking them.

I read online that thinking about a giant stop sign helps when you’re obsessing over something. So I would Google image stop signs when my brain was spinning downhill too fast for me to keep up – it’s very hard to think about anything when you’re just staring at hundreds of STOPs.

Which inevitably led to me crying at work…staring at stop signs for 20 minutes. Until my coworkers were like “Are you OK…?”

The first time I told my therapist this, I added “So am I crazy?”

“No, you’re not crazy…” he answered soothingly (seriously though the UMD Health Center therapist they assigned me has the most soothing voice. I want to record it and play it when I fall asleep. Is that crazy?)

“Can you write that down?”

“You want me to write that down in my notes?”

“Yes.”

“Um…sure. Not….crazy….” he wrote.

That helped.

Another thing that’s been helpful with stress has been praying again. Since this “break”, I’ve felt weirdly nostalgic for seminary (my gap year which I spent learning in Israel at an all girls seminary). I told you last week that my life was going on some weird journey – and so far it’s included me connecting back to my Judaism. Praying every morning, being more careful with Shabbat and Kosher.

It started with me finding a book in the UMD Hillel that said COURAGE! on it (I liked the exclamation point, like it was an exciting play). I read it on the train to work just to distract myself from obsessing. But it was all about letting go of anxiety and trusting God. About how all crises help us become better people. It all sounds so Delilah on the radio to me when I say it out loud. Two of my favorite parts said:

“Who asked us to move mountains? Who told us to make long-term plans? No one, if not our imaginations which trouble us with its false problems”

“Only in the middle of a struggle our hidden capacities can appear and grow. The important thing is not to let ourselves be discouraged, but to take heart, no matter what happens during the crises. Then, if we hold firm, we will succeed in transforming all our past falls into instruments for true progress.”

Which, to me said “Who told you to worry about this thing that might not happen? Who told you to freak out about events you have no control over? No one.”

Well, I mean I guess did. Or my brain did. But as a friend who’s suffered from depression and anxiety for a while told me:

“Sometimes our brains are dicks, that doesn’t mean they’re right. You are what you choose to be and do.”

The medication that I’ve been on has helped this problem that has obviously been medical (I’m not suggesting all people with depression just read COURAGE! and be cured. Even my broken brain knows that) But there’s a bunch that I’ve done that has helped the anxiety that wasn’t medical. And I hope it helps you too:

1. The stop sign thing really did help me. Something about seeing tons and tons of those bright red octagons really makes it hard to think of anything else. And then when you’re done looking at them and your coworkers are like “Why are these stop signs making you so sad you weirdo?” you can go back to work. And flip back and forth between the web tabs as needed.

2. My friend advised me to keep a gratitude journal. And write down five things that made me happy/thankful that day. Sometimes it’s hard and my list is like “I didn’t get hit by a meteorite” and “My shoes were comfortable all day” and sometimes it’s like, “My article got a lot of positive reviews” and “I got a 96 on my media law exam.” Either way, taking time to think about the good totally repaints the day. Sometimes when you have an anxiety attack it feels like it dominates and ruins your whole day but when you really think about it, there’s so much else to be grateful for. And there’s some good in every day.

3. Talk to people. I said in my short story that when you show people your scars, they love to show you theirs. I’ve found the same with emotional scars. When I opened up about my anxiety to people, so many started telling me about their struggles and how they coped. People I had no idea suffered from any problems like that. Knowing you’re not alone takes away some of the power of your fears. If others have beaten it then maybe it’s not the worst thing ever.

4. Do something for someone else. Bring in cupcakes for your coworkers. Give a dollar to a homeless man. Hold the door open for a bunch of people. Call a friend for her birthday. Pray for other people. When you stop focusing on yourself and your problems – they fade for a little bit. Plus, being a nicer person makes you feel better regardless. And baking cupcakes will make your boss totally like you more than your coworkers.

5. Ice cream. A lot of f*cking ice cream. (Did you know I had four milkshakes this week?! IS THAT NOT A WORLD RECORD? Call me, Guinness. We’ll set up a photo-shoot)

So we continue on this weird road. There’s been some interesting twists. I don’t exactly know where I’m going.

But I hope this helped someone today.

 

Tisha B’av – As Told By Someone Who Only Understands Pop Culture

15 Jul

Tuesday is Tisha Ba’v. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Tisha Ba’v is the 9th day of the month of Av in the Jewish calendar. It commemorates the day when the first and second temple were destroyed. On that day, practicing Jews refrain from eating and drinking, bathing, listening to music and sitting comfortably. Jews in summer camps burn words made out of sticks, watch Schindler’s List and play cards.

 

"Oh no my stick collection!"

“Oh no my stick collection!”

 

A couple of years ago, I wrote about why I liked the holiday of Tisha Ba’v – because it forces us to confront the worst aspects of our history as well as ourselves. It’s uncomfortable to sit on the floor of your temple and hear accounts of the bloody and awful destruction, it’s awkward to be forced to watch movies about the Holocaust. Three-hundred-and-sixty-four days of the year, we cheer each other up with jokes, we drown our sorrows with Ben & Jerry’s, we play the same Adele song over and over again. But not on Tisha B’av.

For those not familiar with the story of why the Jews were expelled from the second temple, it almost reads like the plot of Mean Girls.

Imagine you go to Israelite High school (class of ’70 CE! whoo- hoo!) It’s a pretty good school, you guys get good grades and you’re always winning sports things (nationals? Are sports not the same as the glee club?) and whenever nearby schools play any pranks you guys totally get them back. Sure there are cliques, every school has ‘em. There are the athletes, the kids in College Bowl, the really rich girls, the boys who spend 7th period hanging out setting things on fire in the chemistry lab, that girl who looks way too old to be in high school and is always asking you questions about what normal teens do.

 

 

"Mmm...blending in."

“Mmm…blending in.”

 

 

You guys used to be tight in elementary school but something’s changed. The lines between the groups are hardly crossed anymore. It’s gotten to the point where people have started being cruel. Everyone talks shit about each other. Your friends are ragging on a boy you know for a fact they’ve never talked to. Different groups accuse the other of not caring about the school or your teams, the worst offense. You can’t sit with us!

Then finally, at the end of the year there’s a huge party at this popular girl Kaitlyn’s house. And Kaitlyn fucked up the email addresses of the people she wanted to come and accidentally invited this girl who she hated. And when this girl showed up with some Smirnoff and was like “Hey girl, I’m glad we can put this whole dumb fight behind us.” Kaitlyn was like “GTFO and don’t come back.” You thought it was stupid drama but everyone couldn’t stop talking about it. (This isn’t even a fake anecdote to add to the high school theme – this crazy party ordeal actually happened)

Finally, your principal gets mad. Really mad. He’s like “Fine, you don’t want to be a unified school anymore? You’re all expelled!” and then to make sure no one can come back he burns the school down and immediately retires. (Well, more like Mr. Feeny retires, in the sense that you won’t find him at school every day but he’ll pop up sometimes when you go to college, or at your wedding or when you realize that you signed up for gibberish college classes and fly to Wyoming.)

 

 

I get it C, i had gibberish college classes to. They were called math.

I get it Cory, I had gibberish college classes too. They were called math.

 

 

Now you all have to go to different schools – rival schools. Roman High. And all those kids are jerks. They don’t know your football cheers, or have Pajama Day or remember the time Brian Masters got his head stuck in the volleyball net. They suck. You miss Israelite High.

Now replace high school with nation and that’s pretty much why the Jews were exiled – baseless hatred. Being judgmental assholes. And it’s not surprise we haven’t learned our lessons yet.

We are a society that loves to hate.

We hate Justin Bieber. We hate Kim Kardashaian. We hate the barista that fucked up our drink order even though it was so simple. We hate that girl from high school who keeps sending us dumb game requests on Facebook. We hate our ex-boyfriends. We hate Taylor Swfit’s ex-boyfriends. We hate Taylor Swift. We hate Obama. We hate Romney. We hate that guy who traps you in a conversation about how stressed he is and how much he hates his professor. God, we hate that guy. Because guess what? Hating feels awesome. Hating feels powerful. Hating means that you are better than something and someone. That you have the ability to say you have other options. You’re different. And it’s tearing us apart.

 

 

How could you hate a face like that?

“Why did you call me a cry baby??”

 

 

Confession: When I was 15-years-old I went on a travel trip with a bunch of other teens, mostly from the New York area. And it was awful. I cried all the time. I was shy and awkward and couldn’t make friends very easily. One day I was sitting in a hotel room with a bunch of obnoxious girls talking about other kids on the program.

One girl stops brushing her hair to say, “I hate X.” And another girl asks why. The first girl shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know. I just do.”

I was speechless. I couldn’t even get someone to be nice to me. I didn’t have the luxury to decide that I hated someone.

Then in high school, for a short time, I was ran with a crowd of girls who loved talking shit about other people. It felt good to be on the other side. I had the ability to say I don’t need you. You mean nothing to me and therefore I can say whatever I want about you. But after a while, I felt sick. I had too much empathy for the people they were picking on. And after I decided I didn’t want to partake in their little games, I realized I didn’t really have that much in common with them. And I was much happier with the new friends I eventually made when I realized that there’s more to friendships than gossip; like talking about TV shows.

 

 

And by "other friends" I mean these guys. And by "TV shows" I mean, these were my friends.

And by “other friends” I mean these guys. And by “TV show” I mean, these were my  only friends.

 

As hard as it is to believe, Judaism is all about teamwork. God hates when we talk shit about each other and hate each other for no reason. There’s something that used to be a thing back in the day of the temple but not anymore. When someone committed Lashon Harah, or “evil talk”/gossip, they would contract an awful skin disease. God was literally saying “You wanna be ugly on the inside? Cool, now you’re ugly on the outside.” And then the gossiper had to live in a house on the outskirts of town until they could be given the cure.

Can you imagine? Imagine if every time you wanted to say something awful about someone you had to live in a house with other gossipy bitches. Do you know what house that is? It’s the America’s Next Top Model house. It’s the Kardashian household. It’s the Jersey Shore. I’m not asking you to stop talking about other people, that’s unrealistic and irresponsible to ask but JUST imagine that before you spoke about someone think Is this worth not seeing any of my friends again? Is it worth it? Today we might not have physical walls keeping people who judge unfavorably apart but speech builds its own walls. Hate keeps people out.

Recently, on a website I found on how to live minimalistic, I read a post about decluttering the negative thoughts from your life. It said Take responsibility for your mind. Realize that your thoughts and speech have a profound effect on the universe. We don’t have the temple because we’re still having petty thoughts and arguments. Take responsibility for your role in uniting the Jewish people. If Tisha B’av teaches us anything is that we have to stop being assholes to each other. There’s nothing you have to wake up early to do, nothing you have to spend extra money on, nothing you have to announce to your family at your next holiday….you don’t even have to start being nice. Just stop adding hate.

 

 

"Mom, Dad...I'm converting to...niceness."

“Mom, Dad…I’m converting to…niceness.”

 

I hope one day to be in a setting where someone makes an offhand comment about how much she likes someone. And when another person asks why, she’ll shrug and say “I don’t know, I just do.”

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