Josh Neuman is the publisher of Heeb magazine, which offers an irreverent and often satirical take on the intersection of American Jewish life and popular culture. He talks here about the rumors that Heeb is folding, what sort of Jews you find in Hollywood and why he once dressed Roseanne Barr as Hitler.
Jewish Journal: Earlier this month, Gawker reported that Heeb was on “deathwatch” and the blogosphere became awash in rumors that Heeb was closing. Rumors you’ve only sort of denied.
Josh Neuman: It’s been hard for a long time. Everyone [at Heeb] feels like we’ve been on the deathwatch for seven years.
JJ: So why is it being reported now?
JN: Literally, some intern I yelled at for not putting enough sugar in my latte called Gawker and said that they heard Heeb is going out of business. It’s not a bad wager to bet against an independent lifestyle magazine that targets a fraction of 2 percent of the American population and devotes their energy to producing a high-quality glossy. That being said, it’s been a particularly good month for us otherwise.
JJ: We last caught up with Heeb when you were launching your West Coast presence with The Hollywood Issue. Now you’re gearing up for a Hollywood-style Christmas Eve party in Palm Springs. What has Heeb learned from Hollywood?
JN:It’s tricky. Here you have to have a red carpet for people to even walk into your event.
JJ: I read you’re hosting a game of “Strip Dreidel” with Jewish porn stars Joanna Angel and James Deen. What will porn stars do at a Chanukah party?
JN:We haven’t exactly figured out what is going to transpire in that game. [Joanna] is a real character. She’s like a very interesting personality, and she has a really compelling Jewish story — she grew up Orthodox. Certainly it’s relevant that she’s a porn star, but she’s also the most likely friend of ours who will take off all her clothes on a moment’s notice.
JJ: Some people have accused Heeb of putting shock value over meaningful content. Like in your Fall 2009 spread featuring Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler and baking burnt Jew cookies.
JN: Jews, God bless them, but more than [they love] their grandchildren, more than chocolate cake, they love to complain. And we don’t run away from that. The more people complain, the more we up the ante.
JJ: Do you care when respected writers like Jeffrey Goldberg from The Atlantic refer to Heeb as “tasteless”?
JN: I don’t want to lecture Jeffrey Goldberg, but the Western canon has lots of tastelessness in it. Tastelessness is as critical to the Western canon as anything.
The spread was about the Holocaust becoming domesticated — taking an image of a domestic woman who self-consciously pillories or satirizes and using her to tell a story about what was happening in the larger culture with depictions of the Holocaust. They’re kind of everywhere. Every frickin’ week on ‘Curb [Your Enthusiasm]’ you’ve got some new Holocaust subplot.
JJ: This serves the point that Hollywood largely shapes American Jewish identity.
JN: Hollywood has shaped American identity and continues to shape what it means to be American.
JJ: What do you make of Hollywood’s Jewish culture? Are Hollywood Jews like Heeb Jews?
JN: It’s almost like Hollywood Jews embrace the universal aspects of being Jewish and historically have run away from the particularities of the Jewish experience.
JJ: Do you feel you’ve made inroads in the Hollywood Jewish community?
JN: Definitely, sitting in [director] Brett [Ratner’s] living room with Quentin Tarantino and Warren Beatty can make you feel like you’ve made it in some way. It freaks me out that, like, this magazine is getting in front of Jack Nicholson.