Back in the 1970s, when I attended the freshly integrated Fairfax High School, black and Chicano gangs would spar in the lunch yard. I used to joke that we Jews should also form a gang. We’d hire a locksmith to break into stores, doctor the books and write ourselves a few checks. Despite the joking, I lived in constant fear of being mugged (one time at gunpoint!). The trauma has faded with time — although I still won’t go to the toilet between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m.
If only Jaquann and Luis had been there to save me.
Jaquann and Luis are the African-American and Latino Jewish gangbangers who are the main characters in “Bubala Please,” a successful Web series of videos launched last Chanukah. The two meet during an altercation. Luis’ bling — a big chai — falls out of his undershirt, to be noticed, then reciprocated, by Jaquann showing his Star of David. They become fast friends — or as close to friends as gangbangers can be.
It’s tough to explain a joke without killing it, so you’ll have to see “Bubala Please” for yourself. Still, here’s a taste: The two Jewish gangbangers celebrate all the Jewish holidays, but not in any way you’ve ever imagined. Ever eaten a Baja Gefilte Fish Taco? How about Matzoh Nachos? And suffice it to say, after you’ve watched their ultra-authentic — i.e., filthy — urban gangster Purim rap, “We Doin’ Purim” (available on iTunes) and see these homies noshin’ on hamantashen, you’ll never see that pastry quite the same way again. Likewise with Jaquann’s very emphatic Shehechiyanu. As the BubalaPlease.com warning states, this isn’t for the kinderlach. Or the ultra-serious.
[From Hollywood Journal: How to make money on YouTube with Web series]
Jaquann and Luis are played by two Angelenos from the inner city, Marcus Wayne and Rick Mancia. Take off the tear-drop tattoos, the gang wear, bling and façade of machismo, and it’d be hard to find two nicer guys, a testament to their acting abilities. To play their gangbanging alter egos, each says he channels people they’ve come across. Mancia says he’s still always shocked by the fact that “there are actually people whose idea of a weekend is: ‘I’m gonna hang out, get high and maybe beat up some guys.’ That’s the way they talk. They really exist!” he marveled. “To make them Jewish just seemed like a hilarious idea.”
Playing Jewish gangbangers has also opened curious new vistas for the actors. Wayne said, “It’s deepened my respect for Jewish culture and religion. And watching TV is a whole new experience. [Since I’ve learned a lot of Yiddish and Jewish culture] I understand television a lot better. I never knew how much I was missing!”
By playing these characters, Mancia said, “You realize that underneath the façade that everyone sees, we are all the same. We all want to belong, to be respected, enjoy life, have some fun.”
“Bubala Please” is the creation of Napkin Note Productions and its two nice Jewish boys from Texas, who met in college: Jacob Salamon and Jared Bauer. Salamon, the grandson of Holocaust survivors who has an Israeli father, attended a predominantly Mexican-American high school. Bauer, the son of New York transplants, attended a predominantly African-American one before graduating college and film school.
“Bubala Please” is their attempt at achieving racial harmony. Or at least racial hilarity. “Mel Brooks earned the absolute right to make racial comedy, but we’re claiming that right,” Bauer asserts. Of course, Salamon and Bauer, both in their 20s, are comedic babies on the block. But most viewers see their mixture of Jewish and gangsta culture as sidesplittingly funny. Roseanne Barr is a fan — she wants a cameo, Salamon reports — along with more than a million other YouTube viewers. Surprised, Salamon said that lots of Orthodox Jews — many of them women — are among their most fervent fans. Both Salamon and Bauer also love the fact that, growing up as lone Jews in the Lone Star State, they now feel more connected to the Jewish community than ever before.
The success of “Bubala Please” came as a surprise to Bauer and Salamon. Normally, through a partner company, they make commercials, including for Taco Bell. Salamon recalled, “We made the first episode as a sort of holiday card to send to some of our contacts in the business. All with our own money.” Mancia interjected, “Yeah, we worked for bubkes!” Salamon added, “I realized we were on to something when I got three e-mails in one day telling me to go watch the video, and then it registered over 50,000 views on YouTube in the first week.” He and Bauer later raised funds at the crowdfunding platform Jewcer.com, which enabled the production of more episodes, with the Passover episodes being the latest of six. Three more are in the pipeline before they wrap the first season.
Where will it all lead? With Bauer and Salamon, there is no shortage of ideas. After hesitating, they shared their idea for a full-length feature film: “Jaquann and Luis Go on Birthright.” Homies in the Holy Land? Just the idea induces laughter. Talk about being “strangers in a strange land.” If Jaquann and Luis could have brought quiet to my race-riven high school lunch yard, maybe, while on Birthright, they can work some magic between Palestinians and Israelis. I already know their opening gambit: “Make peace, MF’ers!” Hey, it’s never been tried — like “Bubala Please” itself. And that was surprisingly successful. Yasher koach, bubalas.