Posted by Ryan Torok
Yesterday, I was at Occupy L.A., asking people what that they were doing there, why’d they come – and I got the predictable responses: corporate greed, the income gap between the rich and the poor, rising unemployment, the endless, fruitless bickering between the right and left.
Late in the day, I met Jeff, a former New Yorker in his fifties with a penchant for quoting Talmud. What’s this all about? Why are people here?
Do you know the story of Aw-dawm and Ḥawwāh, he said, referring to Adam and Eve of the Book of Genesis.
Of course. Who doesn’t?
Okay, he said. If you know the story of Adam and Eve, what happened after they ate the apple?
They lose their innocence. I felt good about this response. If only my father, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Jewish education for me, could hear me.
Wrong, Jeff said.
Yes, wrong. That’s an analysis. But that’s not what happened. What happened afterwards?
They were suddenly aware of their nakedness.
I thought of ‘Dude, Where’s My Car,’ the scene when Ashton Kutcher and Stiffler are trying to order food in the drive-thru.. And then? And then? And then?
Refocusing my attention on Jeff, What did they do after they became aware of their nakedness? They covered up with clothes, I said.
Clothes? Jeff said. What clothes? They didn’t have clothes then.
Leaves. They covered up with leaves.
Okay, this was becoming annoying. I thought hard, tapped into the inner depths, trying to remember. Remember, remember, remember.
Oh, I know, I exclaimed. After Adam and Eve ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge, God told Adam that he would now have to work for a living, and He told Eve that she would have to feel pain when she conceived.
You said you went to Jewish school? Jeff said.
I was about to punch him.
They hide, Jeff said. After they eat the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hide. They hide from God.
That’s right. I’d completely forgotten.
And God says, ‘Ey-foh.’
A few people had walked over to us and were listening, including a skinny anarchist-looking guy with a mohawk and torn skinny jeans. I’d seen him earlier lightly playing drums with brush-sticks next to a group of about twenty people, a committee of indigenous rights, convening next to a large fountain in the center of Occupy L.A., where dozens and dozens of shanty camp tents had been set up.
The anarchist guy was holding a tape recorder, toward Jeff’s mouth, recording what Jeff was saying.
God says, ‘Ey-foh,’ which is Hebrew for ‘where.’ He says to Adam and Eve, ‘where are you?’
Why would God say ‘where are you?’ God knows everything, Jeff said. God sees everything. God has a GPS system for the entire universe. God knew where Adam and Eve were hiding, so why would he say ‘ey-foh.’
I was stumped.
God says ‘ey-foh’ because he wants to know where Adam and Eve think they are. He isn’t asking where they are physically. He wants Adam and Eve to reflect on where they are in relationship to the world that is changed forever, now that they have this knowledge, now that they have this consciousness of all things. He’s asking where do they think they are and how do they expect to return to paradise.
Everybody here at Occupy L.A. is aware of the good and evil in the world, Jeff said. They’ve eaten the fruit, and they’re here trying to figure out their place in the world. Trying to return to paradise.
Deep stuff, the anarchist said. I agreed. It was the best answer I’d gotten all day.
Watch my interview with Jeff below.
12.28.11 at 12:38 am | A member of the paparazzi, Adam’s a freelancer. . .
12.19.11 at 5:01 pm | Last weekend, I met Elaine and Lee, an older. . .
12.16.11 at 10:54 am | I woke up this morning to a text message from my. . .
10.19.11 at 5:22 am | Eli Lipmen, communications strategist for the. . .
10.15.11 at 6:21 pm | Yesterday, I was at Occupy L.A., asking people. . .
10.14.11 at 3:04 am | Brain cancer survivor Judi Kaufman has suffered. . .
4.26.10 at 1:21 pm | After a panel session featuring Ellis (“Less. . . (10)
3.19.10 at 5:33 pm | Comedian Joel Chasnoff sits across from me at. . . (4)
10.14.11 at 3:04 am | Brain cancer survivor Judi Kaufman has suffered. . . (3)
October 14, 2011 | 3:04 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
Brain cancer survivor Judi Kaufman has suffered through three brain tumors – yes, three. Her first diagnosis, back in 1997, was that she’d suffered a stroke, but the neuro-oncology department at UCLA identified it as a tumor, which might have saved her life.
That’s why Kaufman, who Journal contributor Jessica Pauline Ogilive highlighted in the Journal’s 2010 annual mensch issue, founded, in 2001, Art of the Brain.
The nonprofit, earlier this month, raised $500,000 for the UCLA Neuro-oncology program, as a result of the nonprofit’ 12th annual gala event on Oct. 1.
It’s not that much money, Kaufman, said to me in a recent interview.
Although, it’s good in this economy, she added.
Since Art of the Brain’s inaugural event, the organization has raised “more than $5 million,” Ogilive said.
I met Kaufman following her reading of a poem she’d written. Kaufman participates in the Los Angeles Poets and Writers Collective, “which sponsors readings, publications, classes, seminars, and workshops,” according to jackgrapes.com (Grapes is the instructor at the weekly writers workshop that Kaufman attends, located in a non-descript brick building next-door, incidentally, to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, on mid-Wilshire Blvd.).
Called on to read her poem, Kaufman - stylish black top hat with her long frizzy blonde hair coming out of it, a black vest and a white blouse – went to the front of the room.
“I had a dream about you last night,” one attendee, the only male in the room, said.
“I dream about you every night,” said another workshop attendee.
The room, with comfy sofas, carpeting, coffee and snacks, the approximately 20 attendees sitting in a close circle and looking more awake than most do at 9 a.m., is haimish, a Yiddish word.
Kaufman smiled, seemed grateful, and she began reading.
“How ‘bout that Mitt Romney running around in circles? And what about that John Huntsman?” she read out loud, presenting her poem to a group of approximately 20 people…. Unsung heroes, those new tea party people. They sure know how to hate. They were hating Jews in Pasadena in the 1950’s, calling us pinkos and sinkos.”
Medical treatment, including chemotherapy, has affected her speech, and in a typed-up copy of her poem, which she gave to me afterwards, there are huge spaces between some of the words, alerting her to pause. She says that she does exercises, physical movements, with her yoga teacher that help with her speech, including rolling back-and-forth and from right to left on the ground. Before her surgeries, she was a good public speaker, she said.
People laughed with pleasure throughout Kaufman’s reading, enjoying Kaufman’s shouting out of the Republican candidates, who Kaufman had watched the night before during a Republican debate.
The assignment had been to write a sarcastic poem, one with a tone recalling the way people speak.
“‘A rodeo of relief pitchers of milk for the poor to let them all eat cake and hot crossed buns…all that mayonnaise and marshmallows.’ God, I don’t know where you pluck this stuff from, Judy, but it’s just, wow,” Grapes said, reading over an extra copy of Kaufman’s poem.
“She’s a poet - that’s where it stems from,” said a workshop attendee.
Looking over it some more, “Wow, this is great. This is great,” Grapes said.
Kaufman was raised in Pasadena and lives in Los Angeles. She attends these workshops because the left side of her brain, the analytical side, was taken out during surgery – she has trouble with time, with numbers, and so she’s turned to art, she explained.
As she said to Ogilive, “When I found out I could write well, it turned everything around. Art can give you something for nothing.”
In addition to raising funds for UCLA, Art of the Brain – which is run entirely by volunteers – refers brain cancer patients to places like L.A. Poets, so that they can use art as a healer.
For more information on Art of the Brain, visit artofthebrain.org.
June 17, 2011 | 11:59 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
Like a lot of comedians, Scott Gairdner, who has achieved online celebrity via YouTube and comedy sites, is self-conscious—and he admits it.
“The internet is great for someone like me, who is far too nervous to get ahead by working the standup scene or something like that,” Gairdner, a staff writer-director for funnyordie.com, said during a recent interview.
As explained in this Huffington Post piece, Gairdner’s latest sketch, “Staying Positive with Jesse Eisenberg”—featuring him impersonating “The Social Network” star—has gone viral. In the video, seven tweens ask Eisenberg about “life, love and growing up in the 2010s,” as Gairdner-playing-Eisenberg says in the sketch’s introduction.
Gairdner skillfully mimics Eisenberg’s condescending-robot tone and caffeinated speech pattern, completing the Eisenberg look with sleep-deprived eyes.
Video courtesy of Funny or Die.
The video’s cheesy-eighties vibe was inspired by a video found a thrift store, Gairdner said.
“I watched this terrible ‘talking to girls about their problems’ VHS I found at a Goodwill, and I thought it would be hilarious to throw the blunt, awkward Jesse Eisenberg persona into a show like that,” he said.
It’s the second time Gairdner has impersonated Eisenberg, who was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and whom the Journal interviewed prior to the 2011 Academy Awards.
Gairdner previously took on Eisenberg in a fake audition tape of Eisnberg trying out James Franco’s role in “127 Hours.”
Gaidner said that he hasn’t heard from Eiesnberg or the actor’s camp about the good-humored videos.
“I’m really hoping we do at some point,” Gairdner said.
Gairdner, a relative newcomer on the comedy scene, is doing well for himself, landing a full-time gig with Funny or Die, Will Ferrell and director Adam McKay’s comedy video website, and racking up more than 14 million views of the sketches he’s featured on his YouTube channel.
Among the channel’s many videos, there’s the sitcom-mocking “Chicago and Me,” about a nine-year-old boy who is adopted by legendary band Chicago, and “Juggalo News,” which Gairdner, as a news anchor named Krazee Thug Nutz, says is the only news network “specifically for fans of Insane Clown Posse.”
The Insane Clown Posse video is a must-see, and it’s what scored Gairdner the position at Funny or Die—a coveted job, I imagine, if you’re an aspiring comedian. McKay, who helmed the Ferrell comedies, “Anchorman” and “Talladega Nights,” saw “Juggalo News,” asked Gairdner to make more installments of it and eventually asked Gairdner to join the “Funny or Die” staff.
“It was a great series of events that I’m still tremendously thankful for,” Gairdner said.
While the web and Gairdner appear to be a good match, “Having lots of million view videos doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you’ll get a TV show,” he said. “But it certainly helps to get audience feedback to your work.”
June 5, 2011 | 5:12 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
Over the weekend, I stumbled onto “Why Jews Laugh at Themselves,” an article written by Hillel Halkin that was published in Commentary Magazine in 2006. (Unless you purchase the article for $4.95, you can only read the abstract.)
In the Commentary article, Halkin, who has also translated Yiddish short stories by Shalem Aleichem (“Tevye the Dairyman and The Railroad Stories,” 1987), points to an old skit by Jack Benny that skillfully plays on Jewish stereotypes for laughs:
Benny is accosted by an armed mugger who threatens, “Your money or your life.” The comedian takes his time answering and, when prodded with a gun, protests: “I’m thinking. I’m thinking!”
Harkin says that Benny’s joke relies on two stereotypes about Jews: that Jews love money and that they “over-intellectualize.”
While steroetypes, as everyone knows, are often negative generalizations about groups or individuals, as a Jew I’m proud of our peoples’ tendency to over-intellectualize – which is Harkin’s point: that while self-deprecation is thought of being a primary characteristic of Jewish humor, real Jewish humor is both self-deprecating and self-praising.
“Are we not also forced to admire the person who refuses to be rushed even by a threat to his life,” Halkin says, of the Benny joke, “and insists on his right to rational reflection?”
“A stereotypical Jew,” Halkin says, “thinks before acting.”
Yes we do.
March 3, 2011 | 2:29 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
Before speaking at the Levantine Cultural Center on Wednesday night, Mark LeVine, a history professor at UC Irvine and the author of “Heavy Metal Islam,” discussed the unusual plane ride to Egypt during the revolution there. Watch below for segment from the interview.
The event, a fundraiser for the nonprofit, Free Tunisia, also featured Egyptian and Tunisian speakers, who spoke about their countries histories and their revolutions – propelled by youth determined to oust their longtime autocrat leaders. Levantine Center co-founder Jordan Elgrably, whose recent opinion piece in Al Jazeera says, among other things, that “Israel should be integrated into the mosaic of the Middle East. It is time to end the conflict that began with the belief that Arabs and Jews are historic enemies,” helped organize the event.
February 19, 2011 | 3:38 am
Posted by Ryan Torok
Who would’ve thought? The new Radiohead album, “King of Limbs,” released on February 18 as a digital download, is a singer-songwriter record.
Aside from the sultry lead single “Lotus Flower,” the strongest tracks are the slowest ones: “Codex,” which is mostly singer Thom Yorke and his piano, and “Give Up the Ghost,” which is Yorke and his guitar.
Throughout the British quintet’s now-eight album career, Yorke’s vocals have always been a deal-breaker for many. People who have admired the art rocker’s musicianship have not been able to get into the band more seriously because of York’s sometimes off-key singing.
The band became famous in 1992 with the inescapable complaint-rock hit, “Creep,” which, incidentally, was popular in Tel Aviv before anyplace else.
Thom’s voice may be the strongest instrument on the new album, which is filled with gorgeous ambience and glitchy percussion, but he doesn’t always sound great. His harsh singing in the chorus of “Little by Little” makes the song unlistenable - which is a shame as it has an inventive country-influenced guitar strum in it - and the bass-heavy “Feral,” an instrumental (thus, without vocals) is a song people can skip over once they’ve gone through the album a few times.
“Open your mouth wide, there’s a universe inside,” the opening lyric on the album, sets the stage for an album throughout which the voice is the most important instrument.
November 23, 2010 | 10:06 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
“PASTA! A Pop Ups Puppet Musical” follows around two wannabe-chefs (Jacob Stein, Jason Rabinowitz) who scour Brooklyn in search of the best pasta ingredients.
The show comes to Los Angeles for several performances between Nov. 23 and Nov. 28.
In “PASTA!” Stein and Rabinowitz bring out the acoustic guitars and sing songs from their recently-released children’s-rock album, “Outside Voices,” drawing from a diverse range of genres, like alternative rock, dance and indie, and featuring lyrics about food, animals and more.
During a recent interview, Stein emphasized his and Rabinowitz’s intention to make a show that appeals to all ages. “If you can straddle the line between entertaining both the kids and the adults, it’s a real success,” Stein said.
The new set of shows marks the duo’s return to Los Angeles, after several dates in the Venice area last summer.
“We decided to come back to L.A. because the fans out here have great energy,” Stein wrote in a recent email. “Once the show ended in July, we received emails asking us when we were bringing the show back to LA.”
In real life, Stein and Rabinowitz met in Brooklyn while working together on another puppet show—one for Passover.
“We hit it off,” Rabinowitz said, adding that when they rejoined to record “Outside Voices,” which eventually inspired their “Pasta” musical, “we both wanted to make a record that was sort of our own personal unbridled fun project. And we did.”
Their love of other well-known shows with puppets, such as “Sesame Street” and “Avenue Q,” influenced their decision to turn their record into their very own puppet show.
“When someone asked us to put together a different show,” Stein said, we thought, “let’s go with something we both love doing…puppets.”
“We have the puppet gene,” Rabinowitz said.
The show sees Stein and Rabinowitz juggling multiple tasks, including, of course, manning the puppets, at one point attaching them to the tongues of their Converse, playing live music and providing a live drawing demonstration.
The show features eights songs along with puppet characters whose names, such as Mr. Clunkhead and Fruta Di Marme, a mermaid, Stein and Rabinowitz hope will appeal to kids.
“I think that everybody can have a lot of fun with puppets,” Stein said.
Tue. Through Nov. 28. All shows at 3:30 pm. (except Sat., Nov. 27 at noon). $15. MiMoDa Dance Studio/Theater, 5774 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. thepopups.com/pasta.
November 3, 2010 | 5:44 pm
Posted by Ryan Torok
On Tuesday, November 2, author Nicole Krauss discussed her new book, “Great House” (a 2010 National Book Award finalist), in front of an intimate audience at the Los Angeles Central Library.
Following an interview with KCRW radio host Michael Silverblatt, Krauss answered questions from audience members.
“I think for me, the great opportunity of writing a novel is to step into the inner life,” Kraus said on Tuesday. The event lasted approximately one hour.
The Los Angeles Central Library routinely holds readings, lectures and discussions with writers. The series, known as ALOUD, recently featured novelist Jonathan Franzen. On Nov. 30, Salman Rushdie will appear in conversation with Reza Aslan.
“Great House,” a work of fiction and Krauss’ third novel, explores the importance of objects in peoples’ lives.
Toward the end of the discussion with Krauss, Silverblatt appealed to the audience to support public libraries. He spoke of city budget cuts that forced L.A. libraries to close on Sundays and Mondays.
Kraus’s husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, writes novels, nonfiction and short stories (“Everything is Illuminated,” “Eating Animals”).
To listen to a podcast of Krauss’ interview and discussion, click here.