Published on Apr 20, 2016
On this week’s episode we talk to artist and journalist Molly Crabapple about her memoirs Drawing Blood which drops TODAY! DECEMBER 1! Molly has reported and created art from Guantanamo Bay military tribunals, to Occupy Wall Street, to Iraq’s Domiz camp for Syrian refugees, to Luzerne County PA courthouses. She talks to the Katie Halper Show about being an Arroz Con Matzoh Ball (a Puerto-Rican Jew), the influence of her artist mother and Marxist Latin American studies professor father, getting food poisoning in Morocco, why talent isn’t enough, what the liberal media is getting wrong about Syrian refugees, and why dash cams and “photos will never defeat white supremacy.”
Katie Halper refers to herself as a stereotype of the Upper West Side. “My dad’s a psychiatrist. My mom’s an English professor and a novelist,” she explained. She identifies as Jewish, but in the secular sense, and uses that in her comedy. “I’ll do stuff about anything from Zabar’s to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
The 34-year-old is making a name for herself in the political comedy world of New York City. Describing herself as “liberal, progressive, left,” she is very much aware of the fact that she’s not alone in her thinking here in the city. “It’s funny, people are always like, ‘You’re preaching to the choir,’ but the choir deserves to be entertained,” she said.
This year, she was given her own weekly radio show on WBAI, “The Katie Halper Show,” where she brings on guests such as historians, journalists, organizers and of course, fellow comedians, and they give their takes on the news, the arts, politics and pop culture.
On November 18th, she will host Laughing Liberally, an offshoot of Living Liberally, the troupe, of which she is a member, that creates social events around progressive politics. Her documentary “Commie Camp” about Jewish activist-founded Camp Kinderland, which she attended as a youngster, will play at Anthology Film Archives on December 14.
How did you get started in comedy?I’ve always been very political. I went to Wesleyan University in Connecticut and when I was in college, I thought that I would go to law school. I remember one day at Wesleyan, people were like, “Katie, you should be in the standup show.” And I said, “I don’t do standup. I’m not funny on command.” Because they thought I was funny. So I did the show. I just basically told stories about my family, and my grandmother, in particular. There was a really nice and funny woman who was the headliner named Susan Prekel and she was really encouraging. But I was reluctant to perform. There was something I always thought was kind of obnoxious about actors and performers. I was also more political, so it took me a while to admit that I liked performing.
What was it like growing up on the Upper West Side?Well, I’m the product of a mixed marriage, my mom is Bronxian and my dad is Queensian. But I’m a walking stereotype of the Upper West Side. It’s very Woody Allen. Actually, there’s a part in the film “Annie Hall” where Allen meets a character named Allison Portchnik, who is played by Carol Kane, and tries to size her up and says, “You’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and … father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and … strike-oriented kind of, red diaper …” But I grew up on Riverside Drive, not Central Park West, and went to Wesleyan, not Brandeis. I even went to the socialist summer camp, Camp Kinderland, which was founded by secular Jewish workers in the 1920s. My mom, uncle and grandmother worked there and I made a documentary about it called “Commie Camp.” It’s funny because I didn’t use to identify as Jewish because I’m not at all religious. But now I realize that there is a secular Jewish identity and tradition, which I very much have.
New York Magazine called you “Stephen Colbert crossed with Sarah Silverman.” How do you describe your comedic style?Like Colbert. I am ironic or satirical and sometimes pseudo self-congratulating, but I break character all the time. My normal character is just me. Actually someone just gave me a blurb today and she’s like, “You’re quirky and incisive, but never mean.” I like to get people to tell me stories. I really like listening to people and asking them questions. Often I’ll have people talk, not just about the current events, but also about their lives. I like to get them able to relax. And when I do standup, it varies between short, cerebral jokes or storytelling. Sometimes it’s sarcastic. It’s about politics. It’s about dating. More and more it’s about dating, actually. Thank God for small favors, like terrible dates, which make great art. It’s all going in the book that I want to write one day.
t’s hard to watch TV, go online, or even leave the house without encountering the deceptively cherubic face of comedian and filmmaker Amy Schumer. Sketches from her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, are viral sensations; her HBO standup special, directed by Chris Rock, will air in October. She wrote and stars in the critically-acclaimed film Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, which is raking it in at the box office. On Monday night, she appeared as one of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show guests; earlier that day, ISchumer held a press conference to announce her support for a plan championed by her distant cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns. This comes on the heels of the July shooting at a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Trainwreck, in which two women were killed and nine people were injured.
Amy Schumer’s stand-up and sketches tackle issues like birth control, abortion, rape, sexism, and warped female beauty standards with humor and fearlessness, positioning her as a feminist icon. And indeed, some critics and fans have hailed Trainwreck as a clever subversion of the typical romantic comedy plot. But others complain that it reinforces the rom-com narrative more than it challenges it. Schumer has also come in for criticism over her handling of race issues, both in Trainwreck and in her sketches and stand-up.
I talked about Amy Schumer’s comedy and its presentation of gender and race with writers and performers who themselves engage with these themes in a funny and thoughtful way. Laura Swisher is a stand-up comedian who worked as a producer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and now works for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Gabe Pacheco is a stand-up comedian who co-hosts and co-produces Funhouse Comedy, a weekly stand-up comedy show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and is a co-host on The Katie Halper Show on WBAI. Rae Sanni is a comedian and writer who co-hosts the It’s About Us podcast. Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the author of Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life. Kate Levin is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction, and faculty member of the University of Southern California, whose most recent piece, for The Boston Globe, reflects on being a teenage prank call addict.
Katie Halper: Let’s start with the argument that some of Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist. What do you think of that criticism—and Schumer’s response?
Laura Swisher: There are comics whose material I loathe and find offensive, and often times it’s because their material is racist and/or sexist and utterly lacking in craft. But if a comic can make me laugh, or surprise me, I give them a lot more leeway, even if individual jokes might be offensive. I’d put Schumer in the “give her more leeway” category.
Kate Levin: The most salient thing for me when I think about Schumer and race is the response she gave after a Guardian writer called her out for having a blind spot around this subject. In response to criticism of the joke, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,” she replied, “It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it…. Trust me. I am not racist.” I like Schumer—some of the stuff on her show I like a lot—but her response doesn’t hold up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny. She knows what she said wasn’t racist because… it was funny and people laughed at it? People laugh at racist jokes all the time! She knows that. (People also laugh at stuff that isn’t funny all the time, which she knows, too.) So what could land a smart person in such a swamp of illogic? Continue reading “ Comedians Debate: Is Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ Sexist, or the New Feminism?”
Oy! Can you believe it’s 5775 already? It feels like 5765! Am I right? Anyway, Happy New Year! L’Shana Tovah. As we celebrate the new year, let us commit to a health and happiness. And to do that, we really may want to consider diluting the gene pool.
I know how much we Jews like to keep it in the family. But sometimes it’s a little too close for comfort, as we know from certain unfortunate certain outcomes and diseases, like Tay Sachs. A new study tracking Jewish genes, or “Jenes,” has determined that every single Ashkenazi Jew alive today can be traced back to a group of 330 people from the Middle Ages. The Ashenazi are the Jews who came out of Eastern Europe, France and Germany, while Sephardic Jews descend from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East. 80% of Jews today are Ashkenazi.
99% of the time that we use Jewish as an adjective to describe a behavior or look, we really mean Ashkenazi. Like, “Woody Allen is so Ashkenazi!” Or, “male comedians love talking about their guilt-inducing, passive-agressive Ashkenazi mothers!” Or, “if you haven’t been to Zabars, you’re not a real ashkenazi.” So, maybe Jews should embrace inter-marriage or inter-breeding or diluting our gene pool as a mitzvah (good deed) instead of condemning it as a shandeh (a shame).
On this week’s Morning Jew (see video above), Katie Halper (little old me) and Heather Gold talk with the brilliant illustrator and author Lisa Brown about Jewish genes, dating, Pope fashion and the now defunct Upper West Side Manhattan match-making cafe with the unfortunate name of Drip.