Inside D.C. entertainment

Good for the Jews to save Judaism on Christmas Eve

December 19, 2011 - 04:01 PM
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Rob Tannenbaum lives in fear of Drake.

The singer, a Jewish black Canadian, unites all of comedy's traditional practitioners in one gene pool, and if he decides to start doing shows on Christmas Eve, Tannenbaum and David Fagin are hosed.

Until then Christmas Eve belongs to Good for the Jews, Tannenbaum and Fagin's unique combination of music, insult comedy, and jokes that goyim laugh nervously and pretend to get.

Good for the Jews plays Jammin' Java on Dec. 24, and they wouldn't have to be out on such a cold night, so many miles from Tannenbaum's home in New York, if Hebrew school wasn't so freaking boring.

"It's a very joyless expression of Judaisim," says Tannenbaum. "It explains why so many unobservant Jews are abandoning the religion."

"The music that I write and sing," he says, "is the music I wish I'd been able to hear as a Jewish teenager."

Tannenbaum was negatively shaped by what he says was called Jewish music when he was growing up in Stamford, Conn. "It was folk music delicately strummed on a guitar," he says. "It was sincere, holy, and boring as hell."

This is not what you get from Good for the Jews. At one show I saw a few years ago at the DCJCC, Tannenbaum and Fagin riffed for quite some time on one audience member's name (I can't remember the exact riff, but it was something like "Were your parents the Jewiest Jews in your hometown?"). Tannenbaum says the group's song "I'm Better Looking Than the Guy You're Going Out With" is a cue for uncomfortable audience interaction.

"There's only one time I've gone out in the audience to talk to people and felt in physical danger," he says. One time, the song occasioned a marriage proposal among a couple he'd targeted. They invited Tannenbaum to officiate at their wedding, too: "They wanted to be roasted at their own wedding," he says, "and I was happy to oblige."

Tannenbaum's smartass live persona (think Catskills by way of Park Slope) isn't too different from his Twitter persona (and I encourage anyone reading this to follow his account in the hope that he may someday catch up with me, follower-wise). It is considerably less respectful than the tone he adopts while writing about music for Rolling Stone or I Want My MTV, the new book he co-authored with Craig Marks.

"Unfortunately I don't get paid yet for being a wiseass on Twitter," he says. "As badly as writing pays, being a musician pays even worse. I'd say that [being in Good for the Jews] is less than 5 percent of my time but is probably 80 percent of my delight. If you write a good article for Rolling Stone, nobody applauds."

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