Sunday, September 19, 2010

(ARTS) 'Jewtopia' Provides A World Of Laughs

"In 2003, two out-of-work stand-up comedians sat down to write a short comedy scene that would showcase their talents and get them some attention.

Two productions, a book and a film-in-development later, Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson find themselves at the head of a lucrative enterprise called 'Jewtopia.'

The original skit expanded into 'Jewtopia,' a comedic play about a gentile with a Jewish mentor who tutors him so he can go undercover at a Jewish singles group to find a nice Jewish girl to marry.

'Jewtopia' found its humor in skewering and taking gentle jabs at stereotypes about Jewish folkways and behaviors. The original 2003 production -- a 16-month run in a 99-seat Los Angeles theater -- sold out nearly every performance, recouped its original investment and continues to hold the record as Los Angeles' longest-running comedy.

After partnering with Broadway producer Bill Franzblau, Fogel and Wolfson took their show to Off-Broadway in New York City where it continued to play to sold out houses and recouped its $625,000 investment in just 20 weeks.

The book, 'Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People,' an over-the-top, full-color, illustrated coffee-table style book of Jewish humor, followed in 2006.

The latest innovation 'The World of Jewtopia,' a 90-minute, intermission-free two-man show starring Fogel and Jeremy Rishe from the Off-Broadway production of 'Jewtopia,' arrives this weekend at the Byham Theater, Downtown for two performances.

Combining scenes from 'Jewtopia,' stand-up comedy, excerpts from the best-selling book, elements of multimedia and opportunities for audience interaction, 'The World of Jewtopia' has been drawing big audiences and bigger laughs as it tours the country, Fogel says.

Asked to explain the show's enduring success, Fogel says: 'The modest answer? Luck. The honest answer? It's good. It's really, really funny.'

The core of the show remains the same -- a gentile learning how to masquerade as a Jew.

Lessons include how to pick an item from a restaurant menu and alter it beyond recognition with multiple small requests -- dressing on the side, salmon instead of chicken, rice instead of pasta -- or how to complain endlessly about pains and illness or turn a simple departure from a party into an hour-long ritual

'We play on stereotypes,' Fogel says. 'What makes comedy work is to see the truths. Stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason. They're not universally true, but they are real.'

The material may be based in Jewish stereotypes and behaviors, but people will see themselves, friends or family in those situations or characters.

'But you don't have to be Jewish to enjoy it,' Fogel says. 'They come and they just laugh themselves silly. ... It's just fun. It don't think there's a deeper message. It's not preachy and nobody dies.'" (source)

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