Rob Tannenbaum has a great reason to love Christmas — lots of them, in fact.
"I usually spend Christmas day counting the money that I made performing during Christmas week and Chanukah,” says Rob Tannenbaum, one half of the comedic-music tandem Good for the Jews. “I just have huge stacks of $20s on the bed and I just roll around in it in my pajamas.”
As with most things, Tannenbaum is joking. Though given the spate of ticket sales for Good for the Jews’ Dec. 18 show at Jammin’ Java, it wouldn’t be a stretch. The 7 p.m. show sold out a week ahead of time, leading to the addition of a 9:30 p.m. show.
Tannenbaum considers himself and partner David Fagin a part of (if not part-founders of) the Jewish Hipster movement, an irreverent and often humorous blend of Jewish cultural elements that explore what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century. As such, Good for the Jews has been in high demand for their catalog of catchy and comical Semitic Songs.
“We grew up hearing jokes about what schmucks and schlubs Jews were,” says Tannenbaum, who grew up on records of Woody Allen and Mel Brooks. “That doesn’t really fit any more. Now we’ve assimilated. And a lot of us have grown up not as observant [of Judaism] as our parents. I mean, temple happens on Friday night at 7 p.m. I want to be in a bar on Friday night at 7 p.m. There are other ways to further our identity as Jews and express our Jewishness.”
The two haven’t played any Bar Mitzvahs, though they do have a song about them. It begins: “I’ve got two pubic hairs and a three-piece suit — Today I am a man.”
“It just deals with the paradox that at age 13 in the Jewish religion, a boy is suddenly a man,” Tannenbaum says. “Unfortunately, it isn’t nearly that neat of convenient.”
In addition to changes in anatomy and maturity, Tannenbaum also found another difference between his life as a child and an adult.
“When I was a kid I would get detention for being a wiseass,” he says. “Now I get paid for it.”
Tannenbaum and Fagin haven’t shied away from their religion-centric act, even in these recent days of super-sensitivity regarding the subject. Sacha Baron Cohen (himself a Jew) was slammed for anti-Semitic jokes in his new movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”
“I don’t think ‘Borat’ portrays the Judaism in a negative light at all,” Tannenbaum says. “Sacha Baron Cohen observes the Sabbath, he speaks Hebrew … actually he’s a better Jew than I am.”
As for the humor, Tannenbaum sees these times of heightened sensitivity around religion as the perfect time to lampoon it.
“What better subjects to make jokes about than the taboo subjects,” he says. “There is a great tradition in comedy about addressing taboos. Look at Richard Prior and Chris Rock with African Americans, Margaret Cho with Asian Americans. What he [Sacha Baron Cohen] is doing is nothing different than what Prior did with African Americans.”
Tannenbaum isn’t out to start any socio-philosophical debates however. That much is clear when asked what he hopes for from his audiences.
“I hope they pay.”