Around the holidays some people cozy up a little closer to their religion, making Christmas Eve the one day a year they actually attend services. Others, such as Jewish comedian Sean Altman, spend the night before Christmas on stage at Jammin' Java tweaking Jesus for being short.
Altman, who performs under the handle of “Jewmongous,” is a comedic singer-songwriter that turns the dogmatic oddities of Judaism into fodder for a funny solo stage show he takes on the road around the holidays. And with about 4,000 years of Jewish history, Altman has plenty of material from which to draw.
He skewers the restrictions of the Jewish Sabbath by examining the intricacies of spending Shabbos at a strip club in “Be My Little Shabbos Goy.” He pokes fun at Passover with “They Tried to Kill Us (We Survived, Let's Eat).” The title track of Altman's album, “Taller Than Jesus,” looks back at the hysteria of a historical heretical statement by John Lennon (when he said the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus Christ”) and stands it on its head. Altman jabs that the while the Son of God might have had the power of the Holy Spirit, he would have made a lousy power forward in the NBA, as most men of Jesus's day were an average height of 4-foot-9 to 5-foot-5. Of course, given the whole water to wine thing he would have made timeouts considerably more fun.
While some could contend that Altman's routine slanders the sacred, he claims his act is his way of involving himself with his religion.
“Part of Judaism is to question and the ultimate form of questioning is to lovingly skewer something,” Altman says. “The Jewmongous material is very proud. If anything, my show is self-egrandizing and shows my love for my religion.
“This fulfills a need to reconnect to my Jewishness. And when I say 'reconnect,' I mean 'connect period,'” says Altman, only an occasional attendee at synagogue. “I think there are a lot of third generation Jews like me out there that want to be in touch with our Jewishness but don't necessarily want to go to synagogue.”
Though he holds his religion in reverence, Altman is not afraid of pushing the envelope. Such is the case when he invokes the ancient allegations that Jews drank the blood of Christian infants in the Irish pub song parody “Christian Baby Blood.”
“I think the best songs are the ones that make people a little nervous,” Altman says. “I'm not Allan Sherman [the famous musician, parodist and television producer who penned the song “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah”]. I'm not cute. I eschew cute.”
Jewmongous is just the latest chapter in a lengthy musical career for Altman. After his rock band went unsigned by a label, he founded the a capella group Rockapella, best known for authoring the title song to TV's “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” In the late 1990s Altman began dabbling in comedic songwriting and spent five years teamed with fellow Judaism jabber Rob Tannenbaum tweaking the Torah as a duo dubbed What I Like About Jew. After five years performing once a year at the holidays and recording one album Altman and Tannenbaum split, though not exactly amicably.
“I haven't had a conversation with [Tannenbaum] in a really long time,” says Altman, who still performs three to four songs the two wrote together. Tannenbaum and Altman now compete for the same markets much of the time, as they both take to the roads around the holidays.
“He is my nemesis,” Altman explains. “Which is pretty cool because not everyone gets to have a nemesis.”
Altman will have company on stage at Jammin' Java however, as 15-year old Ethan Blonder, at whose Bar Mitzvah Altman performed, will help Altman perform “Today I am a Man.”
• Altman will perform two shows at Jammin' Java on Dec. 24, at 7 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $17 in advance and $20 at the door.