John McCain may be overstating things a bit when he says that Purim is a Jewish Halloween. True, in terms of its modern celebration it is similarly festive. I remember reading in the All of a Kind Family books about the kids dressing up and knocking on people’s doors, chanting, “Today is Purim, tomorrow no more! Now give me a penny and show me the door!” Certainly parallels can be drawn between that and trick-or-treating, but Purim’s actual origins, as a chance to fete an (unfortunately all too rare) occasion of triumph over anti-Semitism, should not be overlooked.
Nonetheless, it does provide an excuse to have a good time, which leads me to that writing project I’d earlier alluded to being tied up working on. As a fan of Monty Python and Fry and Laurie I realized recently that it was a bit unfortunate that I’d never really ever pursued trying to write sketch comedy. I can’t say I never did, as I did dabble a bit with it in high school, even going so far as filming a production of my “Press the Flesh” Sunday talk show parody for the television production class I was taking. But after high school I never really thought about pursuing it again until my third year of law school, when, given the apparent (and surprising) success of my songwriting I thought maybe I should give it another go.
Unfortunately my semester abroad prevented me from being involved with the annual Legal Follies production, an evening of sketch-driven satire of all things legal that many law schools do annually. But then this spring my local synagogue announced that they would be doing a production of Purim Follies to celebrate the holiday and invited people to write Jewish-themed sketches for it. So I gave it a shot.
Fortunately, as I read it out at a writer’s meeting it got some laughs. Unfortunately, none were by the guy producing the show, hence its lack of inclusion at last night’s Purim Follies production. I can’t imagine ever having another excuse to use it, but instead of wasting a perfectly good — or at least not a completely terrible — piece of writing, why not, as per usual, post it on my blog?
It began by picking up on an idea thrown out at an early brainstorming meeting, about there being a writers’ strike. A torah writers’ strike, featuring protestors chanting Hebrew puns such as, “Hey hey! Shin shin! Yud better pe what we demand!” Seeing how the religious elders were getting “a lot of pressure from upstairs” to come up with content, it then devolved into an Aramaean Idol situation, where people would come in to pitch their ideas, which all happened to be Jewish versions of various reality TV shows. Someone else had suggested one of them be Next Top Mohel, which I had the judges cut for being too short. I also started them off with a candidate proposing Survivor: Long Island, where the Levi and Cohenim tribes first compete for the reward of not having to see their mother, and then later for immunity, which none end up getting because it turns out the prize was really a false idol.
My favorite part of it, however, was a parody of Top Chef (pronounced Top Khef, “like Chanukah, back of the throat”). The first contestant reasonably impressed the judges with his multi-course Chinese meal, described increasingly inelegantly:
We begin with a delicate wanton soup, followed by crispy egg rolls, a quart of fried rice, containers of sweet and sour chicken and beef and broccoli, and for dessert a fortune cookie. All for 8.99 plus tax.
The judges murmur and coo appreciatively, “So much food!” “And for such a price!” “I don’t think I could ever eat another bite!” before a beat passes and the same voice announces, “I’m hungry again, who’s next?”
The next chef comes in and very aloofly cites his five-star credentials and training at the side of some of the most pre-eminent chefs in the world:
To begin we have an avocado and bacon amuse bouche. Lightly seasoned the crisp taste of the bacon should really stand out on the palette. We then cleanse the palette with this new twist on a classic shrimp salad, pairing each whole unpeeled shrimp with a selection of cold oysters and clams. We follow it up with a first plate of lightly breaded and butter-fried frogs legs and calamari, and a surf-and-turf plat principal featuring lobster claw and roast pork loin bathed in a beurre blanc. Finally we close the meal with a plate of fine cheeses and fruits, each carefully plucked from the first harvest of newly planted trees. Bon appetit.
To understand why the judges would increasingly blanch at such a menu, you’d have to be familiar with kosher dietary laws, as every bit of that meal was nothing but treif, from the obvious porcine products and un-gilled seafood, to the mixing of meat and dairy in the same meal, to even the picking of new fruit, which is also biblically proscribed.
The winner naturally is the next contestant, who begins with a finely-pulverized gefilte fish accompanied by carrots and clear jelly and served with a selection of horseradishes from the finest vendors in New York. Next is the soup course, a “chicken broth bathing a duo of matzoh balls — one floating, one not, to suit individual taste”. The main course is a flavorless roast chicken, served with a selection of whole and half sour pickle spears and paired with this spring’s vintage of Manischewitz. (“Concord grape?” “Black currant, actually. For that extra zing.”) Dessert is a plate of ruggeleh and butter cookies imported from the finest local bakeries in the Bronx and “served with a finger of Doctor Brown’s Cream.”
So, while perhaps I’m not ready to give Stephen Fry a run for his money, I think it did come out well enough to warrant a further sketch-writing attempt. Perhaps next time for an even broader audience, like all monotheists generally…