Rob Tannenbaum is a man with opinions on holidays. Thanksgiving, transcendent: “if it were up to me, I would be drinking turkey gravy.” Christmas, yawn: “it's the most boring time of year. There's not too much to do past stay at home and watch It's a Wonderful Life on TV.
And Hanukkah, time to go see his comedy-music duo Good for the Jews (Cafe Du Nord, Dec. 1): “There's a long and storied tradition of Jews in San Francisco. I hope that we will see evidence of that.” Tickets would make a great present for the first of those eight crazy nights...
Tannenbaum and partner David Fagin (who respectively moonlight as music editor of Blender and frontman for nice guy-pop band The Rosenbergs) sing well placed mockeries of Jewaphrenalia, my favorite of which being “Rueben the Hook-Nosed Reindeer,” though I'm also partial to the lounge stylings of “Going Down to Boca.” Their work comes as a follow up to Tannenbaum's previous comedy project: What I Like About Jew, an act performed at New York's The Knitting Factory that sold out shows six years running.
Tannenbaum is aware of what his audience wants, mainly because it's what he himself wants out of Judaic entertainment. “When I was kid and they played Jewish music in our synagogue, it was always so horrible. It was earnest and boring, like a cross between the Indigo girls and the Old Testament.” In Good for the Jews' creation, he was looking to capitalize on the legacy of mischief and humor inherent in Jewish consciousness, the same legacy from whence he says come Sarah Silverman and Jon Stewart's riffs. “I wanted to start a show that was traditionally Jewish but didn't make being Jewish seem like the most boring thing in the world,” he says.
His tongue-in-cheek celebration of his faith – well hold up, because maybe “faith” is a bad word for how Tannebaum experiences being a Jew. He told me in our recent phone interview that he only darkens temple's door a few times a year on the high holidays, but that he likes the idea of people getting into a room to celebrate shared heritage. “The same thing is true at our show, but at our show you can drink, which I don't think you can do at temple,” he quips. His Jewishness, he says, lies in “the things I eat, the things I laugh at, the books I read, the TV shows I watch – they're not Jewish themed, but my gestalt is Jewish. As is my circumsized penis.”
Okay, so his tongue-in-cheek celebration of his gestalt-penis, then, delights the crowds that go to see it, most of whom have been urban, many secular Jews like himself – but diverse in ways he didn't expect they would be when the duo launched a tour that included dates in Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico earlier this year. He says at a few gigs Fagin and himself outnumbered the amount of Jews in the audience. “But sometimes those shows are more rewarding," he says.
But the duo's frank irreverence has been known to attract negative attention as well. Which brings us to our next topic: San Franciscan Nazis.
The last time the Good for the Jews duo played SF, they were greeted by a chap goose-stepping to some inner notion of bigot matyrdom: an Aryan Pride guy who'd come to protest their show. Tannenbaum recalls the situation in his standard one liner manner (“He felt that we were representative of the Jewish-owned media. If we're representing Zionist power, then why am I staying at a Holiday Inn?”)
But somewhere in his memory of the event lurks the indignation it triggered: the experience of being a musician about to play a show at a respectable venue who runs into the very prejudice that his ironic music implicitly calls passé. Tannenbaum tells me he actually went outside to have a conversation with the fellow, but had to retreat when he felt himself approaching the thought of violence. “When you hear someone insulting your ancestors it tends to rile up the blood a little bit.”
The incident, in a strange way, speaks to why he's looking forward to next week's comedy show. “This sounds like malarky, but I really do love San Francisco. It's the only city where I think, yeah I could live here.” Nazis and all. “It's the end result of so much tolerance: if you're going to tolerate people you have to tolerate Nazis, too.”
Good for the Jews
Wed/1 8 p.m., $12-15
Cafe Du Nord
2170 Market, SF