Two Midwestern Jews Walk Into LABA

Two Midwestern Jews walk into LABA. One for an interview in June 2019. The other for a LABA study session she’s been invited to check out. Both leave their LABA interactions changed and thoroughly hooked on LABA.

Laura Newmark, the new Director of LABA, will remember that first night as a highlight of her early time working at the 14th Street Y. She will remember the presentation given by writer Joshua Max Feldman about the movie A Serious Man, and the comment she made to the LABA fellows that “this was her childhood,” which got some serious laughs. Cut to LABA Humor. After that fateful night, Laura would attend many LABA sessions and would become a LABA fellow in the year of OTHER, creating a project on the feelings of otherness in becoming a new mother. 

Charles Gershman, the new LABA Journal Editor and a 2019-2020 LABA Fellow, will remember hearing about 2018-2019 Fellow Dmitri Barcomi’s project, Necrophoresis, and realizing that any program that supported a project combining the death rituals of ants and the life of Anna Freud was one he wanted to be a part of. He will remember nervously walking into his LABA interview and talking about his proposed project, which explores the links between nudity and humor in Jewish contexts, and hoping that he wouldn’t be the craziest person in the room.

And as the fates of midwestern Jews would have it, we have now learned that Charlie’s Camp Thunderbird summer camp counselor in Bemidji, Minnesota, was none other than Laura’s older brother.

Welcome to LABA Humor!

What are you excited about as both a LABA Fellow/LABA Journal Editor?

Charles Gershman: I am excited to have the shelter and community of LABA as I explore humor in a Jewish context and begin to construct a play from what I learn. I am excited to get to know the other fellows. And as LABA Journal Editor, I am eager to showcase the work that comes out of LABA to the broader community, and to help acquaint the world with the unique voices of the 2019-2020 LABA fellows.

Who is your favorite Jewish comedian?

CG: Joan Rivers, Sarah Silverman. I’d also like to plug Sam Morrison, who I met at the Edinburgh Fringe this past summer, who is doing some really cutting-edge stuff with queer comedy.

If you go back in time and have coffee with a great Jewish scholar or biblical figure, who would it be and why?

CG: I’d want to talk to Sarah about giving birth at age 90. I’d ask her about sex, pregnancy, and motherhood at 90—with the vague and perhaps misguided sense that it might better prepare me for my own years ahead.

Describe a perfect night out in the East Village.

CG: Dinner at Veselka with close friends and/or my husband, a play at one of the amazing downtown theaters, and drinks at Phoenix Bar or The Boiler Room.

What are you excited about as Director of LABA?

Laura Newmark: LABA feels like a warm bath for your creative and intellectual Jewish soul. It leads you into myriad new ideas, thoughts and questions. I have left many study sessions horrified, intrigued, amped up, and always wanting more. I am particularly excited to delve deeply into humor, in all its light and dark facets, through a lens of ancient Hebrew text study with fabulous teachers and an amazing group of fellows.

Who is your favorite Jewish comedian?

LN: Jon Stewart. I’ve always loved his comedy and intellect and have enjoyed watching his comedic evolution but have been truly inspired by his activism as well.

If you go back in time and have coffee with a great Jewish scholar or biblical figure, who would it be and why?

LN: I have two. Resh Lakish: fascinating and a renegade. Would love to hear this rebel’s ideas. Ruth: a genuinely good person. What made her give up everything to move with her mother-in-law to a foreign land?!

Describe a perfect night out in the East Village.

LN: A progressive night of food and libations and music … Decibel, Angel’s Share, Veselka, Lil Frankies and then karaoke at Sing Sing till the wee hours.