Tag: schlemiel

Swimming in a Sea of Invisible Ink: A Note on Ozick’s “Envy; Or, Yiddish in America.”

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One of the more interesting characteristics of the schlemiel relates to his/her timing.  The comic character is belated: s/he comes too late to the party or is out of sync with what is going on.  But what is most interesting about this belatedness is how the schlemiel relates to it: the schlemiel can either be oblivious to being belated or painfully aware of it.   However, even in the latter case, which often leads to bitterness, there is still a blindness that prevails.  And the schlemiel, it seems, is swimming in, as it were, invisible ink.  Sometimes, however, that ink can be a bitter sea.

Edelshtein, the main character of Cynthia Ozick’s, “Envy; Or, Yiddish in America,” is a case in point.  He is caught up in a dying dream of being recognized in America as a Yiddish writer.  Yiddish, as he notes, died in Europe.  But this doesn’t keep him from being enthusiastic about it.  Besides writing in Yiddish and maintaining a journal entitled A Bitterer Yam (the “Bitter Sea”) he goes from synagogue to synagogue and Jewish community center to Jewish community center to talk about Yiddish.  The narrator likens him to a “television stand-up comic” whose humor is bitter, sardonic, and falls dead (like the language he dreams in).  Nonetheless, he continues to talk about Yiddish and write in Yiddish although he knows it is dying and will not live on.  And, regardless of his humor, he lives a belated existence and continues to swim in bitterness.

However, there is hope; but, for him, it is not hope.  It comes in the form of a man named Yankel Ostrover.  He and Baumzweig, the editor of A Bitterer Yam (which Baumzweig’s wife jokingly calls Invisible Ink), can’t stand him:

Edelshtein’s friendship with Baumzweig had a ferocious secret: it was moored entitled to their agreed hatred for the man they called der chazer.  He was named Pig because of his extraordinarily white skin, like a tissue of a pale ham, and also because in the last decade he had become unbelievably famous. When they did not call him Pig they called him shed – Devil.  (133, Jewish American Stories ed. Irving Howe)

Ostrover, they complain, is not a real Yiddish writer.  Like a pig, he appears to be Kosher (pigs have split hooves on the “outside,” but they do not “chew their cud” and are not kosher in the “inside”) but is not.   His writing in the Yiddish lacks the greatness of all the famous Yiddish writers.  And his topics are, in his view, vulgar.  And, as Edelshtein learns, his popularity is largely based on his translator and is, in many ways, the function of good luck.  And that’s the point.  Edelshtein has bad luck and this kills him.  He feels he is more deserving and is pained by the fact that the youth – the next generation of Jews – love Ostrover while he can only speak to older Jews who give no hope of carrying the tradition on.  In other words, the tradition of Yiddish isn’t really be carried on, in his view, by Ostrover.  Something else is.

Edelshtein is a schlemiel of a rare type because his hope is impossible.  He cannot admit to himself that he has failed or that Yiddish in America is closer to what Sidrah DeKoven Ezrahi – in Booking Passage – would call a “virtual shtetl.”  To be sure, the person, she argues, who was translated into Yiddish and became a central figure in this virtual shtetl was I.B. Singer.  His “Gimpel the Fool,” translated into English by Saul Bellow and published in the Partisan Review, marked the beginning of the new wave.

However, Edelshtein’s resentment is based on the fact that he didn’t make it and not just Yiddish.  He is the schlemiel because he believed he, himself, could actually preserve the core of Yiddish when America wanted something else, something in English that may have some link to Yiddish – one it will never know.   He comes to late, it seems; but Ostrover seems to come in on time.  The difference between the two is, as a I mentioned above, a matter of luck; but it also has to do with the fact that America wants to have a “virtual shtetl,” one, so to speak, in its own image.

And in this virtual shtetl there seems to be no room for the bitter failure and his journal A Bitterer Yam; or is it, rather, Invisible Ink?  After all, who will read him and carry on his legacy?   He comes too late and the tradition that goes on, it seems, isn’t Yiddish, it’s virtual.   Edelshtein – because he is belated and afflicted by bad luck – seems to be swimming in a bitter sea of invisible ink because no one will read him like they read Ostrover and his virtual Yiddish novels.

I Want to Start Again: The Schlemiel, Bad Luck, and the Desire for a New Life (Starring Walter Benjamin)

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The desire for change and a new life is fundamentally human.  And oftentimes the desire to start a new life is based on the fact that one is beset by bad luck.  To be sure, this is a theme which many Jews are familiar.  Bad luck seems to follow Jews around.  And, as a result, Jews have been forced – for centuries – to move from town to town or country to country.  But, despite this negative reality, the Talmud tells us that if one changes one’s place one changes one’s mazel (luck).

Schlemiels are often beset with bad luck.  And most of them go on journeys in search of a new land and a new life.  To get out of their predicament, they often dream of starting anew.   We see this in the classics of Yiddish literature such as The Travels and Adventures of Benjamin III by Mendel Mocher Sforim, Mendel the Cantor’s Son by Sholem Aleichem, and I.B. Singer’s Gimpel stories.  We see the schlemiel’s journey for a new life in Kafka’s Amerika.  And we also it in Jewish American literature, such as A New Life by Bernard Malamud, Stern by Bruce Jay Freidman, Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander, and every novel by Gary Shteyngart.

We also see the schlemiel’s desire for change in movies like Annie Hall, where Woody Allen ventures to California (albeit with great skepticism), Whatever Works, where Larry David consents to live with a young woman, or Greenberg – where Ben Stiller plays a schlemiel character who goes to California in search of a new life.

In just about all of the above-mentioned stories and movies, the schlemiel’s hopes for a new life are shown to be deluded or misguided.   And as we observe the process of their fictional journey, we experience the juxtaposition of hope and failure.  The affect, especially in Freidman and Auslander’s novels, can be unsettling.  But the process can also suggest some kind of balance between being naïve and being realistic.

The question, for all of these novelists and filmmakers, is fundamentally human and particularly Jewish: how do we realistically address bad luck and our desire for change?  Can we simply believe that our desire for a new life is realistic?  Will moving to another place change our luck or is that a misguided hope?  Is it better to just be reminded of how bad things are by virtue of a character who is out-of-touch or naïve about reality?

We see a fascinating analogue of this in the real life experiences of a living schlemiel named Walter Benjamin.  Near the end of his life Walter Benjamin met up with Hannah Arendt in Paris.  Both of them fled Germany but in leaving they looked for a new life.  But, of the two, Benjamin was the schlemiel.  Regardless of the fact that he looked to live a new life (and he was offered to leave Europe for America or for Israel by good friends of his), he still had bad luck.  And he knew it.  His life, in other words, didn’t change much: it seemed to be one bad thing after another.

Hannah Arendt, in her introductory essay to his work, entitled the first section “The Hunchback.”  She recalls that Benjamin failed to become successful in his lifetime.  He always had failure at his back.  Since he was a child, the “hunchback,” a figure of bad luck, was with him: “The hunchback was an early acquaintance of his, who had first met him when, still a child, he found the poem in a children’s book, and he never forgot”(6, Illuminations).   Arendt quotes the poem:

When I go down to the cellar

There to draw some wine,

A little hunchback is there

Grabs that jug of mine

When I go into the kitchen,

There my soup to make,

A little hunchback who’s in there

My little pot did break.

Arendt goes on to argue that Benjamin was obsessed with childhood figures that threatened failure and death: “His mother, like millions of other mothers in Germany, used to say, ‘Mr. Bungle sends his regards’ whenever one of the countless little catastrophes of childhood had taken place.”

According to Arendt, the “child knew of course what this strange bungling was about.”  It was about falling and failure:

It was he who had tripped you up when you fell and knocked the thing out of your hand when it went to pieces.  And after the child came the grown-up man who knew what the children was ignorant of, namely, that it was not he who had provoked the “little one” by looking at him…but the hunchback who looked at him and that bungling was a misfortune.  (6)

Arendt is right regarding the constant misfortune that Benjamin experienced.  But while her reading is telling, Arendt misses something fundamental; namely,  Benjamin didn’t simply have bad luck (“the hunchback looked at him”); rather, he was a schlemiel.  He “bungled” and discovered, as a man, that his bungling – which was with him since he was a child -was congenital.  It was a part of his existential makeup.  He was a man-child.  So, regardless of his desire for a new life, Benjamin knew, in the back of his head, that he would likely “bungle.”

Regardless, near the end of his life he looked at this foolishness as his only salvation.  For, as Kafka knew, “only the fool can help.”  So, even if the fool is misguided in thinking that a change of place will foster a new life, in the end it gives him, as Irving Howe might say, a “margin of hope.”   Commentary, Benjamin also argued, redeemed Kafka from total failure, but not completely; since the text he was commenting on was “unknown.”   In reality, both foolishness and commentary (another foolish endeavor, if it isn’t based on a real text) gave Benjamin a very small margin since all he did was tainted, in some way, by failure.  It seems he wanted to believe, like a schlemiel, in the good, but what he couldn’t forget was failure.  His foolish desire for a new life, in other words, was tainted by the memory of failure.

Presidential Comedy: On the Meaning and Task of President Obama’s Comedic Performances

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Just yesterday, Zach Galifianakis’s comic interview of President Obama – on his show “Between the Two Ferns” – went viral.  I noticed that some of my friends on facebook were upset about the video and believed that President Obama was trivializing his Presidency by going on the show and doing a comic routine with Galifianakis.  And in a press conference yesterday, Jay Carney was asked about whether he thought it had this negative effect and if it had been discussed before the President decided to make an appearance.  Skirting the issue as to whether or not this tarnishes the image of the President, Carney pointed out that the task of the President was not to just get facetime.  Rather, he was looking to promote the “Affordable Care Act.”  There is ample evidence of this in the interview since Galifianakis gives the President a few minutes to discuss it.   And the comic interview ends with Galifianakis showing the President a bunch of spider bites on his arm.  Given the pitch, one knows the punch line: “Zach, you should look into the Affordable Care Act.  You need a doctor.”  Because, “You,” like many young Americans, “think you are invincible (not “invisible”) but you’re not.”

What has been missed in this discussion about the President’s appearance on the show is the fact that the President has done comedy before.   In fact, I wrote on his comedic performance at the Presidential Correspondents’ Dinner in April 2013.  As I noted, President Obama told a Groucho Marx joke and even played a role in a comic short written and directed by none other than Steven Speilberg.

 

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyU213nhrh0]

The fundamental difference between his appearance on “Between the Ferns” and his comedic performance in the film (and on the podium) at the Presidential Correspondents’ Dinner was the fact that in film and on the podium he played the role of the schlemiel.  Here, in contrast, Galifianakis plays the role of the schlemiel while President Obama appears serious.  To be sure, he isn’t doing comedy so much as humoring a schlemiel.

I find this shift in comedic roles to be telling.

The shift is tactical and, obviously, political.  And it shows us how the schlemiel can be used, politically, depending on the context and the goals.  With regard to the comedic performance at the Presidential Correspondence Dinner, President Obama was, at that time, trying to regain the confidence of the public.  As I noted in my blog entry on that performance, President Obama, at the end, tells the audience that the American public has become too cynical and had a hard time trusting him.  And this, one can see, is directly related to why he played a schlemiel of the Eastern European variety: the schlemiel is, in the Eastern European style of Jewish comedy (which has been inherited, in part, by Hollywood), a comic character who, oftentimes, gains the trust of his or her audience by way of absent-mindedness, naivite, and charm.   The schlemiel, in other words, can help to counteract cynicism.  To be sure, Ruth Wisse, in her book The Schlemiel as Modern Hero, notes several times how the schlemiel creates a tension between hope and skepticism (or, at the extreme, cynicism).   But, here, as in many other instances of the contemporary schlemiel, that tension is effaced and gives more power to hope over cynicism.  (And as I have noted in relation to what President Obama did at this dinner, the topic of encountering cynicism finds an interesting correlate in the work of Slavoj Zizek.)

In contrast to his comedic use of the schlemiel, his appearance on “Between the Two Ferns” is serious. Zach Galifianakis plays the schlemiel.  But this performance has a different task.  Instead of gaining trust and effacing cynicism, President Obama is looking to present a serious issue: The Affordable Care Act.  To do this, he must be serious.  Now, instead of being endearing, the naivite of Zach Galifianakis (which is tainted with cynicism, no less) comes across as plain stupid.  Here the schlemiel is depicted as he was by Jews in Germany (not in Eastern Europe); this schlemiel does things that are to be laughed at because they are in need of correction.  His cynicism and lack of intelligence are an obstacle to his health and well-being.  Here, President Obama is out to correct the misguided schlemiel, Zach Galifianakis. The message: don’t be like Zach, sign up and get a doctor; you’re not invincible.  And stop being so cynical.

The fact that the President can sometimes play the schlemiel and other times mock the schlemiel shows us that he is versatile in his comic performances.  But, more importantly, it shows us that the schlemiel has a role in the crafting of his public image and his political strategy.    This is a fascinating twist because, as Hannah Arendt and Ruth Wisse have pointed out in their work on the schlemiel, the schlemiel is often apolitical.  If anything, it challenges politics.

For instance, take a look at the beginning of Wisse’s The Schlemiel as Modern Hero, and you will see several jokes that parody politics and power.   Here we see the schlemiel employed, on the contrary, for political purposes.  To be sure, there is a lot to learn from this.  The political appropriation of the schlemiel by a Presidential administration is a topic that needs attention and schlemiel theory is leading the way in opening up this new discourse.  I hope to write more on this in the near future.

A Kvetching Schlemiel: On Cynthia Ozick’s “Envy; or, Yiddish in America” – Take One

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You don’t see many schlemiels in Yiddish Literature or Jewish-American literature that spend most of their time kvetching or complaining.   Schlemiels are better known for being dreamers, not complainers.   They live on air (luftmensches); not hot air so much as the air of dreams.  However, it does happen from time to time that one occasions a kvetching schlemiel.   Saul Bellow’s Herzog (from the novel of the same name) kvetches from time to time and so does Bruce Jay Friedman’s Stern (from the novel of the same name).   We also see a few kvetching schlemiels in contemporary literature.  Kugel, the main character of Shalom Auslander’s Hope: A Tragedy lets out an occasional kvetch about his horrible situation.

And Larry David, in Curb Your Enthusiasm or in his lead role for Woody Allen’s Whatever Works, turns kvetching into an art form that, for all its repetition, has crafted a popular kind of modern-American schlemiel type.

But all of this kvetching, as is the kvetching of the other schlemiels mentioned above, is lightened by way of comedy.  And if we look deeper into the source of this kvetching we find a trail of bad luck.  But, as Ruth Wisse points out the schlemiel usually creates bad luck but is unaffected by it.  These schlemiels, however, are.  They are, as it were, schlemiels and shlimazels at the same time.

One kvetch that has recently caught my eye is the kvetching of the narrator and main character of Cynthia Ozick’s “Envy; or, Yiddish in America.”  Edelshtein, the main character, has the kvetch of an immigrant.  He has left Europe and Yiddish behind for America.  And he can’t stop thinking about what has been lost.  His being caught up in what was and how it fails to relate to what is creates a comic rift which also has, for all its kvetching, a sad note.

Ozick’s descriptions of Edelshtein reflect a kind of comic kvetching that hits on many different levels.  Edelshtein’s anger is really “envy.” It is comical, yet painful because he feels that he knows history and that American Jews do not.  He doesn’t think, for this reason, that they should be considered Jews.

Spawned in America, pogroms a rumor, mamalashon a stranger, history a vacuum.  Also many of them were still young, and had black eyes, black hair, and red beards…He was certain he did not envy them, but he read them like a sickness.  They were reviewed, praised, and meanwhile they were considered Jews, and knew nothing.  (129, Jewish American Stories ed. Irving Howe)

Edelshtein looks around New York City and sees a childhood acquaintance from Kiev named Alexei Kirilov.  He wonders what ever happened to him.   How had history swallowed him up?  Did he die in the massacre of Babi Yar or did he flee to Russia?

This memory and question plies him, but what is he left with from the past?  Edelshtein, like many Yiddishists, turns to language.  But he realizes that the language he so loved is dead.  And he is a schlemiel by virtue of being stuck with a language that no one speaks anymore:

And the language was lost, murdered.  The language – a museum.  Of what other language can it be said that it died in a sudden definite death, in a given decade, on a given piece of soil…Yiddish, a littleness, a tiny light – oh little holy light! – dead, vanished. Perished. Sent into darkness.  (130)

The murder or “sudden death” of this language was, the narrator tells us, Edelshtein’s “subject” – the one “he lectured on for a living”(130).  He constantly recalls it to people in Jewish community centers, synagogues, etc. But while he tells Yiddish jokes to make people laugh he knows – and they know – that the language is dead and that his humor is really meaningless:

But both Edelshtein and his audiences found the jokes worthless.  Old jokes.  They were not the right kind. They wanted jokes about weddings – spiral staircases, doves flying out of cages, bashful medical students – and he gave them funerals.  To speak Yiddish was to preside over a funeral….Those for whom his tongue was no riddle were specters. (131)

He lives in memory of a dead past; he draws life from it.  But his memory is not caught up in Europe alone; he remembers, most clearly, his experiences at the American home of Baumzweig.  Unlike Baumzweig, who was also a Yiddish writer, he had no children.  He had no one to pass on his past too; however, he does watch how Baumzweig’s children speak to him – using English to respond to their Yiddish.  The parents couldn’t adequately pass the tradition on. And this has an effect on him and gives him a sense of the “new generation.”  There was a generation gap.

But then it became plain that they could not imagine the lives of their children.  Nor could the children imagine their lives.  The parents were too helpless to explain, the sons were too impatient to explain.  So they had given each other up to a common muteness.  In that apartment Josh and Mickey had grown up answering in English the Yiddish of their parents.  Mutes.  Mutations.  What right had these boys to spit out the Yiddish that had bred them? (132)

In the midst of all this kvetching, Baumzweig reminds him of the schlemiel and that, though he never had children, Edelshtein has a son, himself

She told Edelshtein he too had a child, also a son.  “Yourself, yourself,” she said.  “You remember yourself when you were a little boy, and that little boy is the one you love, him you trust, him you bless, him you bring up in hope to a good manhood.” (133)

This memory is a kind of counter-memory to his present resentments.  It also prompts the question as to whether he actually did bring his “son” up to a “good manhood.”  Does his son remain a child, and he, a schlemiel?  Or was his “little light” a language that is dead?  Is his son dead if the language is dead?

We also can see his mind wander back to the child in Kiev who, regardless of his kvetching about the end of Yiddish, remains close to his heart.  The question of his “son” and its “maturity” as well as this memory of a child whose fate his unknown  – juxtaposed to the present memory of the death of Yiddish – makes him into a kvetching schlemiel of sorts.

…to be continued….

Fuck You, Thank You: Speaking of Buddy Hackett

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In one of his many phases, Walter Benjamin had a moment, near the end of his life, where he was into going through “the trash of history” so as to find things that had historical potentiality.  One could argue that Benjamin saw himself as commentator who, in commenting on trash, could bring it to life and make this or that piece of history into a quasi-kind of history – the kind that lives on in his commentary.  To be sure, Benjamin read Franz Kafka as a commentator.  In a letter to Gershom Scholem, written near the end of his life, Benjamin argues that although Kafka’s work was a comic failure he did, at the very least, succeed in being a commentator.  This idea, which I am addressing in my book on the schlemiel, struck a deep cord because, in a major sense, it relates to the trash of history.   To be sure, Kafka’s characters, as Benjamin describes them, seem to be the kinds of characters you would find in the dustbin of history: they are broken, ragged, and comical.   However, these characters are, if we take Benjamin seriously, the products of commentary.  In other words, Kafakesque comic figures, which seem to have emerged from the trash, are the products of commentary.

Given this logic, I would like to suggest something that may not seem so novel but, when thought through Benjamin’s reading of Kafka, is; namely, that stand-up comedy, especially when it is trashy, has the potential to offer the greatest commentary.  However, as Benjamin wondered with regard to Kafka, what is the text it is commenting on.  When it comes to many comedians, the answer is obvious: they are commenting on society or on our attitudes toward this or that social practice or belief.  But when it comes to some comedians, the answer isn’t so simple. In addition, the position or relation the commentator to the text or comedian commented brings on an added dimension to the reception of this commentary. One comedian I have in mind – whose relation to me is odd – is Buddy Hackett (whose real, more “Jewish” sounding name, was Leonard Hacker):

Why is my relation odd? First of all, I didn’t grow up with Buddy Hackett.  My parents did.  When I look at his comedy, I feel as if I am trying to understand their generation.  Yet, at the same time, I look at him as a Jewish stand-up comedian who is a part of a line of Borsht Belt comedians that stretches back to the mid-20th century.  Not only does Hackett speak a lot of trash, he is also a comedian who emerges out of the trash of Jewish American history.

How do I read him?  And what text is this trash of comic history commenting on?

First of all, I have my own visceral reactions to his face and his gestures.  They remind me of a New York that was, of my relatives and family members from Brooklyn (where he hails from).   There is a way of speaking that is distinctly that of New York Jews.

What I love most about it is his boldness.  He throws his body, his voice, and his vulgarity out toward the audience.  Yet he does so in an endearing way since his gestures and his body (his face, ears, eyes, etc) are child-like and animated.  His body is that of a schlemiel, a man-child.   It has an innocence that is juxtaposed to his saying or gesturing naughty things.  And this creates an odd, and exciting affect since it animates (or as Benjamin might say illuminates)…trash.  His words evince what Benjamin might call a profane illumination about ourselves and the American time and space we share with Buddy. This, it seems, is the social con-text that his comic commentary illuminates.

In his book The Last Laugh: The World of Stand Up Comics, Phil Berger suggests that we read Hackett in terms of his persona on and off stage.  There is a continuum of sorts that, if we look closely, can help us to see the comic’s life.   He looks, first, at his body and ironic demeanor and this hits at what I call the schlemiel juxtaposed to the bad-boy.

Buddy Hackett was a kind of Socrates – as we seen in The Symposium – he appears one way but is another.  He was a…

…man cold sober when up to no good.   He had the bullyboy’s ease, a distinction the very look of him argued against.  The bulbed nose, the crooked mouth, the chreub’s cheeks: it was the best of comic faces – and, it seemed, a masterpiece of illusion. (297)

Hackett was innocent but his name “provoked obscenity filled denunciations, many of which had “off-the-record” tagged to them the moment after they were uttered – and by comics who otherwise stood by their words”(297).

Because of this “history,” whenever people spoke to Hackett they were on their guard.  As Berger notes, by way of citing conversations he had with Hackett’s friends, Hackett was “unpredictable” in public.  He could “say fuck you as easily as he could say thank you.”  Berger recounts a story told to him by the “columnist Joe Delaney” about Hackett’s interchanging of the words “fuck you” and “thank you.”   According to Delaney, Hackett said fuck you in an endearing, unexpected way, and tells of a story of when a fan came up to Hackett for an autograph. When he heard this, he said:

“How would you like to perform a unilateral act?  She said, “I don’t know what you mean?” He said, “How about, go fuck yourself.  Is that clear enough?” She said, {huffily} “Well!” He said, “Then give me the piece of paper and I’ll sign.”

Although this scene is vulgar and rude, it is, nonetheless, read as endearing by Delaney:

I think that if he felt that that lady to whom he said, “Go perform a unilateral act,” was truly hurt, then he would try to make amends…you know what I am saying? I don’t think he’s a hurtful man….He really, he really is a very gentle sensitive man..”

Delaney goes on to recall how, when he read a Haiku poem to Hackett, Hackett broke down crying since the poem was alluding to sudden death.  Berger goes on this note to claim that Hackett played with poetry and was a poet of sorts; but this was conveyed by irony.  He would actually play at being a poet on stage but this was a “quasi-poetic fix to make middlebrow audiences there for laughs feel culture fucked in the bargain.”

In other words, Hackett did and did not have a poetic sensibility.  He was and was not vulnerable.  This ambiguity comes through when he trashes poetry or when he utters trash or vulgarity.  It makes for a schlemiel effect that empties out the trash, so to speak, and brings about a profane illumination of sorts.  But the trick is to get past the vulgarity to the schlemiel core in every joke.  And the irony of it all is that to do that one nearly needs to be ready for the unexpected vulgarity with the understanding that in saying “fuck you” he is really saying “thank you.”  And this juxtaposition is a kind of trashy-kind-of-commentary.

The question, however, is what was the textual basis for this trashy kind of commentary?   Is it the text of a historical relationship between Buddy and the Jewish-American world, a relationship that was, as it was happening, becoming the trash of history?  How was this failure, in Benjamin and Kafka’s sense, a positive commentary?

More later….

A Political-Schlemiel-Crisis: Obama as Man-Child Versus Putin as Real Man, or Sean Hannity’s Humiliation Over President Obama’s Masculinity

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I often do my utmost to stay away from contemporary politics in my blog, but I had to write something in response to a sound byte I recently heard in the media.   In a recent radio show, Sean Hannity – the well known TV host for Fox – claimed that “The Russian media keep showing a picture of [Obama] in Martha’s Vineyard, riding his little bicycle with his little helmet on. It’s so humiliating.”  Following this, Hannity evokes an image he had seen of Putin expressing his masculinity.  And he juxtaposes one image to the other:

Just – the picture of Putin swimming the butterfly, which is a real hard stroke. Yeah, big chested – and by the way, it’s in frigid water that he’s swimming across a river … so you got a picture of that juxtaposed next to Obama on a bicycle in Martha’s Vineyard with the goofy helmet on riding his bike.

Meditating on this image, Hannity said he was, for the first time in his life, “humiliated for my country.”

What I find so interesting about Hannity’s juxtaposition of President Obama to Vladmir Putin is that it finds resonance with the way German Jews (and many anti-Semites) thought of Eastern European Jews; namely, as weak, effeminate, and childish (that is, as schlemiels).  They thought of the schlemiel as a remnant of the degenerate “ghetto” Jew and called for what Max Nordau (the Vice President of the Zionist Congress) called the “muscle Jew.”  The New Jew, as Daniel Boyarin and others point out, was envisioned as the anti-thesis of the schlemiel.  Jews, Boyarin argues in his book Unheroic Conduct, were to take David or Bar Kochba, Jewish warriors, as their role models.  Jewish gyms were opened all over Germany and Jewish athleticism was celebrated.

The contrast didn’t come out of nowhere.  To be sure, athleticism and masculinity go hand in hand with state building whether it was 19th century Europe or 20th century America, showing “strength” is thought to be essential to being a nation.  One needs to protect one’s citizens and fight for the country if the state is to live.  A state led by a schlemiel, on the contrary, would, historically, be seen as a joke.  And for that to be a reality would be “humiliating.”  Russia, as Hannity understands it, still lives according to this masculinist paradigm, but America does not.  And this humiliates him.

Hannity, like many Jews in Germany before the Holocaust, wants strong citizens and, most importantly, a strong leader.  His juxtaposition of these images shows us that Hannity sees Obama much like many conservative pundits saw the Pajama Boy (who was the mascot for one of the phases of Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act).   Jay Michaelson, writing for The Forwards, went so far as to dub this criticism of Pajama Boy anti-Semitic.

Writing in response to this, I felt Michaelson went to far.  He was reading too far into it.  Nonetheless, the same issues come up about masculinity and politics.  I think it is worth our time to think about this relationship.  To be sure, Hannity is not wrong to see Putin doing this because Putin is, without a doubt, drawing on the image of leadership and masculinity (take a look at any number of images of Putin running around with his shirt off and a gun in his hand).  Hannity wishes President Obama would do the same.  And, to this end, he sites Benjamin Natinyahu as a model of leadership because Hannity sees him as a “real man.”   And this analogy is telling, given the fact that Israel was in many ways deeply impressed with the idea of the “New Jew” as a Jew who is independent and strong.

That said, what does the image of “strength” mean?  Would we all feel better about being Americans if President Obama was much more intimidating?  Would we all feel better if we saw images of him “swimming the butterfly” or engaging in rigorous physical activity? Would that send a better message to the world?  Hannity sure thinks so.  And because he doesn’t see it, his own masculinity, it seems, has been affected.

After all, Hannity has been wounded.  He is humiliated because in failing to train his body and character like Putin, President Obama has made Hannity – and this country -vulnerable.  Although this is an important ethical moment for anyone who understands what the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas means by “ethics” (Levinas characterizes the ethical relation to the other in terms of vulnerability), perhaps it has a different meaning when it is on the political stage.  Levinas understood the political to be a realm where war is the ultimate reality test.  As he says in the preface to his book Totality and Infinity, “the trial by force is the test of the real.”  Even for Levinas, Hobbes seems to speak loudest in the realm that troubles Hannity most (the political realm) since Hobbes insisted that in politics, as in life, there is a war of all against all.  And war, as has been understood for centuries, is about sheer masculinity.

Hannity’s juxtaposition of images of masculinity is read within this context.

The Schlemiel and Allen Ginsberg’s IGNU

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Unlike Uncle Walt (Walt Whitman), Allen Ginsberg’s poetry isn’t all pathos (although it does have a great deal of that).   To be sure, there is a comic element in his poetry that many people often overlook.   Poems like “Howl” or “Kaddish” are very serious poems, but they do have comic elements in this or that part.  In fact, most of Ginsburg’s poems are peppered with comedy.

One poem which recently caught my eye was a poem entitled IGNU, which can be found in his Kaddish collection.  It is, without a doubt, a comic poem.  In this rare audio clip of Allen reciting the poem in 1973 – in a tribute to Kerouac at Salem State College – Ginsberg explains that the word IGNU was a word invented by Jack Kerouac around 1948 or 1949.

Ginsburg goes on to explain the meaning of the term by way of mysticism and comedy.  An IGNU stands for a “Gnostic ignoramus….a great bullshit artist.”  After stating this, he qualifies that by saying that an IGNU is not someone who suffers in the mystical “cloud of unknowing.”  Rather, an IGNU is someone like “Harpo Marx” or the “Three Stooges.”

Immediately after he notes these comedic examples of the IGNU, he begins his poem (written in New York in 1958):

On top of that if you know me I pronounce you an ignu

Ignu knows nothing of the world

What I find so interesting about this is that comedy, in this instance, displaces mysticism.  To be sure, the Ignu sounds like a schlemiel: he knows “nothing of the world.”  But he is not a mystic so much as a comical figure.   More importantly, the first words of Ginsberg’s poem indicate that if you know “me,” that is the voice of the poem (or Allen Ginsberg), you become a fool.  He calls you an ignu and, so to speaks, shares Ignu-ness with the other.  One becomes an Ignu by hanging out with Ignus which is exactly what we see with Harpo Marx or with The Three Stooges.  Everything they touch, everything a schlemiel touches, becomes comical.

And, for Ginsburg, the comical is the angelic.  As we see in the following lines:

Ignu has knowledge of the angel indeed ignu is angel in comical form

W.C. Fields Harpo Marx ignus Whitman an Ignu.

The punch line is that not just comedic figures but even Whitman, the poet of pathos and America, is pronounced an Ignu.

In his pronunciations of Ignu, Allen’s poem mixes mysticism, American culture, and comedy from beginning to the very end.  I’ll cite a few different lines to illustrate:

The ignu may be queer though like not kind ignu blows arch-angels for the strange thrill

Ignu lives only once and eternally knows it

He sleeps in everybody’s bed everyone’s lonesome for ignu ignu

Knew solitiude early

 

He listens to jazz as if he were a negro afflicted with jewish melancholy

And white divinity

Ignu’s a natural you can see it when he pays for cabfare

Abstracted

Pulling off the money from an impossible saintly roll

The Ignu, like the schlemiel, is a saintly and comic character and he “sought you out.”  He’s the “seeker of God and God breaks down the world for him every ten years.”  He “sees lightning flash in empty daylight when the sky is blue.”  The Ignu’s comedy, like the comedy of the schlemiel, is existential:

A comedy of personal being his grubby divinity.

And like many a schlemiel, such as many an Aleichem character, he is bound to experience juxtaposed the mystical.  Like the schlemiel, the Ignu has a foot in this world and another world.

Knowledge born of stamps words coins pricks jails seasons sweet ambition laughing gas

History with a gold halo photographs of the sea painting a

Celestial din in the bright window

One eye in a black cloud

Ginsburg ends the poem with a meditation on two diamonds that are in the Ignu’s hands (one diamond is “Poetry” and the other diamond is “Charity”).  Defying logic, he argues that these diamonds “prove” two things. Both, I would argue, disclose our relation to the schlemiel: 1) “we have dreamed” and 2) “the long sword of intelligence over which I constantly stumble like my pants at the age of six – embarrassed.”

The last line evinces the schlemiel who is a dreamer and spreads dreams and who always seems to be caught up in his youth, unable to advance.  And, much like the man-child we see in Robert Walser’s poetry, he stumbles.

Allen’s Ignu evinces, for him, some kind of new man that emerges into a new era.  He is a tainted holy fool of sorts; a “comedy of personal being” informs his “grubby divinity.”  This dirty, comic, bum Ignu finds himself stumbling though America and he pronounces you, because you happen to know him, a fellow Ignu.     But, with all his stumbling and embarrassment, I think its safe to say that he’s a melancholy comic.  His revelations are all fragmented, he is between worlds, and, as the poem seems to show, he is caught up in an endless, comic repetition.

But he is not alone.  He reads his poems to you.  And rather than cry, Ginsberg prompts us to laugh and join him in his community of Ignus: an ironic community of the mystically inclined.  Perhaps one can call this a community of the question since, ultimately, Ginsberg, like all those who listen to him, is in search of some kind of truth.

Harold Ramis: Comedy and Jewishness, American Style

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After I learned of Harold Ramis’s death, I spent some time on youtube going through clips of his work.   One of the most interesting things I stumbled upon was a talk he gave on Groundhog Day.   Ramis begins and ends his reflection on the film with a Jewish joke.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkEUpymTanA

At the outset, he recalls a telephone call from one of the producers on the day of the film’s premier in California. He told Ramis that there are picketers at the film’s opening in Santa Monica.  In shock, Ramis asks what they are protesting and the producer tells him: “They aren’t protesting.  They are Hasidic Jews walking around with signs saying are you living the same day over and over again!”  While he cracks the joke, he has a big smirk on his face.

Following this, Ramis points out how a number of groups identified with the film: Buddhists, people in the Yoga community, Christians, and psychologists.   He notes that everyone obviously “projected” something on to the film.  However, he adds that “as a Jew, I kept thinking that people finding so much in this movie” and finding something new in it – every time – has much in common with the reading of the Torah:

The Torah is read every year, start at the same place, in the same day…every Jew reads the same form the same day, in the same cycle.  The Torah doesn’t change, but every year we read it we change.   And every time we read it we read something different.  So, the movie doesn’t change.

The punch line is that he denies the comparison after making it and then plays with it: “I’m not comparing Groundhog Day to the Torah; it’s more entertaining. And the Bible was not a good movie…John Huston’s movie.”  But the take away is that “there is something in it that can help people to reconsider where they are in life and to question their habitual behaviors.”

This analogy – and the joke that conveys it – is telling.  It suggests that Ramis sees the film and the Torah as something that can help us to recognize our mortality and prompt us to change who we are.  And we do this by way of reflecting on the story that we see which he suggests has a timeless element to it.  What lives on and changes – besides ourselves – is the interpretation of the story.  But the point is to make the interpretation.

Reflecting on this, I thought about how, in many ways, Ramis’s films were, for me, like the Torah.  I used to watch them over and over again.  I was especially fascinated with the juxtaposition of Bill Murray (John) to Harold Ramis (Russell Zisky) in Stripes.

Zisky plays the humble and intelligent American Jew while John plays the ironic and bold American rebel.  Zisky and John are both schlemiels.  And this is brought to bear on us by way of the fact that they come from a different America than the soldiers they join.  They are urban and intellectual; they are ironic and this gives them a vantage point.  However, as the film goes on they learn to overcome whatever distance separated them from the others in the platoon.  But this distance, though seemingly large, isn’t big.

The first scene of the film shows us this fact. Zisky is an educated man who is teaching “Basic English” to Immigrants.  We can see that the job is meaningful to him, but it is not allowing him to tap into his full potential.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iINyyfDf_xE]

John is also stumped.  Both of them are friends who want, as the Jewish-American writer Bernard Malamud put it, a “new life.”  To be sure, Malamud joined Sholem Aleichem, Mendel Mocher Sforim, and other Yiddish writers whose schlemiels all yearned for a “new life.”  The question, in all of their novels and stories, was whether such a life was possible or what that new life meant.   Moreover, would any of these schlemiels change, fundamentally? Or would they remain schlemiels, still, after the transformation?

When Zisky introduces himself to the platoon in Stripes, he comes across as a pacifist and his words fall flat.  None of the other Americans in the room, even John Candy in front of him, can understand or identify with what he is saying or his pledge that he will put himself on the line when they are in danger.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTwIwfvNJLk]

In contrast to Zisky, the American-Jew, is John.  His talk is that of a ironic, self-important-cool-populist.  The majority of the platoon laughs and smiles when he talks.  Everyone can identify with him.  He ends with an homage to the leader of the platoon.  But the leader sees this all as a lot of talk and, as the film goes out to show, he does all he can do to break John down and make him into a soldier rather than a populist comedian.

As the opening clip shows, the American-Jew and the cool, ironic American are completely different.  They are regarded differently by the platoon.  That changes over time.  But the initial moment gave me a lot to reflect on as a Jew growing up in small town America.  My father and mother were both natives of New York City.  They were oddballs in my small town.  My parents had more in common with Zisky than I did.

For this reason, looking back I can understand why I liked this film so much.  I tried to be more like John than Zisky.  But in the end, I saw that Zisky was also accepted.  But to be accepted, he had to prove that he could put himself on the line for other people in the platoon.  And John also had to change.  But that change was something that came from the leader of the platoon.  The basis for this had to do with making John more humble and respectful.

As a recent Village Voice article points out, this feat of making the American more humble was not realized in films like stripes, however.  It was realized in Groundhog Day.    According to the author of the article, Ramis established himself by making Slob vs. Snob comedies.  While the theme had its power and reflected life in the 80s, it still gave the “white American” slob too much power.  The author suggests that this is displaced in Groundhog Day because Bill Murray plays a character who is radically different from characters like John in Stripes.  Ramis and Murray, according to the author, figured out that Murray – of Stripes and Ghostbusters – is the “asshole of the age”:

At some point, Ramis and Murray and whoever else seem to have figured out that the Bill Murray of Stripes and Ghostbusters (both co-written by and co-starring Ramis) is the asshole of his age, a self-entitled boomer horndog interested in no perspective other than his own, engaged with no aspect of culture he hasn’t decided he already favors.

For this reason, they created a new Murray character in Stripes who, the author points out, now plays a “snob” rather than a “slob.”  The effect of this transformation, is that “he is rightly seen as a privileged dickhead instead of some hypocrisy-exposing hero of the people.”  The new lesson, he claims, is that Murray learns that there is more to the world than himself; the world is something you share with others.

I found this article to be interesting since it reads Groundhog Day, as Ramis suggests, by way of a different time.   It points out that the film has not changed, but we have.  Nonetheless, I wonder how Ramis rather than Murray fits into this reading.  Did his character change?  And what does this all have to do with Jewishness?  And, in all of this, what happened to the schlemiel?

The other day, I blogged on Ramis and pointed out how, in Knocked Up, he played the Jewish father to Seth Rogen.   As I noted, the scene I refer to is the scene of tradition and the idea that the son and father encounter is very Jewish.  The father is happy to have grandchildren.  He is happy to see the future embodied in a grandson.  The encounter, so to speak, shows us Zisky years later.  Unlike Bill Murray, he hasn’t gone through a fundamental transformation.  Ramis, in doing this, shows us that though the Jew may age, his or her humility and priorities remain the same.  Zisky isn’t the “asshole of the age.”  He just wants to help.

I’d like to end this blog post with a clip from the film Walk Hard where Ramis plays a Hasidic Rabbi who, in this scene, visits, Dewey, the main character, in prison.  Dewey is a parody of the American rock star who rises to fame, but ends up in hard times.  In an ironic twist, he speaks to him in Yiddish and Dewey replies in kind.

Here’s the rough translation:

Rabbi: Lean closer, I want to talk to you in mother tongue for the guards should not understand what I’m saying.

Dewey: You must be able to do something. I am not yet 21 years old. My whole life is waiting for me.

Rabbi: I think we need to do a retreat.

Dewey: How can we do that?

Rabbi:  You must go to a rehab

I recently noted that Woody Allen, in Take the Money and Run, briefly plays a Hasidic Rabbi. But that scene emerges out of a joke: it is a “side effect” of a drug he is asked to take in prison.  Here, however, we find something different.  This Rabbi is a wise man who looks to help Dewey to live “a new life” the kind of life that he can live if he goes through rehab, that is, a transformation.

The twist, I think, is that the Rabbi initiates the change; he helps Dewey to change his old habits.  He helps him to look at himself differently and gives him hope.  For me, this is the keynote that Ramis hit at in his talk on Groundhog Day.  It articulates what he thinks of the Torah and what he thought of his greatest film.  The idea is not simply (or only) that the white American guy realizes that he is an asshole and he can share the world with others, as the author of the Village Voice article suggests; it’s also that the this realization or rather transformative thought is scripted by a Jewish filmmaker and screenwriter named Harold Ramis.  He brought his Jewish wisdom to his films and, hopefully, this blog post steps in the direction of better understanding how this was so.  To be sure, Ramis’s own words – which I brought out above – suggest that we do so.

After all, the movie may not change, but we do. But the other side of this is that the movie, if read closely, can also prompt us to see who we are and to change our lives.  Herein lies the wisdom of a good script and a close reading, something Jews have, for centuries, been familiar.  What Ramis has done is to make this structure popular; he has created an offshoot of Jewishness.  And he has done it in an American style.

The Schlemiel-as-Criminal? On Woody Allen’s “Take the Money and Run”

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While someone like Jean Genet – in books like The Miracle of the Rose or The Thief’s Journal – makes the criminal into a highly masculine larger than life (even priestly) man,  Woody Allen’s “directorial debut,” Take the Money and Run (1969), presents us with a parody of the masculine criminal and the hard-boiled crime thriller.  It is chock full of schlemiel comedy and presents us with something of the anti-thesis of violence and masculinity.

Merv Griffin, in this interview (:57) jokingly calls Allen a “sex symbol” but Allen wittily responds: “But the question is what I am a sexual symbol of…”  And even goes so far as to comically describe himself – as a child – as a “young budding pervert.”  In other words, he was a “sexual schlemiel.”  (See my recent post on Harold Ramis on this topic.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwq8cfaUqu8]

Take the Money and Run is a parody of the life of a schlemiel-criminal who also happens to be a sexual schlemiel by the name of Virgil Starkwell.  There are several exceptional comedy skits in the film.  One celebrated scene has Virgil volunteer to take an experimental vaccine at the prison.  The punchline is that the vaccine has a “side-effect”: it turns him into a rabbi.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F54nR67PZPY]

And in the most popular scene in the film, he slips the teller a note telling them that he has a “gub” and that they better hand the money over.  His bad handwriting (he couldn’t clearly write “gun”) is discussed by the bank workers and before he can get the money and run he has to get a few signatures at the bank.  After all, it’s the procedure.  This schlemiel displacement renders the crime and the criminal ridiculous.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UHOgkDbVqc]

Throughout the film, his Jewish parents, who wear Groucho Marx glasses and nose, discuss what happened to him showing us that he is a disappointment to his kvetching Jewish parents.

Louise Lasner plays Kay Lewis in the film and through her we learn that she was duped by Virgil Starkwell.   Toward the end of the film, we learn that she thought he was a schlemiel, but, to her chagrin, she learned that he was a criminal.  But that’s the irony of the film.  He isn’t really a criminal; he’s a schlemiel: “Everybody thought he was such a schlemiel but it turns out that he’s a criminal…”

http://www.tcm.com/mediaroom/video/224552/Take-the-Money-and-Run-Movie-Clip-Schlemiel.html

In the final scene, we see Virgil in an interview carving his soap gun.  He asks if it’s raining outside. For if it is, his gun will turn into bubbles again.  This ending marks Virgil as the schlemiel-criminal. Nobody is duped.  A schlemiel can’t be a real criminal; he’s too innocent, charming, and effeminate for that.

Wit and an Odd Kind of Charm, or Groucho Plus Harpo: Harold Ramis and The Schlemiel

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I grew up watching – and loving – many Harold Ramis films.  I recorded them on my VCR from this or that HBO showing or bought the video tapes.  Watching them, I felt as if he was hitting on something deep about being an American in the 80s and 90s.  And because I was pre-pubescent when I first saw his films, I felt as if the odd romances in films like Stripes, Ghosbusters, or Caddyshack taught me about what kinds of love, friendship, or kindness worked or didn’t work.  But, in the end, what I learned about love by way of Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, or Ramis himself was that it was a comical affair.  If it worked, it worked in an odd way.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvCjr63AgtM]

All of his best characters are clumsy, charming, and witty.  For someone who – like millions of Americans – learned about the “birds and the bees” from TV and film, rather than his parents, they gave me an image of the kind of American male I could be: a comic male who was at once awkward, bold, and witty.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfZ9KTXK5sY]

These characters, to be sure, bear aspects of the schlemiel.  Like Woody Allen, they are what David Biale – in his book Eros and the Jews – would call “sexual schlemiels.”  However, they are different: they are more charming and popular than Allen’s characters.  To be sure, Allen’s schlemiels are appealing to a more sophisticated audience while Ramis’s appeal to a more common and simple element.  In many ways, he has done more than many comedy writers in the 1980s and 90s to popularize the sexual schlemiel for a different generation (not a baby boomer generation that was more acclimated to the likes of Woody Allen and Phillip Roth).

I recently found an interesting quote by Ramis which explains the schlemiel he was looking for and the schlemiel he found in the mirror. His comic-self-image drew on the Marx Brothers but it was translated into a different comedy, one for a different time:

In my heart, I felt I was a combination of Groucho and Harpo Marx, of Groucho using his wit as a weapon against the upper classes, and of Harpo’s antic charm and the fact that he was oddly sexy — he grabs women, pulls their skirts off, and gets away with it.

As this admission suggests, Ramis saw himself in terms of both Marx Brothers.  He saw the wit of Groucho as a manifestation of the popular-will to battle against the elites (“upper classes”). The other side of Harold Ramis was his desire to be “oddly sexy.” Taken together, we have a sexual schlemiel and a schlemiel that challenges the elites.   And this is not just how Ramis painted his characters; this is how he saw himself as a comic and as a human being.

In other words, he saw himself as a living schlemiel whose actions had a social effect that could appeal to the people and perhaps even change society.  His characterization of himself has an interesting resonance with Hannah Arendt’s characterization of Charlie Chaplin (in her essay “The Jew as Pariah”) whose charm and wit appealed to immigrants and, in her words, challenged the status quo.

Harold’s wit and charm will be missed.  The legacy he left for us can be felt in this scene where he comforts Seth Rogen in Knocked Up.  Unlike the WASP mother, Ramis plays a character who is happy to have a grandchild.  His affirmation is an affirmation of life and this, as anyone who has seen the film knows, inspires Rogen to become a father.  However, the twist is that Rogen goes from being a schlemiel to being a dad.  And the only thing that remains of the schlemiel is kindness.

But that’s not the take-away.  Ramis goes against the grain in this piece because –  in explaining what is worse than having a child – he tells us something that we should be keen to; namely, that it’s worse to have a parent with alzheimers than to have a child out of wedlock.

In other words, the worst thing that can happen to us is that someone we love should forget who we are.

What Ramis has done through his charming and witty characters is to create a memory that is at once personal and American: the memory of all his schlemiels evinces both.  And even though these schlemiels may be born, so to speak, out of wedlock, they are redeemed by the reader.  This is a lesson Sholem Aleichem taught to his readers in his last novel, Motl: The Cantor’s Son.

In that novel an orphan-schlemiel – who is absent minded and who doesn’t understand death or suffering because he is distracted by life – lives on in the memory of the reading public.

Like the reading public’s memory of Motl, Ramis’s schlemiels live on in the memory of those who enjoyed and laughed at his charming and witty characters.

Thanks for reminding us of how dear the schlemiel is and how its legacy should be carried on!  You will be missed by millions of people who enjoyed your films; many, like me, who looked to them for a kind of “parental guidance” about sexuality that I couldn’t find in my home.  

Seth Rogen gets his parental guidance in this clip from Ramis, a schlemiel and a father of a schlemiel, whose advice gives Rogen hope.
 
For Ramis, the key ingredient of being a schlemiel is to be witty and “oddly sexual” but also to be a father and make your own father happy.  In other words, to give the parents “nachas” (Joy in Yiddish and Hebrew) is Ramis’s last Jewish word to Seth Rogen. It also the last word on the schlemiel.

As the schlemiel and son of a schlemiel, his job is to remember the schlemiel father through being a father…and raising a son….which, after all, emerges out of an accident: over someone getting “knocked up.”  Ramis’s encouragement of Rogen teaches us that Something good can come out of something accidental and potentially bad; and that, for Ramos, is the ultimate meaning of comedy. It is Ramis’s message to Seth Rogen and the next generation of schlemiels. It is his “parental guidance.”