February 22, 2007

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Jewtopia, by Brian Fogel and Sam Wolfson (Hachette Audio, 2006, 3.5 hours)
By John "jaQ" Andrews jandrews@hippopress.com

I feel it’s important to disclose that I am not, in fact, Jewish, so I’m not the target audience for this audiobook. My ambiguously ethnic features have gotten me mistaken for Jewish on a few occasions, though, so I feel just fine laughing at all the stereotypes flung about by the authors. Not only that, I managed to date a Jewish girl in college, so not only am I passingly familiar with the culture, I’ve also heard all the jokes already.

No, really. The three CDs that make up this abridged audiobook are basically the lumpy mess resulting from combining that Seinfeld episode where the dentist converts to Judaism for the jokes and a Dave Barry column. A really, really long Dave Barry column. Say, didn’t Dave Barry retire because his style was getting really stale? Fogel and Wolfson lift Barry’s technique of telling a true story and throwing in a couple patently absurd “facts” to make up about a third of the alleged humor in Jewtopia. Another third comes from casually laughing off the suffering and persecution Jews have experienced since their slavery in Egypt, which is pretty standard. The remaining humor comes from the horrendous overacting of the two authors and an actress from their off-Broadway show of the same name, Jackie Tohn. The back of the package actually says that the authors were “unemployed actors and writers who couldn’t get a break,” so they wrote their own play. That’s a hint, kids.

Granted, the acting style might work better on stage, where you need to be larger than life. And the writing might be funnier if it were read by somebody like David Sedaris, whose boredom with his own work at least doesn’t rub your nose in how clever it’s supposed to be. The authors felt it necessary to include what I can only assume are sidebars in the audio version as well, and they really disrupt what flow the text manages.

Did I laugh? Sure, every now and then, but not at anything new or original. From the very beginning of the foreword — supposedly written and read by the geriatric, homosexual grandson of Adolf Hitler, who’s in love with a Jewish man — I knew I was in for a painful experience. Which takes me just that little bit closer to experiencing the Jewish culture, I suppose. C-