Moshe Kasher’s new comedy/talk show is designed to piss at least some people off.
Problematic, which hit Comedy Central last month, tackles the sticky, uncomfortable, online-rage-inducing topics of our times.
And believe it or not, the series was picked up before the election of US President Donald Trump.
The weekly show takes on issues like cultural appropriation, Islamophobia, guns and more. But if there’s one argument Kasher wants to avoid entirely, it’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“It’s the one topic I always hold up as the paradigmatic, ‘we’ll never do an episode on this’ topic, because I just can’t squint at it hard enough to see how to make it funny,” he told The Jerusalem Post
in a recent interview. “I will say this – and only this – about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the two sides of this conversation are not the most boisterous, humorfilled, ‘let’s talk about this with a light touch’ groups that I have ever encountered in my life.”
Kasher said while it’s not hard to make jokes about the conflict, it’s hard to have a serious conversation about it that can also be funny. And that’s his goal for Problematic
: a balancing act of real talk with humor.
“It’s a complicated, plate-spinning job that I’ve got up there,” he said. “One of those is trying to make it funny and interject with jokes and let the comedians have an opportunity to make jokes, and the other is to have a real conversation.”
Each episode has a mix of guests address the topic of the day, including both comedians and experts on the issue.
“I’m trying to have a real cerebral conversation that is at the same time silly and fun,” said Kasher. “I’m OK with the serious moments, but I have to constantly remind myself to be OK with the serious moments.”
In both his stand-up and on the show, Kasher doesn’t shy away from discussing his unique upbringing and childhood, as well as his family and religion.
It was also the fodder for his acclaimed 2012 memoir Kasher in the Rye. Born to two deaf, Jewish parents, Kasher split his time between Oakland, California and Brooklyn, New York, where his father became a Satmar Hassid after getting divorced.
“I remember in the Jewish community that I was raised in I felt totally alien and othered,” he said.
“I was the only kid in the entire shtetl that had an English siddur. I mean literally the only person, and every person is thinking, ‘who is this freak using the dominant language in this country, why does he not know Aramaic?’”
Today, Kasher strongly identifies as Jewish, though he is not particularly observant – unlike his brother, who is an Orthodox rabbi. But Kasher’s wife, fellow comedian Natasha Leggero, converted to Judaism before they got married in a traditional ceremony in 2015.
The comedian said he never tries to steer away from discussing his multi-faceted identity on stage.
“I write from a place, a lot of times, of stories that happened to me,” he said. “And some of the Jewish things are the loudest and oddest things that have happened to me.”
That includes, he said, visiting family in Me’or Modi’im, also knows as the Carlebach Moshav, in Israel and feeling like “these people are in a mass hysteria.”
Or trying to censor himself in a performance at a club in Jerusalem “whose main clientele was ex-pat yeshiva boys.”
And while Kasher wants to steer clear of Middle East politics, he’d love to tackle religious issues on the show. His mother already appeared on an episode, and he’d be happy for his brother the rabbi to show up too.
“We want to do an episode about religion, an episode on losing my religion, people that have abandoned the faith,” he said. “Hopefully we would have a hassid – I’m really obsessed with hassids and haredi [ultra-Orthodox] people that have exited the community and have to figure out how to recreate a life outside of the societal closed circuit of haredi life.”
He said he’d also like to do an episode that pits atheists against believers.
“I do think the conversation is important,” he said. “I think that’s a perfect example of a conversation where both sides are engaged in such a blindered inability to see the other person’s perspective, that they just start throwing ad hominem stones at each other.”
Sounds like that’s Problematic