From lawyers to laugh merchants

Between acting in 'Jewtopia' the play and finishing 'Jewtopia' the book, Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson are all Jewed out. Just ask their mothers.

jutopia 88 298 (photo credit: )
jutopia 88 298
(photo credit: )
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone from New York, 31-year-olds Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson play tag-team answering questions, in much the same way they did in creating their play Jewtopia and now their book of the same name. Wolfson leads the charge while Fogel brings up the rear. You'd think the two had known each other from childhood, but Sam hails from Jacksonville, Florida, and Bryan from Denver, Colorado, and they met in Los Angeles four years ago when both were struggling actors/playwrights and both had turned their backs on their law careers. Four years later, they're still inseparable, performing together in Jewtopia on stage, and sharing an apartment. They both have girlfriends who joke that the two men are like wives to each other. Yet they say they are complete opposites, and that's what makes their partnership so successful. "When we write we start at opposite ends of the spectrum," says Wolfson, " and we always meet in the middle. Whatever the compromise is, it always makes us both laugh and that's how we know we've got it right." Following the success of Jewtopia the play, they weren't really looking to write a book, but they were approached by an agent who had seen the show and told them he could get them a book deal. The book, which took them a year to write, started from nothing. "We weren't really taking it seriously," says Wolfson. "We didn't even know what we were going to write about, but the agent told us we had a 'brand.'" Before the pair knew it, publishers were in a bidding war over a basic 10 page proposal the guys had written. "It was all smoke and mirrors," says Wolfson. "All we had were some vague sketches and some quizzes." Nonetheless, armed with a $25,000 advance, the two set to work to create what would become their book. They used their entire advance to hire 10 people to help put the book together. All of them worked out of the guys' apartment for eight months straight. "Bryan and I would do the show [Jewtopia] at night and come home and write till 4 a.m. and then get up at 10 a.m. and write again till 7 p.m, " says Wolfson. Fogel and Wolfson's influences run the gamut from Neil Simon and Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld to South Park, all of which are clearly evidenced in their book. "We have a real hip, Generation X edgier South Park thing that we grew up with," says Wolfson. "We definitely like to push the envelope," he adds, citing the chapter in the book on the Jewish Kama Sutra as just one example. Fogel adds, "Our brand of comedy has really capitalized on the cross-cultural generational gap. There's something for people in their 60s and 70s in our book, and then there is something for the younger generation, too." However, he concedes, "We're never going to please everyone, but all the great Jewish comics have succeeded through irreverence and self deprecation. The Jews are always up for a laugh," he says. THOUGH the book appears stuffed to the gills, in fact overly stuffed in some places, the two confess that they actually have an additional 140 pages that they intend to put together for Jewtopia Book II. However, Wolfson says, philosophically, "We did eventually stop. We reached a point where we were just 'Jewed out.'" The two also reveal that the conversations with their mothers in the book are in fact real conversations, and their mothers' phone numbers on the book's back jacket are real too. "You really can call them up," says Fogel. Their raison d'etre for including so much information from their mothers is simple. "The Jewish mother is a staple for Jewish humor," says Wolfson. "We are who we are because of our mothers." There has been some talk about the possibility of taking Jewtopia the play to Israel and Fogel says they are currently working on getting licenses and possibly translating it into Hebrew. Wolfson has never been to Israel and Fogel was last here for his bar mitzva at the Western Wall. "I'd love to go back though," he says. Next up for these nice Jewish boys is a move back to Los Angeles around November to work on a deal they have just been offered to create a film based on Jewtopia, "but with a different title." Their script was just optioned this week and the two will star in the feature. In the meantime, the two say Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People is "the greatest, funniest, holiday, Hanukka gift book for every Jew who knows a Jew or who is curious about what a Jew is." Concludes Fogel: "This whole book was created by us out of a love of our culture and who we are." Have I got a Jew for you? Jewtopia - The Chosen Book For The Chosen People By Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson Warner Books 224 pages They're young, they're Jewish, they're American, they're hip and they're oh so irreverent. They're Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson and they are the authors of Jewtopia - The Chosen Book for the Chosen People. Published by Warner Books, the book is set to land in a store near you on September 27 - right between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It's a fitting debut launch, given that there will be many who will demand that Fogel and Wolfson atone for their publication. Jewtopia is the who, what, why, where, and when of Judaism - an Everything You Wanted to Know (and a whole lot of things you didn't) . It's tacky, over-the-top, and skewers every Jewish stereotype ever mentioned - while creates a few of its own as well. If you're not sure what sort of read you're in for, then note that the Foreword to the book is written by Herbie Hitler (grandson of Adolf), a self-proclaimed "really, really, gay Jewish-loving grandson," who says Jewtopia is "as good as Mein Kampf but funnier and with more pictures." You get a sense of where Fogel and Wolfson are going. Fogel and Wolfson first came to prominence in Los Angeles in May 2003 when they wrote and starred in their stage play of the same name. The show, which takes an amusing look at the world of Jewish dating, hooked into the local zeitgeist and transitioned to New York in 2004, where it's still running along with several other productions around the country. What Fogel and Wolfson achieved in that play - a unique comedy that steered away from tired Jewish clich s - they've expanded upon in Jewtopia - The Chosen Book For the Chosen People. While their work could easily be called tacky, at least the pair will never be labeled unoriginal. At 215 pages, the writers could have used a strong editor to keep them in check and introduce the concept of a word limit. Yet despite the tome's severe case of verbal diarrhea, it is possible to pick out some real gems from what appears to be a holy mess. The book, complete with witty diagrams, cartoons, pie charts and photographs, is divided into eight chapters. "History Part 1" looks at "Where it all began," including sections on "In the Beginning God Created the Heavens, the Earth and Anxiety;" "Chillin with the Children of Israel" and Moses' lost diary, where the ramblings of a clearly hallucinating man who can't figure his way out of the desert for 40 years are recorded, and mostly consist of statements revealing: "I'm still f... ing lost!" "History Part II" is subtitled 'Oh for Christ Sakes! and includes such insights as the "Honorable Mensch-tion" in which the pair write: "In 493 after conquering Italy, Ostrogoth King Theodore the Great issued an edict giving Jews the right to worship whatever they chose. Unfortunately, a large number of male Jews chose to worship hot blonde shiksas, a decision that haunts us even today." There's a chapter on the holidays - "Cel-e-brate Bad Times!" - in which you can learn how to pimp your succa, meet the mavens of the megilla and alternative uses for matza (roof shingles, military body armor, kitchen floor tiles and a sun reflector). Then there's the section on Food, "Anyone Have Some Zantac?;" travel: "Planes, Trains, and Diarrhea;" and even a section on "Conspiracy Theories: Do Jews Rule the World?" Unfortunately, this book was written prior to Mel Gibson's latest rant. Otherwise, undoubtedly Fogel and Wolfson would have had some pertinent comments, which may well have been included in the "Guide to Blending with the Goyim." There's even a sitcom called "I Chach On You" - which neatly summarizes the ongoing Middle East conflict since the establishment of the State of Israel. Classic scenes include Yitzhak Rabin, Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton sitting around a living room and drinking tea. Other Israeli tidbits include what people really write on the notes they put in the Western Wall: "Dear Hashem, Please let it not be my baby," and "Dear Hashem, If you're real, why are these pieces of paper here?" Interspersed with each of these chapters are phone calls from Fogel and Wolfson's mothers, who discuss with them everything from their concerns about avian flu to their lack of Jewish education. Jewtopia is not for the faint-hearted, and probably not for anyone who isn't a generation X-er; unless you simply skip through the sections on The Jewish Kama Sutra; the guide to understanding the Six Day War via sexual imagery; the guide to hassidic lovemaking; and the entire section on "how to make a good stool." However, if you want to get the answers to some age-old questions: including what to ask the stripper at a Jewish bachelor party ("Have you considered taking two dollars for every lap dance you do and putting it into an interest bearing savings account?"), to the top 10 things Jews think about in a High Holy Day service (Who did Allie Goldberg's nose?), then this is the book for you - I mean, Jew. Jewtopia - The Chosen Book for the Chosen People will retail for $25 but according to Fogel and Wolfson, "for you, $24.99."