By EMILY HOCHBERG
Friday night slots are highly coveted for up-and-coming entertainers and comedy clubs are packed with people looking for a good laugh. So why would any comic elect not to perform on such a night?
For comedians like Canadian native, Robert Cait, the reason is entirely religious. Cait, an observant Jew, refuses to book appearances on the Sabbath.
"I don't work Friday night or Saturday," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I couldn't make sense of it, or rationalize it, and it always bothered me. And then, when my wife and I got married and started popping kids out, I wanted to be a role model."
A comedian who wants to be a role model? Who knew such a person even existed. But for Cait, a father of three who now resides in Southern California, and describes himself as a "clean George Carlin with a yarmulke" and self-professed "traditionox," a mix between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, it could never be any other way.
"I can't book a lot of out-of-town travel gigs because they'll ask me to work Friday night. It definitely does hold me back in terms of not being as bookable as other comics. But that's ok. I'm glad to give it up even if I make less money."
Luckily, Cait's schedule requirements don't pose too much of a threat to his future intended audiences. Cait hopes to make comedy aliya this summer in support of his recently released DVD, Kosher/Not Kosher, with a stand-up tour in Israel.
"I'd love to come and go all the way from Eilat to the top of Safed. There are so many English speaking communities there," Cait says of his intended plans. And thanks to his schooling at Associated Hebrew Day School in Toronto, Canada, Cait is fluently tri-lingual in Hebrew, Yiddish and English. "I'd perform in English the first few times, and later I'd try to do it in Hebrew and see how it works. I have yet to perform in Israel."
In addition to observing Shabbat, Cait also prides himself on performing without obscenities and vulgar language. Kosher/Not Kosher features two separate stand-up sets, the "Kosher" act for a Chabad audience in Chatsworth, California, and "Not Kosher" for a more mainstream audience on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, both of which focus on material centered around Jewish identity and customs. "I like doing the Jewish set, the Kosher set, the best. I've always been a clean comic... I still talk about adult themes on the Not Kosher side, but just without swearing or being vulgar," he said.
It's a distinction that Cait says brings him closer to his audiences, no matter what the demographic, though his intended audience is often homogenously Jewish. "If I'm going to play a non-Jewish crowd, say on Sunset, essentially it's just surface Judaism, or stereotypical jokes that can be understood by the average non-Jew. But for people who are Jewish and care about being Jewish, there are only a handful of us who perform Jewish material for Jews. It's like being part of a family joke.
"And with Jews, there aren't a whole lot of us, so when someone like me comes along, I have the ability to share in this family joke and I love taking something Jewish, or even cultural, or religious, or about Israel, and being able to share it and have fun with it with everyone else which is what I'm doing with the Kosher side."
To Cait, who's made a name for himself doing stand-up, as well as voiceover and television work, it's not only a profession, but a responsibility towards his religion and culture. "Comedy essentially is just holding up a mirror to society, as a people and a country. You see Black comics go up there all the time poking fun at whitey and it's not often that you see a Jewish comic go up and not only poking fun at themselves, but at their Christian friends too. I think in this day and age Christians and Jews are closer now than we have been in any time I've been around."
Which is why he's also learned a thing or two about feeling separated from the comedy community. "Some people are like, whoa, aren't you taking a chance and going out on a limb, even if they feel the same way as me, but they don't want to go out and say it, because I guess they're afraid of being painted as un-cool in the Hollywood sense by having a strong opinion."
Luckily, strong opinions are quite commonplace in Israel, and tackling Middle Eastern issues is something Cait would do gladly upon coming to the region. The Arab-Israeli conflict is "bigger than Israel and it's the hottest button in the world. It would be ignoring the pink elephant in the room not to address it. The question is just, how do you approach it, with venom or with comedy?"
Naturally, Cait's answer would be comedy. "I don't think I'd have to do very much for an Israeli audience given the material on the kosher side. Assuming they speak English, I'm talking about all the things that we share," he said. "Going to Hebrew day school, learning from Israeli teachers, Israel, and growing up with a bubby and zeidy. It's a concept, a Jewish family joke that I share as being Jewish, whether you live in Israel, Australia or Canada, wherever. If you speak English and you're Jewish, you'll get it."
And maybe if Cait gets his way, you'll soon get it in Hebrew too.
Kosher/Not Kosher is available in Israel where DVDs are sold. For more info: www.robertcait.com
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