Talking to Moshe Kasher About Standup, Writing, and Dealing with Jerks on the Internet
There’s a lot of ground to cover with Moshe Kasher. He fancies himself a renaissance man (of sorts): “Comedian. Child Genius. Jew. Jew Comedian. OBGYN. Pleasure Center. Good tipper. Guiding light,” and “Beefcake.”
It takes a big cardigan to cloak all that invisible brawn; and Mr. Kasher isn’t hurting for erudite-looking garb. The religious studies major is perhaps comedy’s preeminent intellectual; and, if it pleases, religious crusader.
His two full-length standup albums, 2009’s Everyone You Know Is Going to Die, and Then You Are! and this year’s Live From Oakland boil with irate, zippy intellectualism and scathing spoken word invectives torching the wide-world of bigotry and persecution.
Kasher’s acclaimed 2012 memoir, Kasher In the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16 was lauded by WTF’s Marc Maron as “thoughtful, touching, a bit harrowing and hilarious.”
Moshe was gracious enough to field my questions about his new album, his writing process, and more.
I’m curious: How much hate mail, so to speak, or vitriolic tweets have you received over the years for ripping on Christians?
If you watch my bit, the YouTube comments bit that you can actually watch on YouTube, you’ll see some of the better ones. The even more upsetting thing to do is to watch my YouTube clip about getting hateful YouTube comments, and then go into the comments section of the clip about hateful comments on YouTube and read the hateful comments.
Let me step in and give a kind of M.C. Escher painting of hateful comments online; comments reflected back onto themselves. It’s a really psychedelic experience and I recommend it.
As far as tweets sent directly to you, are there any specific machismo-type threats? What are some of the more memorable diatribes that you’ve received on Twitter?
Honestly, I got a real itchy block finger. I don’t let people get away with a lot. I give ‘em one… they get one and I say ‘One more and you’re blocked.’ Then they have a really awesome choice to make, and in that way I’m able to empower my haters to decide if they want to be blocked or not — and that works pretty well.
I’ve also been engaging in a spiritual exercise of not Googling myself; and the less I do that the less I hear about the ugly sorts of things.
Your glasses: They’re an obvious staple of your aesthetic. Do you have dozens of pairs in a wardrobe chest at home, or do you take it one pair at a time?
I do one pair at a time. I don’t feel I can get used to my face wearing glasses…more than one pair of glasses, or any one pair until a cataclysmic, cosmic event causes me to get a new pair.
Like a lot of notable comedians — with the exception of Andy Kindler, for instance — you make it look so easy and fluid onstage. But does your command mask a certain amount of unease before you perform or when you’re trying new material?
I will say that, I, being a Jew, experience unease before I go onstage; and after I go onstage, and in general. But luckily the forty-five minutes to an hour that I’m onstage I usually forget everything else and I just press play.
Public speaking, we’ve all heard this, is most people’s number one fear. But it’s pretty amazing to watch professional standups: it just looks so natural. I was wondering if, for you, there’s actually an internal struggle happening there.
I don’t know about other comedians, but I know that I never have felt anything like stage fright. I’ve felt nervous before big shows, but I think that’s different than stage fright. I feel more comfortable, usually… most of the time I feel more comfortable talking to a crowd of people than I do having an uncomfortable conversation with some individual who wants to have a chat (laughs). So, you know, I think that’s one of my great lucky breaks in comedy is that I’m very comfortable on stage. I think that’s a very natural place for me to be.
I was actually comfortable on stage before I really had an act to back it up with. When I first started comedy, I felt really, really comfortable on stage, and a couple of my friends were like, ‘You might wanna work on writing some jokes, perhaps’; I was like, ‘Ah, that won’t be necessary, I’ll just get up and do soft-shoe.’ And they were like, ‘Nah, why don’t you go write some jokes.’ So I spent some time doing that. So when I came back I had both things, theoretically anyway.
Vis-à-vis your memoir, Kasher in the Rye, does the process of writing — and particularly long-form — come easily enough to you? Or like many, is it an anguished trudge with sporadic breakthroughs?
For me, the enemy is procrastination, and losing attention, you know? It’s not the writing that’s difficult, it’s sitting down to write — if that makes any sense. I feel I can write pretty well, and I can write pretty effectively. In some ways I find long-form easier than standup writing; with standup writing, there really do have to be punch lines every few seconds. With standup it’s gotta really be fitting into your own particular persona, whereas with longer form writing you kinda have more room to breathe. But the problem is sitting down and making yourself do that, writing. That can be a challenge. That’s a challenge I think every artist faces. How do you do it? How do you sit down and force yourself to just do it?
Do you think that your hipster-elitist-know-it-all persona incites people to denigrate your comedy to a heightened degree?
I guess, in a perfect world… the persona that I have on stage is both better than and worse than everyone else. So, if you get the joke — which is all any comedian really wants — if you get the joke: then you get the joke. If you take the jokes literally, then I probably won’t appeal to you in the first place. I’m a comedian and I like telling jokes, and people that don’t get them are probably not my target demographic.
How much confrontation do you invite in your personal life?
My goal is zero confrontation, in my personal life. Although I did recently get into a screaming match outside of a hotel in Palm Springs about whether or not it was okay for me to yank on my dog’s collar, but other than that I’ve got a pretty good track record… other than the physical fight I got into a few years ago, the screaming match I got into in Palm Springs, and also, every other confrontation I have in the real world, everything’s been perfect.
So, you were in Palm Springs. You were walking your dog, trying to lead it somewhere it didn’t want to go, and what? Someone saw you and objected?
A woman told me that I shouldn’t discipline my dog, and I told her to ‘Shoo.’ Then her boyfriend started screaming ‘Shoo’ at the top of his lungs; and you know, it was pretty fun. Then somebody said they were gonna call the cops, and that’s when I left.
Alright, you just scrammed. That’s cool. What do you consider your finest moment as a comedian to date?
Well, I’d say releasing the book was a pretty good moment; and certainly this new album, I think, reflects a pretty great moment, which was the night of my special taping; and also, in many ways, this interview.
Thank you! Thank you for saying that.
Conversely, what do you consider your most embarrassing or disappointing moment in your career to date?
I mean, there’s been so many. Every comedian must have a million terrible rejections before they even get one break. I always say: Being a comic isn’t about whether or not you can succeed, it’s about whether or not you can fail and continue. So, you know, I’ve had a million. I couldn’t even go into how many.
What projects are you currently working on that you can tell me about?
Right now, mostly I’m promoting this new album, Live in Oakland, that just came out. That’s exciting stuff. I just finished a run at The Montreal Comedy Festival, and the Just For Laughs Festival; and I’m doing a bit of a tour in August and September; and, I have a couple TV projects I’m going out with pretty soon that I’m not quite ready to talk about, but if they happen — which I think they will — they’ll be very exciting things.