Minneapolis-Born Comedian Addresses Anti-Semitism and More in New Show
Jon Savitt brings his show about his lighthearted quest to find meaning in an increasingly confusing world to the Twin Cities
photos courtesy jon savitt
It's a confusing world out there, full of questions with little for answers. When will the road construction end? How did my headphones turn into a game of Cat's Cradle in my backpack? Why do I have to pee the second I crawl into bed? But sprinkle in some larger problems—such as anti-Semitism, the way technology is changing us, and even just growing up in today's world—and you might feel as if you just learned basic addition and subtraction but you're being tested on calculus.
Lucky for us, there's Jon Savitt. The Minneapolis-born writer and comedian, who now lives in D.C., is coming home to premiere a new stand-up show on November 20 at Cooper's Pub and Restaurant in his hometown of St. Louis Park. He's been featured in outlets including The Washington Post, Time, HuffPost, Cosmopolitan, MTV News, Funny or Die, and more. I sat down with him to talk about "Carrot Cake and Other Things That Don't Make Sense," where he doesn't claim to have all the answers, but he's at least getting people out from behind their screens to fuel a conversation about the tougher issues going on in the world today—but in a funny way. (That rhymes.)
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up, and where did you go to school?
I grew up in St. Louis Park. That community has always been a big part of my life. After graduating high school I decided to go to college in Indiana. Now I live in D.C. And it’s funny, I’m still the biggest advocate for Minneapolis. I have some friends who can’t even find Minnesota on a map, but I’m always the first one to jump to Minnesota’s defense and tell people they have to visit. Side note: if Minneapolis Tourism people are reading this then please Venmo me.
I also want to point out that I was a social sciences major in college (psychology and sociology). So I think I’ve always had that interest in seeing different perspectives, telling stories, and understanding the world outside of myself as an individual. I also knew I liked comedy and writing, but I didn’t know what I could do with that. It took me a while to navigate how I could merge my interest in society with my passion for telling stories and connecting with others—and how to do that in an engaging way.
Do you just incorporate comedy into your writing, or do you also go out and perform stand up?
The way I look at it is humor is a form of communication in its own way. I don’t view it as something just simply infused into things. I’d say everything I do has some form of comedy in it. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing a humorous piece about politics, or sending a tweet, or doing standup. Because at the end of the day it’s how I feel I can be the most authentic, and how I can attempt to make sense of things and connect with people in a genuine way.
Comedy can be such a good vehicle for getting an audience to really question things they maybe hadn’t thought about before, and look at things in a whole new light. It’s just so important.
That’s exactly right. We’re talking a lot right now about media literacy, and there’s so much information out there especially with social media. There needs to be a way to capture people's attention and say, “Hey, this is important, you need to think about this.” Comedy is one way to do that.
One of my favorite comedians is Hasan Minhaj, whose new Netflix show I’m already addicted to. I also watch John Oliver’s show religiously, and also Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. These comedians use their platforms to provide commentary in a way where they sort of paint outside the lines, and they don’t have to say certain things or hold themselves back or limit themselves. They push the envelope and say things how they truly are. You hear people talk about comedians being the ultimate truth-tellers, and I really feel like that’s why comedy is so important—especially today. I mean, these days comedians are often filling in the gaps where traditional journalists are falling short.
And we need people like that, especially when they have the platforms that they do.
That’s so true. I consider myself a pretty privileged person, being a white male, and that’s the kind of stuff I address in the show. I talk a lot about my visible white privilege, but also how being Jewish makes that a little more complex.
There are celebrities who obviously have huge platforms and followers, and I don’t know if it’s necessarily fair to say that they’re obligated to do something. But I definitely wish more of them would. I can absolutely say that when it comes to myself, I certainly feel an obligation. If I have people looking to me—no matter how many—and if I’m lucky enough and privileged enough to have their ears, I want to make sure that I’m using my voice for good and speaking up as much as I can.
Tell me more about the show. What can people expect to see when they go? What are you doing up there for two hours?
Well, it won’t be quite that long thankfully. I wouldn’t put people through that. I asked specifically to have some extra time before the show so I can meet people and interact with them. The actual show will probably be closer to an hour. I wanted to that because, yes, this show is about my experiences, but it's ultimately much bigger than that. It’s about connecting with others and practicing empathy and progressing as a society.
I hope people will laugh. I hope people will think. One of the biggest points I want to drive home is that just existing in this world is hard and confusing enough. The metaphor I always use is the video game The Sims. As a Sims character, you get dropped into the world, you know nothing, it's a blank slate, and just that right there is hard enough. Then you throw on things like paying your bills on time, finding a job, dating, and all of that stuff makes life more difficult. But then even on top of that you throw in things like hate and racism and anti-Semitism and life becomes that much harder. Yes, life is hard enough for everyone, but there's layers that put certain people and primarily minorities at disadvantages, making it even harder to live a fulfilling life. So I’ll be touching on all that, but funny.
I think one of my favorite parts about your stuff that I've seen is that, sure, it's fun and lighthearted, but at the same time there's a message underneath that.
And that's when I think comedy is at its best. Initially you hear it and you just laugh, but then you think about it and you discover there's more to it. I want people to laugh because laughing is one of the only genuine things we have left. But then I want the message to stick with them after the show ends.
Whether I’m talking about how social media can foster loneliness or what it feels like to be Jewish right now, my goal is to use humor to bring people together and let people know they’re not alone and that it’s okay to be confused. I'm not going to act like I have all the answers or can solve anything, but maybe being vulnerable and asking those questions and starting the conversation is just as important.
And for other people to discover they're not in this alone and to learn other people are just as confused as they are, I think, will help us all.
Hopefully! I think it can be so lonely for people growing up on social media. One example I use is dating apps: where you're just swiping and deciding who someone is within two seconds, and then deeming them worthy or unworthy—that can be a very lonely feeling and nobody wants to be judged that way. I always delete my dating apps, but then I realize that I’m an introvert and when I’m in public I’d rather just eat snacks vs talk to people.
But it’s that paradox. The more we're connected with social media, dating apps, etc, the more alone we can feel. As we continue to consume more things through screens, being in the same room, the same physical room, is such an important thing. It can’t be overstated. I still get nervous in front of crowds, but I knew this would be most impactful if I could speak directly with others.
That's fantastic. How long have you been working on putting this show together?
You could say I started about a year ago in some ways. But these ideas and grappling with the confusion and my experiences with anti-Semitism, that's been going on for a while. It wasn't until probably the last six months or so that I actually started putting my thoughts together in a narrative. In a sense, it’s been a lifelong process in gathering these experiences. But half the battle is being able to articulate them in an engaging way.
Actually, you know, I thought I was pretty much done writing the show, and then Pittsburgh happened. I woke up that Saturday morning and I was alone in my apartment, my roommates we're gone, and I just cried by myself for hours and hours. But I knew that I couldn’t do this show without addressing that. It was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S history. Of course I have to talk about that. With comedy these days, and late shows are great examples, you’re always constantly updating and refining because news breaks so fast and so often.
And I think it's so important you take the time to compile things, because at the rate that things happen in this world, it's so easy to forget about something horrible that happened as recently as last week, and to focus on what just happened.
For sure. And to that point, when horrible things happen the burden often gets placed on the survivors or those who are affected to push for change. And you kind of do this thing where you say, "Hey, I hate to be that annoying person or the person who's trying to ruin all the fun, but just so you know, anti-Semitism is still happening. You still should care.” So I want to remind others, and honestly myself, to be better allies.
After Pittsburgh, for example, it was a really beautiful thing to see so many different communities come together. I know at some synagogues in Minnesota the line for services was out the door and down the block because of so many people coming together to support each other. I thought that was a really positive and hopeful thing. That made me cry for a different reason.
You touched on this earlier, but what do you hope are your main takeaways from your show?
I want people to walk away feeling less alone. I want everyone to understand it's OK to be confused. It doesn't matter if you're in your 20's, 40's, 50's, whatever, that's an OK feeling to have. I want people to feel empathy. I want them to understand we're all given certain advantages and born into certain lives, but it's crucial that we put ourselves in other people's shoes and realize that just because something bad isn’t happening directly to us, doesn’t mean that bad thing isn’t happening at all.
And lastly, part of the reason why this is a comedy show is because I want people to be hopeful. I always say that going through life without laughing is like going to a Phish show for the lyrics. Why bother? You need to be able to laugh through things. That’s different than laughing at things. Laughing instills a sense of community and creates space for dialogue. Laughing can be powerful, but it won’t fix anything alone. It’s a start. Action is what has to follow.
You've written for a number of big names (MTV News, Huffington Post, Washington Post, Time). How did you get started in all of this?
This is another hour-long conversation (laughs). I got my first piece published in college for College Humor, and that was kind of the beginning of, "Oh, I like making people laugh, and that's what I want to do." But I didn't have a portfolio and I didn't have any experience. It was MTV News who you could say gave me my first opportunity after school.
I freelanced for them unpaid for a bit, I guess trying to prove myself. That turned into a paying freelance job, and I was able to leverage that and start building a portfolio while starting to get to know some editors on a personal level. I turned those pieces into opportunities at Washington Post, HuffPost, and even the Star Tribune. When I got my first opinion piece in the Star Tribune, I took a picture of myself standing with the newspaper. I was beyond excited because that was one of the newspapers I grew up reading and got every morning at my front door. That was crazy to me.
Do you have any projects or pieces of work you’re most proud of? Maybe the free Capri Sun?
(Laughs) That’s funny that you say that. The Capri Sun was fun, but something along the same lines that I really enjoyed doing was the Gatorade sponsorship video. I basically made a video to send to Gatorade about why they should sponsor me, me being a non-athlete. Basically my pitch was you have a lot of these top-notch athletes which is great, but what about the normal people who go to work and don’t have the energy to exercise after. That’s my demographic. Gatorade actually got a hold of it and sent me a really funny message along with a bunch of free Gatorade, which I used to make disgusting mixed drinks. Thanks, Gatorade!
Really though, I’m proud any time someone reads my writing. I know that sounds cliche, but seriously the best feeling is when someone reaches out and says, “I read your piece. It made me think differently,” or, “That thing you wrote was so funny!” There are so many things people can be doing with their time.
I liked your Goodbye Letter to Mother Earth, because climate change is something I’m personally really worried about, and it’s one of my main issues when I vote.
Oh, you have to be.
That gets back to an earlier point in our discussion where we can’t just forget about an awful thing that happened last week because something different that’s terrible is happening right now. We can’t forget about that, we have to still be focused on those previous problems so we can learn from them.
You have to be that person who’s going to take it upon themselves to keep bringing this up because otherwise it will get lost in the news. I catch myself slipping up and I’m lucky that I have friends and peers who are much smarter than me who hold me accountable. And again, what’s a great way to engage people and keep them from tuning out? Humor. So, yeah, you’re spot on.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you come back home to Minnesota?
I always get so nostalgic when I come home. I love hanging out with my friends and going back to the spots that elicit so many memories. Like Bunny’s in St. Louis Park. I love Bunny’s. There’s already texts in my group text I have with my best friends from home discussing what night we’re going to Bunny’s.
It’s really the people who get me excited to come back, and being with my family and seeing familiar faces. There’s this immediate sense of comfort. My parents’ house is also way cleaner than my apartment. Love that. Oh, also driving a car instead of taking the metro every day will be cool. I haven’t driven a car for probably close to half a year, so I’ll do that.
Where can people find you online?
You can find me on twitter @savittj, which is probably the best spot. If you want to visit my website, that’s jonsavittwrites.com. There’s a link to a Chex Mix commercial where I have a kissing scene which I still don’t know how to explain.
Has Anna Kendrick reach out yet? (Jon wrote a love letter to actress Anna Kendrick and appeared on the Jason Show with it.)
(Laughs) That was pretty funny. It was confirmed that her publicist had seen it. I haven’t heard anything back, but she’s liked a couple of my tweets so there’s still hope. I feel like I still have so much to accomplish and so far to go in my career, but once I have confirmation that she’s seen that video I’ll feel like I’ve made it.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I love Minnesota and there’s no other place I’d rather get this conversation started.
Savitt will be performing his show “Carrot Cake and Other Things That Don’t Make Sense” at Cooper’s Pub & Restaurant in St. Louis Park’s West End Tuesday, November 20. Doors open at 5 p.m. and the show starts at 6 p.m.
Find him on Twitter @Savittj.