Hard to believe this hasn’t happened before. Not because the Twin Cities are known for the size of their Jewish community, but because the talent that lies within has made an outsize impression, starting but hardly ending with the Coen brothers and Al Franken. And this weekend, as the Minneapolis Jewish Humor Festival gets underway at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park, running through March 7, that talent will be showcased in all its diversity, from stand-ups to storytellers to sketch comedians, as well as a host of visiting comics.
Ari Hoptman, who performs his cerebral mix of sketches, bad poetry, and storytelling on February 28 and March 2, is an actor and German professor who recently raised his profile with a little of both, playing professor in the latest Coen brothers film, A Serious Man, who awkwardly attempts to help his coworker despite bureaucratic hurdles. “Everyone treated me very well,” he says of the filming. “And we had cheesecake twice at lunch. Twice!”
Hoptman says his first comedic influence was Mel Brooks; he could recite Brooks’ 2,000-year-old-man sketches by heart—in fact, he still can. He also took pointers from the Marx brothers and knows enough about them to recall what the brothers rarely mentioned—Gummo, for instance, and Manfred, who died in infancy. Eventually, like many creative types of his generation, he gravitated to Monty Python and became the classic line-quoting fan: “If someone misquoted Monty Python,” he says, “I would have to restrain myself from correcting them.”
I was curious if there was such a thing as a particularly Minnesotan passive-aggressive Jewish humor. But Hoptman grew up in Michigan and, indeed, many of the comedians performing over the next week are transplants: Amy Salloway, who performs “So Kiss Me Already, Herschel Gertz!” on Saturday and Monday nights, grew up in Milwaukee; and Dylan Fresco, who offers the mock New-Age class “The Anton Kissbougel Technique – Introductory Workshop” on Monday, was a New Yorker.
For a great historical primer on Jewish humor, the documentary “Next Time Dear God, Please Choose Someone Else: The Legend of Jewish Humor” screens on Sunday at 3 p.m.