Two Jews walk into a cabaret. No, that’s not the joke, the jokes will come later, fast and furious.
It seems these two Jews, Sean Altman and Rob Tannenbaum, used to be songwriting and singing partners in a comedic song duo, What I Like About Jew. Then they separated, acrimoniously.
Five years later, Altman says, “We’re not as unfriendly as we were in 2007, when we broke up.” The result, utterly unexpected by fans of both men, is Tannenbaum’s guest appearance with Altman on Dec. 25. (There’s a Frank Capra movie rattling around here somewhere, but let’s not think about that.)
Since the split, each partner has enjoyed success in his share of Jewish-themed comedy through song, Altman as Jewmongous (he’s 6-feet-3), Tannenbaum as one-half of Good for the Jews.
“Whatever anxiety we each probably felt that first year [after the break-up] has subsided, because we have each made a mark in the Jewish comedy song world,” Altman says.
The two singer-songwriter-comics had been interviewed separately for a book on Jewish comedy, and when the publisher needed to get a license for an image to be used in the book, they found themselves e-mailing one another.
“I wrote to Rob, ‘I see you don’t have a gig on this date, do you want to be a guest on my Christmas gig,’” Altman recalls. “He asked me, ‘In this context what does guest mean?’ ‘It means I pay you a small amount and we do a few songs together.’”
And so it came to pass or, rather, will come to pass, that on the 1,999th birthday of a Jewish kid from the Bethlehem conurbation, two other Jewish kids will be singing together for the first time in many years.
“That should be interesting,” Altman says, “Given that we haven’t been on a stage together for a really long time and have barely spoken.”
He’s optimistic, though.
“I think [Rob] and I are both in good places,” Altman says. (Tannenbaum was unavailable for interview at press time.)
Altman says that his own comedy material has matured in the intervening half-decade.
“I’d like to think the stuff I’m doing now is more on point,” he explains. “I’ve sharpened the sword of satire, and softened the juvenile and occasionally misogynistic edge [of the earlier material]. I have a daughter now, and I don’t want to do anything that even hints at misogyny.”
He has enough new material that Jewmongous will probably release its/his second album in 2013. But performing as a single just wasn’t as musically satisfying as being half of a duo.
“For the last two years, I performed with a lead guitar player in the States,” Altman continues. “It’s more fun for me to have someone sing harmony with me and to do counter-melody musical lines.”
Recently, Altman has found a new wrinkle for Jewmongous.
“Now I’m performing with a percussionist. I saw this guy playing cajon [the wooden box drum frequently found in Latin American music], accompanying a singer-songwriter. The beat was prominent, but it didn’t overwhelm the lyrics. Of course, that’s of paramount importance for a comedy songwriter. It’s like having a band without the overwhelming bombast of a band.”
Altman isn’t one to do the obvious. His “Latin” percussionist, he explains is “half-Scottish, half-Korean. By the time the tour is over, he’ll be Jewish. Right now I’m teaching him to pronounce Simchat Torah.”
Jewmongous, the musical alter ego of Sean Altman, will perform with guests Rob Tannenbaum and Cynthia Kaplan on Dec. 25, 7 p.m., at City Winery (155 Varick St.). For information call (212) 608-0555 or go to www.citywinery.com. Altman and Kaplan will also be performing at Mexicali Live (1409 Queen Anne Rd, Teaneck, N.J.) at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 26. For information, call (201) 833-0011 or go to www.mexicalilive.com.