"A rabbi walks into a bar…" Laughter usually follows; it’s practically guaranteed if the rabbi brings along seven comedians who’ve earned their chops writing for shows like "Saturday Night Live" and appearing on the downtown alternative comedy circuit.
The cleric in this case is Andrew Bachman, the Skirball Director of New York University’s Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life. The bar is Arlene’s Grocery, a Lower East Side music club, where on March 16 at 7:30 p.m., Jewish comedians including Eric Drysdale (a "federation brat" and writer for "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") and Chelsea Peretti (who with her brother, Jonah, created the Web site "Black People Love Us") will take the stage in "Gas Water?" – a Purim-inspired event.
For centuries, the holiday commemorating Jewish redemption in the Persian city of Shushan has been celebrated by thumbing a nose at authority. So it’s natural that "Gas Water?" is one of several Purim events featuring comic minds from the late-night elite. "The Shushan Channel," Hazon’s Purim send-up on March 17 at Shaare Zedek, features the TV comic-correspondent Mo Rocca and writers from "The Daily Show" and "Late Night" with both Conan O’Brien and David Letterman. (See listings on page 38 for details.)
What distinguishes "Gas Water?" is its scholarly origins. Rabbi Bachman enlisted his friend Nick Kroll, a comedian with connections, and organized a sit-down with stand-ups in their 20s to delve into the Scroll of Esther in search of fresh material for a freeform Purim spiel.
The study group – Kroll, Peretti, Jessi Klein and Jake Fleisher – came from Jewish backgrounds ranging from the Peretti family’s "vague traditions" to the Kleins’ "core Jewish teachings." ("I was raised in the basement of a synagogue," Klein joked.) None had read the whole Megillah before, and overall they found it lacking as literature and appallingly bloody, as the Jews’ take violent revenge against their would-be persecutors.
But they found some comic fodder. The result is an event interspersing sketches with music by the band Golem and stand-up comedy by Drysdale and two other stand-ups – Leo Allen, a writer for "Saturday Night Live," and Eugene Mirman, who recently played a suspected arsonist on the action series "Third Watch." Kroll and the other "Purim Players" would not give away their punch lines but did concede that working ideas include "the-story-of-Esther-in-a-minute" and a spoof, "Everybody Loves Haman," based on Ray Romano’s popular sitcom.