‘Jewtopia’ pokes fun at stereotypes

By Sarah Simkin

Bryan Fogel had a problem. The size of the cast required for “Jewtopia,” a play he created and starred in, made touring impossible. World of Jewtopia

Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St.

Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Sunday at 2 p.m.

Tickets $28.25-$43.25

$20 (Pitt Arts)

www.pgharts.org or 412-456-6666

Bryan Fogel had a problem. The size of the cast required for “Jewtopia,” a play he created and starred in, made touring impossible.

He found his solution in “World of Jewtopia,” a 90-minute, one-act show combining the humor of the longest running off-Broadway comedy with stand-up, audience participation and multimedia.

“Jewtopia” follows a Catholic man and a Jewish man as they each search for Jewish wives. “World of Jewtopia” combines scenes from “Jewtopia” with more than 200 slides and video clips, as well as the standup.

“‘Jewtopia’ was purely a play and this is kind of — to put it cheesily — a multimedia extravaganza!” Fogel said of the adaptation.

“World of Jewtopia” includes two scenes from “Jewtopia,” which he wrote with Sam Wolfson, who is also Jewish. The first is the opening of the original play, in which a gentile decides he wants to marry a Jewish girl so that he’ll never have to make another decision in his life. He enlists the help of his childhood Jewish friend in navigating “Jewtopia,” the popular Jewish dating service JDate. Fogel acts the scene with the assistance of actor Jeremy Rishe.

The second scene explores that process — specifically the details of passing oneself off as a Jew, such as slipping Yiddish into one’s vocabulary and the fine art of complaining.

In addition to those scenes, there is a stand-up comedy portion of the show that features interaction with the audience.

“We have all these games that we play and people shout things out. We do a Q-and-A, read transcripts of phone conversations with our moms and selections of the book [‘Jewtopia: The Chosen Book for the Chosen People,’ also by Fogel and Wolfson.] It’s a crazy interactive show — like a Jew rollercoaster,” Fogel said.

Not the least of the participation opportunities for the audience is a game show, featuring the schematic of a restaurant and viewers shouting out what’s wrong with each and every table.

“We get different responses every night. When you reach out to the audience for comedy there’s an unknown element of what’s going to happen, which is what I wanted to create with this show,” Fogel said.

The flexible stand-up nature of the show allows Fogel to change his material with every performance, reflecting anything new he’s found.

“The show is always evolving. I think of it as a ‘Jewtopia Greatest Hits’ album with a couple new songs added. This is not ‘Jewtopia,’ so if you’ve seen [that play], this is a new experience. If you haven’t seen ‘Jewtopia,’ this will be every bit as wonderful of an experience,” Fogel said.

Becca Tanen, president of the Hillel Student Board at Pitt, saw the original show two years ago and found it to be very funny. She thinks her Jewish upbringing made the comedy more relatable.

“I found it funny,” she said. “I’m sure others will find it offensive, but, as with many stereotypes, there is a grain of salt to it. [For example,] a lot of Jewish women are strong-willed.”

Some people have objected to Fogel’s brand of humor. He said an 80-year-old man once threatened to burn down the theater where his show was playing.

He tries to take it in stride.

“What makes the show funny is that there are segments of the population that [stereotypes] truly apply to,” Fogel said.

He thinks both Jewish and non-Jewish people can relate to “World of Jewtopia.”

“We’ve had a great crossover. The phenomenon of ‘Jewtopia’ has been kind of like the ‘[My] Big Fat Greek Wedding’ paradigm, or Chris Rock or Katt Williams,” Fogel said. “It’s kinda like a really funny version of ‘An Inconvenient Truth.’”

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