How exactly did two good friends from Montreal create an online sensation that is a love letter to modern Judaism? For the answer to that, you’ll have to go to see Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman, the creators of YidLife Crisis as they make their first performance in the Twin Cities. The duo opens the Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival on Jan. 25 at the St. Paul JCC Performing Arts Center.
“We go into that in-depth in our live show, where we talk about all the reasons why we were crazy enough to start an internet series,” said Batalion. “But the highlights of that are that we’re from Montreal, where there is a large Yiddish residue as it were, a largely survivor-based population, and a bunch of different institutions here that are based on preserving Yiddish and Yiddishkeit. We actually went to high school that taught the Yiddish language.
“We’re surrounded Yiddish culture and we tie that into a general log of Yiddish comedy and Jewish comedy that evolved over our creative careers.”
The duo has amassed more than 30,000 subscribers and millions of views. They have completed three seasons of the web series and taken their shtick on the road with their Global Shtetl docu-series all about Jewish life in all corners of the world.
In the series, Batalion and Elman play Leizer and Chaimie, amplified versions of both of them.
“It’s all based in real conversations we’ve had,” Elman said. “How much of the characters really are us? A little bit? A lot? It’s an exaggerated version of us. But in terms of the religiosity of the characters, you know, we’re sort of maybe pushing out to our extremes in a way.”
Said Batalion: “What you see with Chaimie and Leizer is basically the devil and the angel on opposite shoulders of someone making a decision. What you’re seeing is definitely the reality of our thinking but not necessarily who we are in our day to day lives.”
No knowledge of Yiddish is required to enjoy the show; while much of the web series is in Yiddish with subtitles, the show was actually created to be read in English.
“Because 99.999% of our audience doesn’t speak Yiddish and those that do could be turned off by the accent or certain idioms or certain way that they’re using the language,” Elman said. “But just to explain the live show, it’s not performing the YidLife Crisis web series. We are YidLife Crisis and we embody the experience in the live show. We tell the story of how it is that two guys in their – let’s call it mid to late 30s – who are secular, who are not religious, how we came up with the world’s first Yiddish sitcom for the web. We’re telling our story of our Jewish identity crises and you know, what prompted us to write the show and then screen certain parts the show, and then we basically spend the show talking about the modern Jewish experience and making fun of all of it.”
A watching of the show will see some very familiar comedic tropes.
“We’ve been able to pay tribute to and try to reverse engineer some of the best English comedy we’ve seen out there like Seinfeld, and Curb Your Enthusiasm into what we believe is the real Yiddish it was supposed to have been created in,” Batalion said. “That’s really the nuts behind the journey that started this whole project and you know, five years later, we’re still doing it.”
Also at this year’s Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival:
Sunday, Jan. 26, 1-3 p.m. Sabes JCC
Local satirist and host of Minnesota Tonight Jonathan Gershberg teaches how to write jokes on some of the most challenging issues of our time in the style of The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight and Patriot Act. Participants will practice writing jokes and outlining sketches while receiving individualized feedback.
Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, 7 p.m. Sabes JCC
An evening of true and colorful stories told by select members of the Twin Cities Jewish community, that mixes tender with hilarity. Curated and directed by Allison Broeren of Word Sprout Storytelling. (Ages 16+)
Tickets: $12 adv / $15 door
Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, 7 p.m., St. Paul JCC
Join Emmy winning television producer, writer and novelist Matt Goldman for an intimate conversation where he breaks down the process behind his success writing for shows like Seinfeld, Ellen and The New Adventures of Old Christine. TV enthusiasts, Seinfeld aficionados and literary lovers will enjoy this rare peak behind the curtain. (Ages 16+)
Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, 7 p.m., Sabes JCC
Acclaimed humorist and writer on the original cast of Saturday Night Live, Alan Zweibel presents his new book A Field Guide to the Jewish People. Co-written with comedians Dave Barry and Adam Mansbach, the authors dissect every holiday, rite of passage, and tradition, unravel a long and complicated history, and tackle the tough questions that have been plaguing the long-suffering Jewish people everywhere for centuries.
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, 7 p.m., Sabes JCC
Catch two of the rising stars of the comedy world before they fly off into the stratosphere. (Ages 18+)
Emmy Blotnick is a stand-up/actress/writer based in NY. She has appeared on THE LATE SHOW WITH STEPHEN COLBERT, where she was also a staff writer. Previously, she was head writer for the Comedy Central series THE PRESIDENT SHOW. She has been highlighted as one of Comedy Central’s “Comics to Watch.” Emmy can most recently be seen in her half hour stand-up special for Comedy Central.
Jon Savitt was born and raised in Minneapolis, and is a comedian and writer with work featured in outlets including Funny or Die, College Humor, Washington Post, TIME, and more. He’s also a past contributor to the comedy series Good Mythical Morning and recently released a musical comedy album titled Jon Savitt Sings Bad Love Songs. Find him on Twitter @savittj.
Saturday, Feb. 1, 8 p.m. Sabes JCC
The El-Salomons take the motto ‘make love not war’ very personally. Jess Salomon, a Jewish-Canadian comedian, and Eman El-Hussieni, a Palestinian-Canadian comedian who have each performed at dozens of festivals and appeared on several television shows, take the stage together since their marriage in 2016. While never shying away from their differences, the El-Salomon’s bring a fresh perspective hilariously demonstrating how love, and a good sense of humor, can triumph over animosity. (Ages 18+)
Ticket includes pre-show celebration with food and drink at 7 p.m.