Silent One Day Sale, Holy One Day Sale

— Steve Hofstetter

I imagine it’s much more difficult to be a Jew on Christmas than it is to be a Christian on Hanukah. You don’t find many Hanukah specials about families getting stranded in an airport learning the true meaning of the menorah.

But if there were lots of Hanukah specials, I’d be just as annoyed as I am at those about Christmas. I finally realized that I do not dislike most Christmas specials because they are about a holiday I do not celebrate – I dislike them because they’re really, really cheesy.

I love the original Grinch cartoon. The Peanuts specials are always fun, and Seinfeld’s Festivus episode is a classic. A number of sit-coms have simply had funny events happen at Christmas parties, which is fine considering that the holiday is a part of our country’s pop culture. But the shows that have people changing their lives based on the true meaning of Christmas really exasperate me.
I am a very spiritual person, and I have never changed my life based on the true meaning of a holiday. And let’s just say that learning the true meaning of a holiday, sans bastardization, was actually possible. Would we want that lesson to come from ABC Family?

Any holiday is okay in small doses, but TV networks go absolutely nuts on Christmas. I am pretty patriotic, and generally a big fan of the whole America thing. But I wouldn’t be able to accept a bunch of sitcoms telling me the true meaning of July 4th. Imagine the final two weeks of every June filled with TV characters ending episodes with an arm-in-arm chorus of “My Country Tis of Thee.” Which they couldn’t do because no one knows the second verse.

There are several sitcoms that have two Christmas episodes. Sure, most sitcoms are already ridiculous, but how long are they trying to celebrate this holiday? I know about the supposed “Twelve days of Christmas” thing, but I don’t know anyone who actually celebrates the holiday for more than a day and a half. I bet someone in religion marketing noticed that Hanukah has eight days, and decided that something had to be done to compete. “They have eight days? Well, we can have twelve!” But if you’re going go 150% on the Jews, you have to keep it up across the board. Every Yom Kippur, Jews don’t eat for 25 hours. If you can go 37.5, I’ll give you 12 days of Christmas. Until then, forget about your golden rings and admit that Christmas is a one-day event.

I wonder if any Christian kid actually enjoys all of the Christmas sitcoms. I doubt that there are any 19-year-olds watching TV during winter break saying, “you know, I completely missed the point of this holiday. Come on, everybody – let’s go caroling!”

TV execs should realize that the way Christmas is portrayed on the majority of their shows is not how it’s celebrated in a majority of the country. First of all, more than half the marriages in America end in divorce, which destroys the notion of the large family meal with everyone accounted for. Right there, you’ve already entered minority territory. Then there’s the realization that not everyone is Christian (gasp!), and many of us spend Christmas surfing JDate. Some of the people who are Christian don’t have a dozen relatives that want to come over for dinner. And most importantly, a lot of people out there don’t get along well enough with their extended family to do anything but hurl insults and mashed potatoes.

In a rush to beat each other to the holiday punch (ba-dum!), TV networks have been airing Christmas episodes earlier and earlier. It used to be the week before Christmas. Then it was two weeks before Christmas. Now, they air the first week of December. Pretty soon, Christmas specials will start so early that they’ll air during the Christmas prior. And the year in between will just be one continuous commercial.

Uncle Jesse can tell DJ all he wants about how Christmas is about love and selflessness and family, but not until after Macy’s tells you about their one-day sale. There is a certain irony to running all those sale ads during the heartwarming story of a family learning about the wise men. The only wise men here are the ones in the ad department.

Christmas TV teaches you that you should give. And to help, it also directs you to the nearest store. Driving up profits in the retail sector is the true meaning of Christmas sitcoms, and that’s something I discovered without the help of a snowed-in airport.

Learning this true meaning has made me all warm and fuzzy inside. Come on everyone – let’s carol. How does that Macy’s jingle go?

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central. To find out how to book him at your next event, visit SteveHofstetter.com. This column was originally published on jdate.com.

The Lows of the High Holidays

As a kid, I always knew where to be for the high holidays. I would be in my seat in synagogue, with an occasional respite for “bathroom” breaks that devolved into 20 minute games of freeze tag. I know, lying to my parents is wrong. But it gave me something to repent for.
Now that I’m an adult (physically, anyway), the choice is much harder. My parents are now divorced, giving me two options. Plus I’m engaged, adding a third. I’d consider a fourth option of spending the day with no parents at all, but we are SUPPOSED to suffer on Yom Kippur.

Before every parent (especially my own) gets mad at me, remember that you said the same things about your parents. It’s Jewish tradition. Like the youngest child reading the four questions on Passover or everyone on Jdate having a picture taken of themselves at a deceptively perfect angle, it is what we do. It is our right to complain about the burden of our parents, almost as much as it is their right to guilt trip us that they don’t complain about the burden of their children. It’s a great system.

I recognize that I am blessed to have parents and soon-to-be in-laws that want to see me, let alone who live within 45 minutes of me. But it creates the unfortunate reality of picking one while insulting the others. And the choice is not easy.

I went to my mom’s synagogue when I was in high school, so there are a bunch of people I am happy to see, mixed with a number of ancient people who claim to remember me from when I was 17 but offer no substantiating proof.

“I don’t remember you being this tall!”

In fairness, they also don’t remember my name, or what they had for dinner the day before.

I went to my dad’s synagogue until my Bar Mitzvah, making the memory loss among those who remember me even more prevalent. Like my mom’s shul, it’s a mixed bag. Some people I love catching up with. For others, there’s a reason we stopped keeping in touch the day I became a man.

I have been to my fiance’s synagogue a few times, so I don’t know anyone there. Which is still doesn’t prevent the inevitable uncomfortable moment, since all they know about me is what I do for a living.

“So, you’re the comedian?”

“Yes.”

“Tell me a joke.”

“But it’s Yom Kippur.”

“Come on, just one!”

“Okay. Two Jews walk into a bathroom, and have a galatically awkward conversation at a urinal. Stop me if you’ve heard this one.”

Between the three days of holiday, we can spend one day with each parental unit. But then my fiancĂ© is spending two of the three with my parents instead of hers, and someone gets stuck with the somber Yom Kippur instead of the joyous Rosh Hashannah. Yom Kippur may be the most important day of the year, but it’s also the day when I complain the most. I spend 24 and a half hours hungry, followed by two hours complaining about my usual impatience-induced food coma. See? I’m only physically an adult.

My solution is going to have to be to alternate years. One year we’ll spend it with her parents. One year we’ll alternating between my parents. And I guess we’ll have to alternate who gets Rosh Hashannah, and who spends a day with Captain Complainer. The complicated nature of this is frustrating – I feel like I’m a baseball team planning which ridiculous and over commercialized jerseys to wear on alternate Sundays. (Which is something they should atone for).

So mom, dad, other mom, other dad – know that wherever we spend the holidays, we do wish we lived in a world where we could see everyone all the time. But since that’s not the case, you’ll just have to except us being wandering Jews. That, too, is Jewish tradition.

And for those who will predictably ask me to tell them a joke, here is my favorite synagogue-friendly street joke. I don’t know where this joke originated, and I can’t take credit for it, but feel free to enjoy.

An aging rabbi has begun doubting the existence of God. As a test, he fakes an illness to sneak out of Rosh Hashannah services, and goes golfing. On his first swing, he gets a hole in one.

Dropping to his knees, the rabbi says, “God, I have been waiting forty years to get a hole in one. And now it comes on Rosh Hashannah, and after I lied to my family and friends. I would suspect that if you did exist, you’d have punished me.”

“I did,” God answers. “Who are you going to tell?”

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central. To find out how to book him at your next event, visit SteveHofstetter.com. This column was originally published on jdate.com.

Finding Jews in Rural America

— Steve Hofstetter

We have always gravitated towards large metro areas. Perhaps it’s because we’re a communal people. Perhaps it’s for the availability of good Chinese food. Whatever the reason, we’re city dwellers. Which means there’s an awful lot of America without any Jews.
The New York metro area has two million Jews, more than everywhere but Tel Aviv. But it’s a big drop after that. LA has 650,000. Philly, DC, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco each have about a quarter million. A few more American cities have 50,000-100,000. But when you get down to the top 40 American cities, we’re talking less than 10,000 in a metro area.

I can just imagine someone on JDate in Pierre, South Dakota, messaging the same two people over and over again. There are only 295 Jews in the whole state – I’m guessing their answer to JDate’s “Will you relocate?” question is a resounding yes.

As a standup comic, I am constantly touring – so I get a chance to see parts of the country most people only dream about. Assuming their dreams are incredibly boring. I recently played a comedy club in Mason City, Illinois. I don’t know how they have a comedy club – they don’t even have a McDonald’s. I also don’t know how they get to be called a city. Mason Rest Stop, maybe. Incidentally, Mason City’s Jewish population is me, whenever I perform there.

Something that’s always been tough for me is being Jewish on the road. I learned very quickly to ask if everything I order is made it with bacon. Salad, steak, even pizza has come with bacon without the menu saying so. In certain parts of the country, they use bacon like Jews use salt. I’m actually shocked that powdered bacon isn’t available in a jar at the table. Most days I have to pretend I’m allergic to pork for any waitress to take me seriously. You try explaining kosher in Wichita.

I try to use the stage to spread love for the Jews, both with positive Jewish humor, and by simply being a Jewish guy the crowd likes. I am often the first Jew a lot of people meet, which is a ridiculous responsibility. To counteract prevalent stereotypes, I have to make sure to tip well, avoid klezmer music, and never eat the blood of Christian babies. Or bacon.

There was one time when I purposefully didn’t talk about being Jewish on stage. Before a show at a small bar in Muskogee, Oklahoma, my friends and I were confronted by what we thought were just local yokels. As they talked our annoyed ears off more and more, yokel turned into racist, and racist turned into two card-carrying members of the Ku Klux Klan. That’s right – they had ID cards. I believe they kept them right next to their Bed Bath and Beyond rewards cards. All those sheets can get expensive.

An aside – while doing research for this column, I checked out the KKK’s website – it looks like it was made by an 8th grader in 1997. Apparently, they hate black people, Jews, and HTML.

No one in the bar knew who I was, so my friends and I swapped positions on the show. I went on first and did ten ad-libbed minutes about growing up a patriotic, Christian American. I am proud to be Jewish, sure – but I am also proud of the Jewish people’s inherent ability to survive. That night, it was my turn.

I happily returned to Manhattan in one piece. I’m not saying we’re immune to anti-Semitism in New York; At some point Mel Gibson will star in an Oliver Stone movie here. But I do recognize that I am spoiled by just how easy it is for New Yorkers to find everything from a synagogue to a Kosher Deli to a Jewish wife.

I am continually impressed by the resolve of Jews in smaller cities, where it’s not as easy to be Jewish. So for those of you who don’t have the luxury of an apartment complex littered with mezuzahs, stay strong. And make sure to check if they put bacon on your ice cream.

Steve Hofstetter is an internationally touring comedian who has been VH1, ESPN, and Comedy Central. To find out how to book him at your next event, visit SteveHofstetter.com. This column was originally published on jdate.com.