Franken's Sense | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Franken's Sense

Group hopes Al Franken and Second City inspire college-age Jews

Jews and comedy -- who knew they went together?


The local Hillel Jewish University Center is hoping they'll bring young people closer to Judaism in whatever form -- socially, culturally, ethnically or religiously -- when Al Franken is the headliner and a Second City troupe is added for flavoring. It could be, says spokesperson Jessica Smith, "a way to make it be cool to be Jewish." (Um, don't you mean more cool?)


Franken, explains Smith, "attributes a lot of his political stance to his Jewish upbringing. We haven't seen any of what he's going to [perform]. A lot of it will be politically charged. ... He has an idea of the audience and what we're trying to accomplish, but we're going to leave it up to him."


The second bi-annual event, dubbed Not Quite Kosher, brought Jon Stewart to town in 2001. Heather Robinson, whose family helps sponsor the event in memory of her father, Sanford Robinson, emphasizes that anyone with a college ID -- whether Jew or not-a-Jew -- can buy a $5 ticket. "In a sense it's an outreach" event, she says. But mainly it's aimed at young Jews who might come out for a Franken appearance more easily than a Shabbat dinner. The event may also counter some of the negativity toward Israel on college campuses, Robinson believes. Stewart's appearance brought Jewish students "in the hundreds" to several campus Jewish groups, she says, although such a result is naturally hard to assess.


Organizers will make sure there's a bit more Jewish focus to the comedy, Jessica Smith says. The Second City troupe agreed to work with Hillel to prepare Jewish-themed improv sketches, she reports. And a group of Carnegie Mellon University drama students who happen to be Hillel members will also offer improv with a Levantine flavor, including an audience participation game that Smith dubs "Jewpardy."