On a Thursday night at a Brooklyn theater, comedian Eitan Levine asked three contestants if English muffins, Christmas, and summer were Jewish or antisemitic. (Answers in order: antisemitic for being tasteless and British, Jewish…because…, and antisemitic — “too hot”).
It may be a bit subjective, but that seems to work, and, in keeping with the theme, is very Jewish. Levine created the viral TikTok series called “Jewish or Antisemitic,” which has 21 million views and counting. In the man-on-the-street style videos, Levine asks guests to categorize random things like bitcoin, Spider-Man, and Girl Scout cookies.
'Jewish or Antisemitic' is taking off and busting myths
He produced and hosted the first live show on Thursday, June 9 at Super Secret Arts in Gowanus. Levine said he’d been trying bits from the series in his comedy shows for a while, but this was the first live show dedicated to the concept. He hopes to do the show once a month and take it on tour next year.
“It’s funny that this is the thing that took off, and I’m happy it did," Levine said. "It’s so much fun to do."
He said the most surprising thing is how many people think Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are Jewish. And, the perception that people have of Jews.
“People think of Jews as mythical creatures that can’t be fully understood, and they’re secretive,” Levine said. “No — we are very the opposite of secretive.”
Levine's authentic Jewish comedy resonates with audiences
Through comedy, writing, and video projects, Levine is playing his part in expanding the perception and narrative about Jews. While he has jokes that aren’t about being Jewish, he said the Jewish content resonates because it’s the thing he talks about most authentically.
“Jews more than any other group can usually tell when there are fakers or when people are coming in without some sort of stake in it,” he said. “It’s why I think we have an aversion to having non-Jews play us in media in some cases.”
Levine has been doing some form of writing, standup, or producing since he was 15. He grew up in New Jersey going to Jewish day school that didn’t offer many extracurriculars. He also was limited in what he could do because he had childhood cancer.
“I spent a lot of time alone writing,” he said.
That led to performing his comedy throughout high school. He spent a year in Israel where he won Israel’s Last Comic Standing competition. When he got back to the US, he started touring and doing shows at Chabad and college Hillels.
His career led to journalism and he started video series for various publications, which taught him to produce, host, and be on camera.
Eitan Levine's upcoming projects
Levine recently started a writers' room for other New York City-based Jewish comics for AISH, which met for the first time this week. And his New York Times essay, “Burying my Bubby During the Pandemic,” about losing his grandmother to COVID-19 at the height of the pandemic is being picked up for a show that starts filming in September.
Earlier this year, he received a grant to produce a weekly YouTube show called “Jewish Stuff.” It’s a mixture of his street interviews and the podcast he does with Matthew Broussard called “Good Jew / Bad Jew,” plus sketch comedy. The grant was renewed for a second season.
Levine is throwing the first pitch for the Brooklyn Cyclones on Sunday, June 12 for the team’s Jewish Heritage day.
Are the Cyclones Jewish or antisemitic? Levine’s swag bag from the team contained a branded Mensch on a Bench holding a bat.
“It’s the most Jewish team in baseball,” Levine said.
And, in case you were wondering, baseball, according to his "Jewish or Antisemitic" series, is also Jewish. Football is antisemitic. (See my cartoon about sporting event fails here.)
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