"I don't give a fuck if you get offended."
Thus begins a set by Los Angeles-based stand-up comic, Moshe Kasher, a self-described child genius, Jew, and beefcake. While those things may or may not be true, depending on test scores and your own feelings about skinny men who wear big glasses, one thing is for certain, with a successful memoir and stints on Chelsea Lately, Jimmy Fallon, and Carson Daly, Kasher is making comedy work for him.
Which is probably an interesting turn of events for this child of Hasidic Jews and the brother of a rabbi. His memoir, Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16, is packed with tales of drugs and mental hospitals. Once he entertained thoughts of becoming a professor of religious studies.
These days, his profession keeps him a long way from the synagogue. "I don't regret not going into academia for one major reason," he said in an interview. "I am not smart enough to have made it in academia. I would have definitely been fired by now from my university job after making a dick joke about the binding of Isaac."
It's a tough sell, claiming to not be smart enough for academia. His sets include references to specific bits of Dante's Inferno, coupled with stories of bingeing on Star Trek: The Next Generation and RPG super-wizarding levels. This is not an uneducated guy, and his schtick shows it.
"I'm more of a normal fellow who goes to all the glam parties. I wear flannel PJs with foot bottoms and a little poop panel on the butt. I make the Hollywood elite very uncomfortable at parties by inviting them to sit on my knee and hear some tales of my trip across America, planting apple trees with a pot on my head." On whether or not he's a jokester in real life, he adds, "It depends, are we making love? If we are making love I am a joke-a-minute kid of guy, which means I'll get out about two jokes before we are done."
Kasher will be performing alongside fellow stand-up comedian Leah Bonnema at the Footlight Theatre during the Charleston Comedy Festival. He's guaranteed to offend somebody along the way, but he's OK with that.
"That's my job.," he says. "I'm a joker."
Touché, Mr. Kasher. Touché.
I've heard it said that horror writers are the nicest people in the world, since they convert their frustrations into violence on the page. Why be mean in real life when you can slash and burn entire cities in your books?
It's true, perhaps, but today I'd like to add another category into the nicest people canon: the stand-up comedian. It's comparable, too. Why be nasty in real life when, as soon as you take the stage, you can slash and burn anything and everything with your razor-sharp wit?
And as far as "nice" comedians go, New York-based up-and-comer Leah Bonnema stands out. Originally from rural Maine, she's been headlining clubs like the famous Caroline's, and was named one of the 53 favorite female comedians by Huffington Post. And though her schtick on stage is sharp and acid-tongued, to talk one-on-one with Leah is to find a kinder, gentler girl.
To be fair, comedy wasn't always part of Bonnema's life plan. In fact, she stumbled into stand-up in an accidental way – while working as a writer someone suggested she take a stand-up class as a way to punch up her dialogue. When, at the end of the class, Bonnema got to perform, she got hooked on the rush of it. She nabbed an internship with a New York club, which required her to perform for five minutes every night for a few months, and she quickly learned what is perhaps the most important lesson in stand-up. "You're gonna fall on your face a bunch of times," she says with a laugh. "It's all part of the process."
And perhaps stand-up isn't exactly a stretch for her. As a kid, she listened to a lot of comedy records. "Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby," she says. "I always loved storytelling ... and laughing."
Pryor is, in fact, one of her biggest inspirations. "Richard Pryor was one of the first people to talk about really personal experiences. He was so vulnerable. He talked about things that were hard. You can deal with hard things in life and let other people feel less embarrassed and alone in experiences they've been through."
At heart, Bonnema is a storyteller, spending long hours perfecting her bits, which can cover everything from gender politics to sex and quantum physics. She's also not afraid to pepper her stories with references to nerd favorites like The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Battlestar Galactica.
"One of my favorite parts of comedy is that I never know what's going to happen," she says. "I don't mind being thrown off my original plan, and I definitely don't mind audience interaction."
Bonnema performs up to six nights a week in New York ("I always make sure to take one night off a week. I don't want to get burned out."), and she's performed in Scotland and, most recently, in the Middle East for the troops. When she takes the stage in Charleston, you can be sure of one thing: you're going to get an earful of f-bombs and sex jokes, but her stories are going to make you think. —Leah Rhyne