Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman of Yidlife Crisis Bring Their Angst and Neuroses to Charlotte
By Amy Krakovitz
Can you have a mid-life crisis when you are still in your 30s? Well, it happened to Eli Batalion and Jamie Elman, two Montreal comedians who say theirs was a “crisis of Jewish identity.”
“We grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood,” says Eli. “We went to a high school that taught us the Yiddish language. In the next 18 years after high school, we ended up doing nothing that had anything to do with that. So at a certain point, we decided we should reconcile our very Jewish upbringing with our very non-Jewish lifestyle and that begat this project.”
“This project” is Yidlife Crisis, a web series of short episodes almost entirely in Yiddish where characters Leizer (Batalion) and Chaimie (Elman) discuss food, tradition, rituals, philosophy, their place in the world, and Yiddishkeit, all with a caustic yet charming sense of humor.
But why Yiddish? Many people learned Spanish or French in high school, but they don’t create web series in those languages.
“Yiddish is a few things to us,” explains Jamie. “It’s symbolic of the upbringing that we had in Montreal which was filled with Yiddish and Yiddishkeit because Montreal is a bastion of Yiddish culture. There was and still is a Yiddish theater, a Yiddish public library, and we learned Yiddish at Bialik High School. So this is part of our upbringing.
“We also recognize that there’s a Jewish comedy tradition that is rooted in Yiddish language and Yiddish inflection and the musicality of Yiddish that found its way into American comedy in the last century. By the way,” he adds, “when we tell this story on stage, it’s a lot funnier.”
Appealing to an Intergenerational Audience
“Part of the appeal of Yiddish,” Jamie continues, “is the nostalgia. On the other hand, young audiences get a kick out of hearing two young-ish guys speak Yiddish. We see grandparents bring their grandkids to our shows and vice versa. It’s an intergenerational experience. And the sense of humor is certainly intergenerational. Some of it is a bit more modern and edgy, but a lot of it is based on classic Jewish comedy tropes.
“The web series is in Yiddish,” he clarifies. “The live show is not. The show is about the crisis. The crisis of Jewish identity and how we’re going to express our Judaism in the modern world.”
The series has been frequently compared to Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and both men welcome the comparison. “I’m very glad those shows are coming to mind when people watch it,” Eli tells us. “We like to say that Seinfeld is Talmud for us. Someone told us that [Yidlife Crisis is] ‘Seinfeld in Yiddish.’ We’re not Seinfeld, obviously, but we are definitely somehow regurgitating stuff from there. But our thesis is that they regurgitated from a long history of Jewish comedy. But they happened to have done it in English and we’re doing it in the roots language of Yiddish. From which most of it was born.”
In addition to the web series, the two have begun producing several documentaries about various Jewish communities around the world, about the culture in those communities, but especially the food (most episodes in the web series take place in restaurants). The web series, though, has moved on from food as the focus and now the food side is being pursued in the documentaries. “We’ve tapped into something we’re able to tell – and you can see this in our Global Shtetl stuff as well – stories about history that we like to call ‘ed-Jew-taining’ and teach people through education materials,” Eli says. “We’re doing it in our clown-y, food-y kind of way where we’re around other experts who provide their knowledge and we provide the comedic platform. It just plays into who we are and frankly, we are just hungry people. The food will always play a role.”
Jamie and Eli say they have been anxious to come visit Charlotte for five years, since the inception of the web series. That’s because Jeff Turk, chair of the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival, has been a fan since day one. “We’re very excited about coming,” Jamie claims. “That’s because we know at the helm of this festival is a guy who has been a legit, genuine fan from the beginning and seems to really appreciate what Yidlife is. Because of him we think the Charlotte audience will be good, warm, and heimishe.”
YidLive! By YidLife Crisis is Saturday night, February 1, at 7:15 PM at Temple Israel, followed by the Film Festival’s opening night reception. Jamie and Eli’s documentary Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal will be screened on February 2 at 1 PM in the Sam Lerner Center for Cultural Arts in Shalom Park where there will be a Q & A with Jamie and Eli and a nosh (of course!) after the film.
Tickets for both events and the remainder of the film festival are available at charlottejewishfilm.com.
For an advance look at Yidlife Crisis, visit yidlifecrisis.com. For a look at one fun episode with Howie Mandel, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w-A-k5Kc_0. Warning: mild Yiddish expletives in this episode.
It’s Not Michael Jordan, But …
In addition to the Opening Weekend, the CJFF will screen 14 additional films at Temple Israel and Regal Ballantyne. Our closing day includes A Cantor’s Head, which profiles the “Michael Jordan” of Cantors, Jack Mendelson, who is scheduled to appear after the film for a Q & A, with the film’s writer/director Eric Anjou, and Aulcie, a film about Israeli basketball star Aulcie Perry, who converted to Judaism and is known as the “Michael Jordan” of Israel.
For the rest of the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival Schedule, see the folder inserted in this edition. See you at the movies!