Not every 20something can say they’ve been shouted out by Lin-Manuel Miranda or flown across the country to join the circus. But Eitan Levine, who grew up modern Orthodox in Springfield, rightfully can say he has.
Mr. Levine is a writer and comedian on the verge of what already has been an eventful career. He performs standup comedy regularly at the People’s Improv Theater and Magnet Theater in New York, has several recurring internet video projects in which he commentates on pop culture, and has written for sites including Mashable, Jewlicious, Heavy, and BroBible. “My parents, in general, have no idea what I do,” Mr. Levine said of the online culture that has provided creative millennials with limitless new opportunity, but sometimes baffles baby boomers. “Everyone’s parents have no idea what they do if they work in new media or internet journalism.”
He’s a busy man. At the moment, Mr. Levine is based in Los Angeles, writing for Hollywood Says, the number one English-language celebrity talk show in China. The show hopes to be a bridge between entertainment-obsessed Hollywood and China. Levine also writes for Elite Daily, a popular digital media platform that brings in more than 40 million page views per month. His writing career has brought him several dynamic and interesting opportunities. “Ringling Brothers Circus called me up and were like, ‘Hey, want to do an article about how we don’t hit our elephants anymore?’,” he said. “So I got to join the circus for a day.” Ringling flew him to Tampa to join circus training. In a three-minute documentary on Elite Daily, you can watch him don clown makeup and attempt cartwheels.
Perhaps Mr. Levine’s most buzzed-about project to date is “Hamiltoe,” an adult film parody of the hugely popular hip-hop musical “Hamilton.” The film got a lot of buzz last summer, after Mr. Levine announced it in his Elite Daily column. It was a boundary-pushing creative move, and Mr. Levine credits his current success in entertainment media to it. “That’s how I got my manager and agent, and how I got the job I have now,” he said. “Even Lin-Manuel Miranda is a huge fan.”
Elite Daily is producing a three-part video series showcasing Mr. Levine’s comedy, viewable on its website. “I thought of funny ideas and asked people if I could do them,” Mr. Levine said. “In one, I tried to become the mayor of a small town for a day. They said no.” In one video he joins the paparazzi for a week in Los Angeles. “At 7:30 in the morning we waited outside Ariel Winters’ house, waiting for a shot.” (Ms. Winters stars in ABC’s “Modern Family.”) “Five minutes in, I was almost assaulted by a cameraman for getting in the way of his shot.” The next video, a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Hamiltoe,” will be available soon.
Mr. Levine’s personal life, however, has not been a ball of laughs. “When I was 10 years old, I had cancer,” he said. “That led to a lot of downtime. I started writing a journal of jokes. A lot of it was boredom.
“I was home with my thoughts during years of surgery and recovery.”
Disease, it seems, brought comedy into Mr. Levine’s life. “When I was 15, I had a bunch of jokes, so I signed up for an open mic night at Stress Factory in New Brunswick,” he said. “It was unlike anything I’d ever done.”
Mr. Levine went to the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and lived in Israel for a year before starting college at Yeshiva University. “I hated it with a passion,” Levine said of his college years.
Standup, it seems, provided him with comic relief from his Orthodox Jewish education. “Jewish day school is very stifling,” he said. “Standup was the first time I could do anything creative.”
According to Mr. Levine, his foray into adult film, even through a comic lens, was not received well in his modern Orthodox northern Jersey community. “They were not happy,” he said. “I have a reputation. A lot of people don’t like me in the Jewish community, and this was a final nail on the coffin.” Mr. Levine describes his family as typical of the community in the area: “Kosher, Shabbos, but we’re all Mets fans, so we’re in the modern world.
“I kept doing standup in high school. There were times I told my parents I was going to SAT class — once I told them I was going to celebrate Tisha B’Av. Instead I did a comedy set. It was a low-stakes rebellion, but it was such a rush. They were aware I was doing comedy, but three sets a week was time I could spend doing homework.”
Mr. Levine does think some of his comedic influence comes from his family. “My dad is very funny and analytic. My mom is outlandish and outrageous. When I told her I was going to Las Vegas to film ‘Hamiltoe,’ she said, ‘I would rather you join ISIS than do this to the family.’”
His comic influences are all the usual big names that 20somethings grew up listening to on their iPods: Dane Cook, Demetri Martin, Mitch Hedberg, Mike Birbiglia. Mr. Levine was Israel’s Last Comic Standing in 2008. “I try to have as much fun as possible,” he said. He says this often. It seems to be his mantra.
Outside the Jewish community and on the internet at large, Mr. Levine has pressed buttons in his writing on celebrity culture. Criticizing Taylor Swift, for example, “Got me more hate mail than I’ve ever seen.”
He still writes trending and pop culture news for Elite Daily, “two to three Kardashian posts a day. I enjoy talking like a 15-year-old girl in my articles when I’m talking about the Kardashians. I’ve become immersed in celebrity culture.”
So what does the future hold for a funny, creative young writer who’s not afraid to push the envelope? “40 children,” Mr. Levine joked when asked what he’ll be doing in 20 years. “I don’t want to cover celebrity culture forever. I want to make a jump to TV, and not be in a cubicle somewhere.
“Two things drive me: I really want to impress my 12-year-old self, and I want to be happy. I want to have fun doing what I’m doing.”
In other words, he’ll keep doing what he’s already been doing for years. Follow Mr. Levine’s comedy at @eitanthegoalie.