‘They hid so I don’t have to’

‘They hid so I don’t have to’

Jewish comedian tells jokes and deep truths — at the same time

Liz Glazer will be at SOPAC on May 16.
Liz Glazer will be at SOPAC on May 16.

You can do earnest, painstaking research into what makes Jewish humor — the history, psychology, sociology that produces a Woody Allen, say, or a Mel Brooks; a little tuning up on the self-consciously neurotic dial for one of them, maybe a little more action on the slapstick button for the other. You’ll find some jokes about a comedian’s mother, some — fewer, softer — about his father, really pretty nasty stuff about his girlfriend, or the vacuum where the girlfriend was supposed to be before she got away. (And despite the number of Jewish women comics active now, the research will center on a man.)

But there’s nothing like watching an actual, simply factual Jewish comedian perform. When the art’s right, the history, the psychology, and the sociology all are there, and the comedian knows it.

Which brings us to Liz Glazer, a comic who also — for lagniappe! — has deep roots in North Jersey. She grew up in Closter, and now she lives in Essex County.

On May 16, she’ll be at SOPAC in South Orange, where she’ll not only perform, but have the performance recorded. (See below.)

Whether or not her set is specifically Jewish, somehow it’s always very Jewish — and this one “will be very Jewish,” Ms. Glazer said. To begin with, “it doesn’t escape me that we are talking on Yom HaShoah” — this interview was conducted on May 6 — “and four out of four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. It’s a perfect score.”

She certainly does not joke directly about October 7 — even for a comedian, there is nothing even remotely funny about it — but she does have at least one joke that in its deeply apolitical silliness — we’d tell it here, but we can’t tell it as well as she can, and she’s unleashing it on May 16 — defuses the tension involved with joking about anything Jewish right now.

“But I do have a very Jewish message,” she said.

Her father, Leon, who died in 2020 — during the pandemic but not of covid, she said — was from Riga, Latvia. He and his parents made aliyah, and his parents remained in Israel for the rest of their lives. Her mother, Toby, comes from a Polish Jewish family. “My mother’s mother didn’t look at all Jewish, and the story was that she would walk the streets of Poland, looking for hiding places for them. Her husband did look very Jewish. He was an electrician, and the only guy in town who could fix a radio tower for the Nazis, so they always were looking specifically for him, their granddaughter said.

She learned something profound and not at all funny from that.

“They hid so I don’t have to. And if I live my life hiding, what was the point of everything that she did?”

So she seems to hide nothing.

“When I put together an hour of comedy — or even five minutes of comedy — the jokes have to be based in truth,” she said. “So the piece I’m putting together is joke joke joke, but if what I’m saying underneath isn’t true, then who cares? And that truth is a big message.”

Ms. Glazer’s path to comedy wasn’t direct, although in a way it was supremely logical. She is a lawyer; after law school she joined a private practice and lasted there for two years before she decided that she’d rather teach. So she became a professor of law at Hofstra, on Long Island, worked there for nine years, got tenure — so far so good — and then quit for standup.

She performs for general audiences —she’s doing very well, her career is flourishing, she has gone from being an opening act to the headliner — and she also has thriving subspecialities in both Jewish institutions and law schools and law firms.

Her humor tends to be apolitical, Ms. Glazer said. Some people become comedians because their convictions are so strong that they can laugh about them — but that’s not her. “In some ways mine is about figuring out how I’m funny — and doing it on stage. I have always been more of an observer, and more anxious.” Indeed, she uses the word neurotic in conversation strikingly often. “The joke is about me, as an anxious person, wondering what to do.”

In some ways it’s a natural step from law to comedy, she said. To begin with, she didn’t like law all that much. But she thinks like a lawyer. It’s not as much about arguing as storytelling, she said. And her move to storytelling was incremental. First, she left private practice for teaching, and then her teaching, she said, became mostly writing.

Her point of entry into legal cases was personal anecdotes. “I went to law school because, as the daughter of immigrants, that’s what you do” — particularly if the other main avenue, medical school, is closed to you because you don’t like the sight of blood — “so that’s what I did. It was analytical thinking that kept me in the game for as long a it did. I never shared with other people who I really admired that I didn’t love it as much as they did. I remember thinking that you love the thing that we both do so much, and I wish that I do too.”

So she talks about being Jewish, she talks about being a former lawyer, and she also talks about being lesbian, married to a rabbi, and the mother of a not-quite-1-year-old, Eloise.

How Jewish are her shows? Not always, not all the time – “but they’re Jewish enough that I can tell people that it’s okay to go to the one at SOPAC because it’s after Rosh Chodesh, even though it’s before Lag B’Omer. There are a lot of Orthodox authorities who say it’s okay.”

To translate: During part of the time the Omer is counted, from the second day of Pesach until Shavuot, observant Jews maintain many mourning rituals, including no live entertainment; those rituals are eased after Lag B’Omer, which begins on the evening of May 25 this year. But some authorities allow those relaxations to begin on Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, on May 7.  So Ms. Glazer can nerd out Jewishly quite respectably.

Her wife, Rabbi Karen Glazer Perolman, is the senior associate rabbi at Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills. “My wife counts the Omer every day,” Ms. Glazer said. “Last year, it ended up being a countdown.” She went into labor, so instead of going to a tikkun leil Shavuot, they went to the hospital. “Of course we studied Torah all night,” she said. “Who needs an epidural when you have the parsha?”

Now she tells parenting jokes too, but she knows that highly individualized parenting doesn’t kick in until your kid is a little older. A whole new world of jokes — very Jewish jokes — awaits.

Who: Liz Glazer

What: Presents her show, “Liz Glazer Records a Special at SOPAC”; it’s the first time a comedian has recorded a show there. “Inspired Minds: Young Artist Exhibition” opens at SOPAC that day, and it’s also the day SOPAC holds its annual auction.

When: On Thursday, May 16, at 7:30 p.m.

Where: At the South Orange Performing Arts Center — aka SOPAC — One SOPAC Way, South Orange

To get tickets: Go towww.sopacnow.org or call (973) 313-2787.

read more: