Live Cam Interview With Rabbi Rabbs

Rabbi Hershel “Rabbs” Remer a comichas spent most of his life in Los Angeles. (R. Rabbs YouTube)

Luke: “When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Rabbi: “I wanted to have my own web cam equipment so that I could interview people.”

“At one point, I really wanted to be a comedian. My dream was to perform at the world famous comedy store in Hollywood. It was for 21 and over. I couldn’t go. They opened up one in Westwood. It was for 18 and over. It’s since closed.

“They had an amateur night. Anybody could go on stage for three minutes. All my friends were like, ‘Rabbs, you’re really funny. You should do this.’

“I went down there. I had my name on the list. I was 18. Right before I was called up on stage, and I looked at the crowd and it looked like a hard room to play, and I said to the manager, ‘Get me off that list!’

“I completely chickened out. I shelved the whole idea.

“When I turned 21, I went to the Comedy Store in Hollywood.

“Fast forward a couple of decades and I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I said, I want to try this again. I can’t die and never know what would have happened if I had gone into comedy. I could’ve been something.

“And I tried it and I started performing live. In less than a year, I was invited to perform at the Comedy Store. I was a regular… The first time I stepped on stage at the world famous Comedy Store was the greatest moment of my life because I had gone full circle.”

“Growing up, I was a loser. Probably still am a loser. I’ve always been the loser. I had a really bad childhood. I had a lot of problems in my house, growing up with my family. Little kids have a real way of pinpointing who’s got problems and then they compound those problems by picking on those kids. I was the kid who was picked on. And it’s always the kid who was picked on who later in life goes ballistic and kills everyone. So look out world!

“I was that kid. I became very introverted. I was a loner. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I spent a lot of time alone. My cat was like my best friend and then my cat died.

“Comedians tend to come from a very tragic abnormal sorry-ass life. I think it was Shakespeare who said that from the greatest tragedies come the greatest comedy. I’ve led a very tragic life. As a result, I became a comedian.

“I’ve been around a lot of comedians for the past decade and all of them have one thing in common — they’re all misfits and they all had a screwed-up childhood.”

“For me, normal English language is every fourth word is a curse word… I was screamed at and cussed at and humiliated every way you can imagine from the time I was born until I got out of the house. I ran away at 16. The dumbest thing I ever did was to come back. Telling somebody to go back to a situation like that is like saying, ‘Hey, get on the trains and go to the camps. Auschwitz is a good place to do picnic dinners.’

“There’s a reason why someone runs away from home and that has to be explored. You don’t just send a person back.

“At 18, I was out.”

“I’ve been in a lot of trauma from the time I was a kid and I’ve learned to deal with it by making people laugh. It’s also a blocking a mechanism. It keeps people at a distance. I have a little inner circle. I have a little fort, and only a few people get to get past the moat and the huge wall. Often there’s nobody else around inside my little palace grounds. Occasionally I will bring somebody through.

“I can go into a crowd of 500 people and go on stage and make people laugh but they don’t get to know me. I keep them there. If one of those audience members got on stage and talked to me and tried to be real with me, I’d freak out and I would run away.”

Luke: “How are you doing so far?”

Rabbi: “Here with you? I’m doing great. This I can handle because it’s not really real. There’s an air of not realness to this. But if you want to hang out and do dinner and do stuff tonight, I’d get really nervous. I put up walls.”

“I didn’t do real well when I was in classes. I’d be stuck listening to somebody speak for an hour. Everybody would be taking notes. I couldn’t pay attention. When someone talks to me, I start taking on their voice and start memorizing their things and at the end of the hour, everybody else is discussing the content and Rabbs has the person down pat and can do an impression of them. I’m convinced that at the end of the interview, I can do for you.

“You’re going to be blown away by the things I saw and I’m going to be walking around all night doing your voice.”

Luke: “Have you ever had psycho-therapy?”

Rabbi: “I’ve spent half of my life on the couch. I’ve been inside the offices of at least a dozen therapists, psychiatrists, counselors. I’ve been on meds. I’ve had group therapy. I’ve had the works. And you know what? It’s all a crock. None of it did jack for me. I have a psych degree. I was accepted at Pepperdine University for graduate school. I was going to get an MFC degree but I bailed.”

Luke: “Did you ever get to nail any of your mental health professionals?”

Rabbi: “What do you mean?”

Luke: “This may be just me, but I’ve always thought the hottest thing would be to sleep with your therapist.”

Rabbi: “No, I never did.”

Luke: “Why did you keep doing it for years?”

Rabbi: “I thought I was addicted. They’re really good at addicting people. There was the hope that this would somehow change me and I’d be able to stand up to people. One of the things I always daven for is to stand up to people who pick on me. I never do. I suck at that. I grew up in a house and there’s no overcoming it. I can’t stand up to my dad or to anyone who has a personality like him. You can lay on a couch for a decade and it’s not going to help. If you grew up with that and it’s driven into your soul, you’re stamped.”

“I don’t want kids. I’d be a terrible parent just like my parents.”

“I am strongly against child abuse. That’s my big ticket item… I see myself as a leader in standing up against child abuse.

“Why do I say I’m a leader? Because nobody in the frum community has taken a position on it. The concept of standing up against the cycle of abuse in the frum community does not exist outside of Rabbi Rabbs… The average frumie walking on the street doesn’t even know what the cycle of abuse is. They don’t know the difference between an abuse cycle and a motorcycle.”

“It’s amazing to me how many centuries behind in thinking the average frumie is compared to me.”

“There are some frumies who have no problem with me. And you know what they’re called? They’re called the gadolim. Big rabbis have no problem with what I’m saying.”

Luke: “When you say you were abused, what do you mean?”

Rabbi: “I mean I grew up emotionally and verbally abused. And neglect… There was some physical but I’m not complaining about that… Nothing sexual, so don’t get any weird ideas. We were cussed at and called every name in the book every day.”

“Probably the rabbis that I have been closest to have been substitute father figures.”

Luke: “Did anyone in your community give a damn?”

Rabbi: “Nobody has ever given a damn.”

“Three years ago, I got engaged. She also grew up abused… She resolved that she would not continue the cycle of abuse. She was the only frumie on the planet who agreed with me. It was obvious to me that she was my other half. We resolved never to have kids. We went around looking for a rabbi to do the wedding. We could not get anybody to get on board with us. Every rabbi said, ‘I don’t know if I can do a wedding where there’s not going to be any kids. That goes against Judaism.’

“I said, ‘We have a heter from a major rav‘. It doesn’t matter. They can’t handle it.”

“I can write stuff. Part of the reason is that you can do it and you don’t have to talk to anybody. You can do it in your room with your door locked. I was a loner, locked up in my room. It was perfect. My parents always told me to shut up whenever I was talking. I learned to communicate by writing.”

“There are very few places I can be happy in and Southern California is it.”

“No matter what I do, it always ends in failure. It always turns to s—. That is the story of my life. I would not want to get close to me because it is going to turn to s—… The bracha is never there.

“I wrote in one of my essays that if God gave me a beshert, it’s not going to last long. After six months, either she’s going to die or something will happen and it will just be taken away. And sure enough, we got engaged and the engagement ended… Something will go wrong with this interview and it will backfire on me… I’m contagious with negativity. Touch me and it’s loserville.”

Luke: “Would you rather be happy or funny?”

Rabbi: “I would rather give back the gift of being funny and not have to pay the price of tragedy for it. I would give that back in a heartbeat to have a normal life.”

“Every single frum woman, no matter how she was brought up, feels compelled to spit out more kids, so me coming along and saying I don’t want kids, there’s nobody who’s going to marry me.”

“It’s been 50 years like this. I’m staring down the barrel of another 50 years like this. I hate it.”

“Yeah, I’m funny and I’m a celebrity, but it sucks. At the end of the night, no matter how many people I make laugh, I could have 5,000 people in a room and I’m making them all laugh, but at the end of the night, they’re all going home with their date, they’re going to get laid, they’re all happy, and Rabbs, I’m going home alone. It’s the mornings that I wake up from a show like that, you’d think, that’s a great show, everybody loved you, you must be so happy, no, those are the mornings that I wake up and I’m suicidal because I realize that even making a room of 1,000 people laugh isn’t going to fix the problem. I could make the whole world laugh and it’s not going to change anything.

“At the end of the day, I’m still single. I still have to be shomer negiah and my life sucks.”

Luke: “How do you resist all those women who throw themselves at you after shows and try to tempt you into immorality?”

Rabbi: “It’s tempting but I can’t do it.

“A lot of people say, ‘You’re a chillul HaShem going on stage.’ Do you realize what a kiddush HaShem I make going on stage? Just being like this? People who’ve never seen a frumie, a real Jew, in their lives and what do they say? They see a normal guy who happens to be a rabbi. So they can say that frumies aren’t these crazy people throwing rocks. I shatter all these stereotypes. I want to get laid. Sure. But I can’t because I’m constricted by this religion.”

“I don’t perform on Friday nights and Saturday nights. Those are the big nights for comedy. If you don’t perform on Friday night and Saturday nights, you can’t make a living at comedy because those are the only nights that pay. I only eat kosher food… I don’t even touch women. After the show, chicks are coming up to me. Rabbs won’t touch them. Rabbs won’t kiss them. Rabbs won’t have anything to do with them. I think it’s a kiddush HaShem.

“I’m not going to mention any names, but there’s another frumie-looking Jew out there who’s not shomer negiah publicly. After he gets done with his concerts, he gets photographed publicly putting his arms around women. I don’t do that so I have a problem with that. What’s he getting all this notoriety for and what happened to Rabbi Rabbs who’s actually not doing that?”

“Do you have any idea of how many women hit on me on a daily basis? Unbelievable. A new chick hits on me every single day.”

Luke: “You could’ve been the Jewish Wilt Chamberlain?”

Rabbi: “I could’ve if I took advantage of it.”

“If it was not for the Torah, I’d probably bang all of them. I’d go on tour. A lot of them are married. Kinda depressing.”

“I didn’t always dress this way. In the Modern Orthodox world, I used to go to YULA, going to college and becoming a lawyer or a doctor is normal. If I had said I wanted to be a rabbi, that would be more eye-bugging.”

“I’ve always been suicidal. Ever since I was 18. That frames a lot of my thinking. I’m a very black and white thinker. I said to myself, if I’m going to stay alive, there has to be truth behind why I am alive. I needed a reason to stay alive otherwise I was going to kill myself.”

“If the Torah is true, then I am going to do everything in it… I’m an extremist. Tell me what the mitzvah is and I’m going to do it.”

“Every Jew who knows the Torah is true should end up looking like me. Why not dress Jewish?”

Luke: “Are non-Jews more respectful of your Judaism than Orthodox Jews are of your comedy?”

Rabbi: “Non-Jews are more respectful of my Judaism and of my comedy than frumies are of my Judaism and my comedy. My followers are not frumies. Frumies do not get Rabbi Rabbs. Frumies are embarrassed by Rabbi Rabbs. They hate me. Jews generally don’t get me, especially white-skinned Ashkenazi Jew raised in a non-Catholic country… They wish I would go away.

“The people who get me are Sephardi Jews. Non-Jews have no problem with me, especially Catholics. If there’s some Catholic in your blood, you get Rabbi Rabbs. Greek Orthodox. African-Americans. Gays. Australians. All love me. Especially misfits. They’re really attach to me. Rabbi Rabbs embraces all misfits.”

“I started dating my fiance when I was 44 and she was 18. To me, age is just a number. For the last ten years, most of the women who I’ve communicated with, gone out with, were all under 25, and most of them were under 22.”

Luke: “What do your friends have in common?”

Rabbi: “They’re all Catholics.”

“Normal people hate me.”

6 p.m. We walk towards Pico Blvd and head west. He’s lived in this hood since 1987. “No other place has so many kosher restaurants in one place,” he says. “People get along better here than anywhere else I’ve ever been. The other side of town [Fairfax/La Brea] is more icky, sticky, stuffy.

“I go surfing. I put my surfboard on my car and I’m off. Nobody cares. I’m not sure I could get away with that on the other side of town. I’d get a speech from some yenta. ‘What are you doing? Rabbis don’t go surfing.’

“In New York, I don’t know what people would say about me. Ashkenazi Jews can’t handle people who are different.”

Luke: “This is a tolerant Orthodox community.”

Rabbi: “Oh yeah. Pico-Robertson is a magnet for misfits so naturally they don’t have a problem with me. They couldn’t stand the poison and the venom of New York and New Jersey… They tend to be more laid back and open-minded and understanding of people who are different. Plus, there are a lot of Sephardim and Persians and they don’t give a crap.”

“The older I get, the more young chicks dig me.”

“For the life of me, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be Jewish. But you can’t talk to these people. They feel that Torah is truth, they were born with a Jewish soul.”

“If I woke up one day and somebody told me, ‘Rabbs, we discovered that your grandmother is not a Jew.’ I’d say, ‘Thank God, I’m out.’ I don’t want to be part of this. I hate this. Non-Jews think it is the greatest thing ever. They all want to be Jewish. I don’t understand it.”

“I get the BT (baal teshuva) thing. I’m born Jewish, I’m stuck. I better do what I am supposed to do… I just don’t get gerem (converts). I dated a woman who was in the process of converting for two years and I saw the hoops through which she had to jump. Before that, I didn’t really appreciate what they had to go through. I have tremendous respect for gerem.”

Luke: “I find it interesting that you say that if you weren’t born Jewish, you would chuck all of this.”

Rabbi: “Absolutely. Done! If you knew you were never going to be married and that the only way you could touch a woman was by being married to her, you’re looking at a lifetime of masturbation, would you take that?”

Luke: “No.”

“Why be all or nothing? Why not keep most of the mitzvos? Why not be 612?”

Rabbi: “Let’s just water down the Torah. That’s not even in my thinking. To me, the Torah is the truth and that’s it.”

“I have a joke book out… I used to work a day job in computers and I just make jokes about it. Writing books is fun but publishing books is a pain. It’s not worth it. If you knew how little money is in it, you wouldn’t do it. So I’m not going to go through that.”

“I’m suicidal, right? I don’t know if I’m going to make it the next 50 years. I don’t know if I’m going to make it the next 50 days. I may get so depressed after this interview that I’ll blow my head off tonight.”

Luke: “Can I film?”

Rabbi: “That would be too weird.”

Luke: “Maybe we can just do it on my live cam?”

Rabbi: “Nah. I think that’s going to gross me out.”

“I told my rabbi, when I go, publish it [book of essays]. After I’m dead, get this thing out there. And he said that he would do that. If I kill myself, he’ll publish it himself and put it on his website. I’ll become the frum Kurt Cobain. He’s more of an icon now. His legacy is after he killed himself. I’ll probably become more famous after I kill myself.”

Luke: “Is there anything you won’t do in your comedy?”

Rabbi: “I won’t go into my private life. I leave people out of it!”

Luke: “Do you wish you could say things but you won’t do it for whatever reason?”

Rabbi: “Depends on the room. If the people are drinking and they are a bunch of goyim, I’ll say what I want. If there happen to be Jews in there, I’ll be extra careful. I don’t perform for Jewish audiences because they can’t handle me on stage. Then I have to watch everything I say because somebody is going to get offended that a rabbi is saying these things. So I can’t say certain things. If I talk about sex, I’m going to lose the audience. If I start making a dick joke, the audience is gone. They’re going to start screaming at me. If I do the same joke in a room full of Sephardic Jews, they’ll laugh their asses off. If I do the same joke in a room full of Catholics, I’ll blow them away. The roof will fly off the top. My ultimate wet dream is to play a room full of Catholic people and I’d call that room a church.”

Luke: “Secular Ashkenazi Jews won’t care if you talk about sex.”

Rabbi: “They’re still not going to be comfortable that a rabbi is saying it. Unfortunately, they put me on a pedastal. They think a rabbi is some kind of holy guy… They expect you to be like Jesus Christ, some perfect person. A rabbi is just a teacher. It doesn’t mean anything else.”

“I pattern myself after Andy Kaufman and Howard Stern.”

“I got kicked out of the best yeshivos around. I don’t fit in anywhere.”

“I never wanted to be a rabbi. I got shanghaied. I was learning. I got an offer. Everybody said do it. OK. I did it. Next thing I know, I was a rabbi and I was working… I just wanted to learn Torah.”

7 p.m. We walk east on Airdrome St.

Rabbi: “I’ve realized that no matter how funny I am, it doesn’t solve the problem. The other part that’s depressing is that I can’t take it to the next level. That’s because I can’t get my own TV show. And that’s because Jews run Hollywood. What kind of Jews? Ashkenazi Jews from America. They run Hollywood. They don’t get me. They’re embarrassed by me. And they will never let me have my own show.

“I can’t make a ton of money from comedy. If Catholics ran Hollywood, I’d have my own TV show. They wouldn’t give shows to [people like] Conan O’Brian. They’d give it to me because they love me because they think I’m funny. But they don’t because they don’t have power. There’s too many Jews in decision-making positions in Hollywood who have stymied my career. They’ve cut my legs out from under me. I’m blackballed because there are Jews at every network. They’re never going to give me a show.

“That’s depressing. But at least I’ve found it. I had to find out what would happen if I got into comedy. Now I know. Nothing will come from it. I won’t get a career from it unless someone can come up with a way.”

“Most people who are in my life met me through MySpace.”

Luke: “What things in common have all the women you’ve ever loved had?”

Rabbi: “I’m going to get into trouble now. They’re all misfits.”

“I tend to attract women who are into the Grateful Dead. They’re hippie chicks. They tend to be into extreme age differences. They’ll tell me that they don’t wear underwear.”

Luke: “A lot of women say that to rabbis.”

Rabbi: “I’ll hear that they’ve had lesbian experiences or want to have lesbian experiences. These are the kind of women who are attracted to me. I call them the Grateful Dead chicks, they love Rabbs, I’m a magnet for them, but they won’t go the distance. They will not marry me. They like me but they will never commit to marrying me. So they’re useless. Why would I want to waste my time with them?

“One of the things I used to do was weed them out. If a woman came on to me, I’d ask, what kind of music do you like? If she said the Grateful Dead, I said that’s not good.

“When I met my fiance, early on, I asked her, ‘Do you like the Grateful Dead?’ She said no. Thank God. That’s why I thought we were going to go the distance. But it wasn’t meant to be. Her mom killed the whole thing.”

Luke: “How can that be? Why doesn’t everyone love Rabbi Rabbs?”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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