I knew this guy at Ohr HaTorah and saw him again at LimmudLA in February.
Have you heard the one about the son of an ex-nun who moves to Israel, grows side curls, starts wearing ultra-Orthodox attire after converting to Judaism — three times – and becomes one of Israel’s premiere comedians? An intimate look at the “Matisyahu of comedy,” Circumcise Me: The Comedy of Yisrael Campbell shares Campbell’s hilarious stand-up routine and his topsy-turvy life story that inspires his jokes.
“Is it warm in here, or am I the only one dressed for Poland in the 1700s?” Campbell asks his audience, pulling at the collar of his white dress-shirt as he sweats under the blazing stage lights and the weight of his haredi-style ensemble.
Yisrael Campbell was born Chris Campbell in suburban Philadelphia, and was raised, he says, “Catholic enough to know I was going to hell.” As a teenager he battled drug addiction and alcoholism, but resurfaced from it and moved to L.A. to pursue an acting career that never quite took off. Circumcise Me shows how this gentile who hated authority and all organized religion was slowly drawn to Orthodox Judaism, and shares the jokes inspired by his transformation—which are often as profound as they are funny.
Campbell first became intrigued by Judaism after reading Leon Uris’s novel Exodus. He took an introductory course on the religion, sure that once he learned more he would hate it as much as he hated Catholicism. Campbell explains that he saw himself as “spiritual” but not “religious”: “I’ve got to get this Judaism out my system, it’s interfering with my true spiritual path,” he quips about his attitude back then. But things didn’t turn out as he’d planned.