After watching Robert Cait‘s new comedy DVD "Kosher Not Kosher", I interviewed him at the hovel Friday afternoon.
Luke: "Robert, when you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Robert: "A comedian or a hockey player, a goalie, which I still play to this day, or professional wrestling. I worked in professional wrestling for a long time."
Luke: "As a wrestler?"
Robert: "As a manager. I started out as a producer/announcer for professional wrestling. Later I managed Tiger Jeet Singh, who’s the biggest bad guy in Japan. Check out his website. You’ll get a kick out of it. I’ve got great video of it too. I used to tour with the wrestling in Trinidad, Tobago, and the West Indies. Those were crazy days.
"A goalie? I was a good goalie but not good enough to play in the NHL.
"I loved it. I listened to it over and over and over. And Carlin was my favorite. In FM & AM, he didn’t swear. Barely.
"Not that swearing is one thing or another. It’s a free country. It’s an art. Do what you want to do.
"He was so funny and so clever. He did voices. I heard the people laughing. And it just made me crazy. And that was it. I identified with him."
Luke: "And what was your role at school? Were you the class clown?"
Robert: "Sort of. I was kinda the class clown but I was never a rude guy. I was never disrespectful to the teachers. I would never throw things or do things that were crazy, but if I had the opportunity to get a laugh and even if it meant getting kicked out for it, as long as it wasn’t overtly rude, but if an intelligent laugh was available, and getting my friends kicked out, that was a home run."
Luke: "Did you ever get kicked out of school?"
Robert: "Oh yeah. I got my first kick-out in kindergarten. I was an elitist to get kicked out. Only when it was a comedy moment. In tenth grade, I got kicked out of my Hebrew day school — CHAT (Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto). I got kicked out of seven of my first eleven classes in my first four days. I was told that I was better suited for the public school system. And I was at that time. I didn’t have my head together. My life was too crazy. I went to public school and studied with my grandfather, a ba’al koreh, he was the guy who read the Torah at Orthodox shuls."
"The rabbis who were teaching us [at CHAT] were fresh off the boat from Israel. These guys didn’t have a sense of humor. I was taking a special Talmud class. I was a decent Talmud guy. The teacher, he was a nice guy, I take full responsibility, says, ‘You!’
"When you are the last one in the row and someone points at you, what do you do? Look behind you.
"He screams, ‘You!’
"I look behind me, the other side.
"I was chewing gum. He says, ‘Who lets you chew gum in class?’ I say, ‘Lots of teachers.’ He takes out a pad of paper and a pen. He goes, ‘Names.’
"I say, come on. He says, ‘Names!’
"I say, ‘OK. Corn beef and a small Coke.’
"The chase was on. It was like the end of Three Stooges. That was the seventh of eleven classes. That was it. That was it for my official Hebrew education."
Luke: "Which Jewish day school before?"
Robert: "Associated Hebrew Day Schools of Toronto. I graduated from grade nine. I got asked the year before last to come back and do the PTA gala for Associated. In November, I came back and did the 100th year anniversary. My opening line was, ‘First you kick me out. Now you ask me back. Make up your mind!’"
Luke: "Did you get hit?"
Robert: "They’d give you a judo chop right on top of the head as you were leaving. I got hit on the head so many times, I went into show business.
"These guys were from Eastern Europe. They suffered the Holocaust. There was no namby pamby stuff then. They were big strong guys from Romania, Russian and Poland."
I ask Robert to judo chop my hand with the same strength his teachers hit him in the back of the head.
When he did, it hurt.
Luke: "Were you bullied?"
Robert: "No. Never. I started doing judo when I was about five. I kick-boxed for years. I wrestled. I played hockey all my life. In Canada, there’s a lot of fighting. You fought like crazy. My brother is a lot bigger than me and I fought him all the time. When I started fighting guys my own size, it was like a day off. I never bullied anybody, but I always stood up for myself and my friends."
Luke: "What was your reputation in high school?"
Robert: "I didn’t want to be the fastest gun. I just wanted to have some fun. I wanted to meet girls and play hockey. Now I wasn’t going to school from 8-4:30. There weren’t as many restrictions on me. I had the ability to speak Yiddish, Hebrew, and French. Going to public high school, I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I was kinda funny. I was a decent goalie. I just wanted to have a party. It was just my mother, my brother and I and my mother wasn’t well.
"I’m doing a charity benefit for my brother’s synagogue on the 12th of April."
"My grandparents used to live in a house next door to me. They were Orthodox. My zade (grandfather) went to Lithuanian yeshivas. I used to study with him. I spent an inordinate amount of time next door with my grandparents. They spoke Yiddish, which was how I picked it up. Next door in our house, we were Canadian Conservadox.
"I loved it. I’ve never had a problem with [Judaism]. The high school I went to was 90% Jewish."
Luke: "Did you ever wonder about who wrote the Torah?"
Robert: "Never. I’ve never given it a second thought. The Torah was given by God to Moses. I’m a believer."
Luke: "And you’ve always been a believer?"
Robert: "One hundred percent."
"That doesn’t mean I’ve kept every mitzvah, but in terms of the Ten Commandments, I’ve always done my best."
Luke: "You always believe in God?"
Robert: "Always, through the best times and the worst times of my life."
Luke: "Do you know what it means to have a relationship with God?"
Robert: "I still have one and I’ve always had one."
"A relationship with God means knowing that there’s someone responsible for your history and for your being and He created the world and He wrote the Torah and He is entrusting me and you and all good people, not just Jews, with being kind to each other. I’m a die-hard that way. I don’t wear a black hat. I don’t have payos. But I believe as strongly as they do."
Luke: "Do you believe that God intervenes in our lives?"
Robert: "Sure. Absolutely."
Luke: "Do you feel like God has ever intervened in your life?"
Robert: "Yeah. Definitely."
Luke: "Could you give an example?"
"As I say in my DVD Kosher/Not Kosher, my dad left us the day after my bar mitzvah. I’ll never forget his advice, ‘Today you are a man. See ya, man.’
"He hung around long enough to fool the luncheon.
"Even leading up to it, there were several years that were beyond iffy. But it made me tougher. It made me closer to my brother. It made me look out for my mother more. It made me much closer to my grandparents. It entrenched me much deeper in my Judaism.
"After my grandmother passed away, I’d walk up the walk to see my grandfather every Friday night.
"When I was going up the walk after my grandfather died, I heard the first English song my grandfather learned playing in my head. ‘When I was single, my money went zingle…’
"He’d say it in front of my bubbe just to get her goat.
"That was a big joke in our family.
"When I was coming up the walk on a Friday evening and I heard it in my head like somebody who had headphones on and turned it up to 11. It was my zade warning me that when I opened the door, he was not going to be there. Sure enough, I opened the door and he had passed on, but I had expected it so that shocking jolt wasn’t there. Sadness and panic was.
"On a happier note, I had moved to LA. My cousin said, there’s a Friday night dinner. ‘You want to go? It’s in Encino.’ I had never heard of Encino before. We went back and forth. We went. The hosts were Holocaust survivors who opened up their doors for Jewish singles to meet. I met my wife that night. My cousin met his wife that night. Our overlapping families met and there was another wedding. You have three marriages and eight kids and counting from that one night.
"I’d like to consider that divine intervention."
"God was always made very available to me, both through my teaching at home and through my grandparents and through my school. So there was no mystery there. It was a given."
Luke: "What kind of experience has davening been for you?"
Robert: "I’ve never found it boring. I think it’s only boring if you don’t know what you’re saying. But I know what I’m saying and I mean what I’m saying and every day I say it, I find something new in it that I didn’t realize before.
"I never finish davening and say, "Eh, big deal. It didn’t do anything for me.’ It always reboots me."
"I don’t swear in my acts, either secular or Jewish acts."
"I don’t do blue humor. I guess I do powder-blue, especially compared to the stuff I hear. I’m not knocking those guys. I said Carlin is my favorite. Chris Rock is brilliant. Having said that, I love that Bill Cosby and Jerry Seinfeld never swore."
"I’ve never been the mean comic."
"Back when I was single and I met a girl and I could make her laugh, endorphins turn into pheromones."
"Whatever void I felt in my childhood, I fill in through my parenthood… You get to relive your childhood and do your own reparation through being able to give to your kids."
"I’m not Orthodox but my yiddishkeit is big. I’m Canadian traditionox so I walk to shul but drive to the rink."
"I find that my non-Jewish friends are a lot more accepting of my observance than a lot of my Jewish friends (minus the Orthodox ones)."
"I’m not the Otto Preminger of Judaism. I’m not saying, ‘Do, do, do it!’ I lead by example."
"I have no complaints about Jewish life. This is a lucky generation."
"I’m not Lenny Bruce. I’m not a bitter guy."
Luke: "Why do you think you were so successful with women?"
Robert: "To quote my brothers in Compton, I had game. I could talk. I knew what to say. I always worked out. I had decent semitic looks. I’ve always loved women. I guess they could tell. I was never a mean guy. I was always respectful. I always paid for my dates… I made them laugh. They laughed their pants off."
"I knew I’d always marry a Jewish girl. If I ever dated a non-Jewish girl, it was very plain that if it ever got serious serious, that I wasn’t going to convert to that way."
"When I went on the road, I always brought my tallis and tefillin with me. I was not a pork eater. I [separated] milk and meat, even if I had someone who was not Jewish over. I wouldn’t let any trafe come in my house. Not food anyway… The route of this bus was always very clear."
"I got into a gigantic car accident in LA in 2005 and it really grounded me. I never got hit like that in my life. I said, ‘I’m getting older. I think I’ll mind my Ps and Qs now.’
"The accident wasn’t my fault."
Luke: "Do you think you drive more carefully being married and a father?"
"I like to do back-flips into a pool. I was river-rafting with my family up in Quebec. There was a 20-foot cliff. The tour guide said, ‘Let’s jump off the cliff and into the water.’
"My kids were with me. Had my kids not been with me, perhaps I would’ve done my back-flip. There were rocks and everything else, but I knew I could clear it. I stood there for a second. I really wanted to do my flip. My kids were watching me and I just said, ‘This is crazy. If I do something wrong here, I’m a paraplegic or worse. It’s not worth it.’
"Once you commit yourself to marriage and parenthood, you have to put other lines in front of your own.
"So to finish my story on the Quebec cliff, I didn’t do it. I jumped in. To this day, I know I made the right move, but my male ego still smarts from not having been more brazen."
Luke: "I thought you had to be angry to be funny?"
"I was angry as a kid. We bell-curved to a lower middle-class Jewish neighborhood. My brother and I had a tough time. I was lucky enough to come out of that. I’m a lucky guy."
Luke: "Did your dad stay in your life after he left your home?"
Robert: "Yeah, you know, somewhat. Kinda sorta. Fairly estranged but I’ll always do the right thing. I’ll always do the commandment thing."
Luke: "How does he like your book?"
Robert: "He likes it. He’s a funny guy."
Luke: "How does he like your jokes about him leaving the day after your bar mitzvah?"
Robert: "I don’t know that he’s heard it. He’d laugh at it. He’s a realist. Unfortunately, I’m fairly estranged. I’ll call him on Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur and for his birthday. I’ll do the right thing. I’ll always leave the door open."
Luke: "Did you go through a stage where you hated rabbis? Some of them sound…"
Robert: "They were great guys. I was the shmo… At the end of the day, their message was a good one. It was my inability to accept it."
Luke: "Where are you headed with your career?"
Robert: "I’ll be touring, doing a new set. I’d like to get some TV and some film now. What I do is unique. I don’t know of any other DVD out there that’s kosher and not kosher… I’ve got a screenplay that the NHL signed on to."
Luke: "Humor [and sexual excitement are] hostlity disguised."
Robert: "I don’t buy that."
"Of course in sexuality, defiling exists."
"Hang on a second. I have to reach into my memory right now. Let me think about the last time I orgasmed. What was going through my mind? Oh yeah, I remember. ‘Hope the kids stay sleeping.’ ‘Hope I don’t yell the wrong name.’
"There might be a hint of truth in what you just said. There’s some of that, but it isn’t the driving force of sexuality. There might be some of that in humor, but it’s not the driving force.
"When you’re married, it’s different from when you’re single, when there’s a lot more of what you say, both in comedy and in sexuality."
"I remember my first time getting applause. I was with my brother at our judo class. I was five. There were three roles — a two-hand role, a one-hand role, and the third role was a flip. I could do that. I did the flip and everyone jumped into applause. They were freaked by it. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, that’s something.’ My big brother said, ‘Do it again!’
"All of a sudden, I wasn’t just a little shmo. I had some power.
"That’s what comedy is — it’s power."
We talk about community.
Robert: "It takes a village. I read Hillary Clinton’s book, ‘It Takes a Village to Satisfy My Husband.’"