Jewish jokes at NJT, Cindy Sherman, Rockin’ Hanukkah

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Telling a Jewish joke

Actor, comedian, writer and singer Phil Johnson jokes that as a youngster, he was an alien in his own household.

“I’ve had kind of a love affair with Jewish comedy ever since I was a kid,” said Johnson, 57, who grew up Irish-Catholic in the northwest suburbs of Chicago.

“I was a pretty typical sarcastic young man who realized, as I got to know what it was, that I completely identified with Jewish comics like Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers and Don Rickles, who had a self-effacing, pragmatic sense of humor,” added Johnson. “When I heard them I thought, ‘This is my world. These are my peeps.’

“I’ve always had an incredible love for Jewish humor that grew into real admiration and respect.”

So deep is that admiration and respect, that he and his writing partner, Marni Freedman, created “A Jewish Joke,” a one-man tour de force starring Johnson that will play at the New Jewish Theatre from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10. The show, set in the 1950s during the great era of Jewish humor, focuses on Bernie Lutz, an irascible Jewish comedy screenwriter for MGM who is forced to confront Hollywood’s Communist Black List and make a decision that will impact the rest of his life.

“I was looking (for the Bernie character) to embody the history of Jewish humor in the first half of the 20th century,” Johnson said. “Then he would come up against some terrible, terrible situation where he would have to figure out who he really was and step into his own character.”

Johnson said he based Bernie on his “uncle-in-law” who died five years ago and was also named Bernie.

“He was this hilarious ‘Sunshine Boys’ kind of guy — this crusty, curmudgeonly, turtle kind of guy. I loved and adored him,” said Johnson, who lives with his husband, a nice Jewish doctor named Seth Krosner, in San Diego, where they are raising a son with the boy’s mother and her female partner.

“We are this strange carnival when parent-teacher conferences come along,” he joked. 

Johnson first came to St. Louis as part of the touring company of “Les Miserables” after he had been in the show on Broadway. He also was in the Canadian production of “Sunset Boulevard” and the first national company of “Miss Saigon.”

“I got to a point where I just didn’t know if I wanted to do shows with a lot of dead people and guns, and all those shows had a lot of dead people and guns,” he said. “I needed to do a lot more with comedy and write more. I felt southern California was a better place for me to pursue that work, that there were more opportunities in Los Angeles (than Chicago, where he was living at the time). So we came out here and fell in love with San Diego, which is only a couple of hours from LA.”

Johnson has written and performed in a few other one-person, and two-person, shows, and even began his own theater company in San Diego last spring. He hopes to take “A Jewish Joke” to off-Broadway in the near future.

In the meantime, he said he and Krosner are “very active in the Jewish community in San Diego,” where Krosner also is the president of his synagogue.

“Jewish culture is something I love,” said Johnson. “Every time I perform I talk about it.”

For more information about “A Jewish Joke,” or tickets ($36-$44), go to


Playing pretend

Jan Greenberg of Clayton, along with her writing partner Sandra Jordan, who lives in New York, have produced a totally absorbing book called “Meet Cindy Sherman,” about the iconic artist/photographer. Sherman, now 63, who was introduced to photography at the age of 10 with a Kodak Brownie camera, rose to fame in the 1970s with her edgy, performative self-portraits. She remains a high-profile force on the world arts stage, as she continues to produce provocative, sometimes controversial, portraits today. 

Greenberg, who is a member of Temple Israel, will discuss the book at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at the International Photography Hall of Fame (IPHF), 3415 Olive Blvd. The cost is $5 for members and $10 for non-members. Sherman was one of nine photographers inducted into the Hall of Fame last week. 

“I was inspired by Cindy’s work and interested in her preoccupations as a child, which were dressing up — essentially disguising herself—and watching TV,” said Greenberg, explaining that Sherman grew up in Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island. “She was greatly influenced by the way females were depicted on TV. Her practices as an adult were really based on her childhood experiences, which I found very interesting.”

Greenberg and Jordan tailored the book to be easily accessible to young readers, ages 11 and up. That said the book is a terrific read for adults, too, who want to know about Sherman’s life and art, without being intimidated. The biography chronicles Sherman’s childhood playing dress-up, her experiences finding her voice in art school, the subsequent years honing her craft and her rise to prominence and influence in the art world. Dozens of Sherman’s photographs are beautifully reproduced through the pages, which also include inset boxes offering opinions on Sherman’s art from kids.

“It isn’t a catalogue raisonne or a book an art critic might write; we wanted to tell the story of how her life and art intertwined,” said Greenberg, who has written about a dozen similar books about contemporary artists with Jordan. “We’re not interested in interpreting the work or judging it or spending time on how much money they make or auction pricing or anything like that.

“In the case of Cindy Sherman, I think she is a role model to any young woman who wants to realize her dreams on her own terms.”

Greenberg said she and Jordan are now at work on a book about world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, which is also geared toward young readers.


Hanukkah happening

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to this year’s Brothers Lazaroff 7th Annual Hanukkah Hullabaloo. The good news is that a few tickets remain. The bad news is that the show is mostly sold out, with two weeks left to go.

So if you’re thinking about joining Brothers David and Jeff Lazaroff, along with Rabbi James Stone Goodman and the Eight Nights Orchestra, as well as other musical guests, you’d better act quickly. Slated for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9 (doors 7 p.m., priority seating 6:30), this year’s event returns to Joe’s Café, 6014 Kingsbury Ave. where free latkes will be fried on site along with plenty of other food and drink for purchase. Tickets start at $18, with all proceeds going to support the Anti-Defamation League of Missouri/Southern Illinois/Eastern Kansas. They are available at