To his adoring fans Ari Shaffir is known as one of the most creative, funny, yet ruthlessly savage comedians in the business. Ari cannot be defined by one style or facet of comedy because he literally does it all. He has the chops to write and work out brilliantly structured jokes but can also engage his audience and take them on a journey through his storytelling ability. These talents have earned him both the Netflix special “Double Negative” and the Comedy Central storytelling show “This is Not Happening” and his comedic prowess doesn’t end there. He also hosts one of my favorite podcasts, “Skeptic Tank” on which he interviews guests and dives into issues and topics as sensitive as raising a baby with a serious medical condition, surviving the Holocaust, growing up in foster care, and the life long struggles of addiction and depression. He’s recorded 379 episodes of “Skeptic Tank” and throughout each of the many episodes I’ve listened to, he’s approached every subject matter and every guest with respect, thoughtful questions and the cohesive thread of humor to tie them all together. Not to mention he also records intros and “outros” for each interview that are reminiscent of Fire Side Chats. Although I love it, this introspective and philosophical side to Ari doesn’t define him either and on the completely opposite end of the spectrum, he’s also one of the best at celebrating comedy through physical or obliquitous means like streaking off stage on The Goddamn Comedy Jam at Skankfest or by trolling his friends through devious, elaborate pranks, roast eulogies and foul and repugnant birthday gifts. In addition to all of this, Ari Shaffir is also one of the last generations of Comedy Store trained artists to have worked their way up through the ranks of that iconic institution under the personal direction of Mitzi Shore, which in and of itself is an extremely impressive accomplishment.
Yet, somehow, due to the recent outrage he’s encountered over a posthumous tweet he made about Kobe Bryant, Ari Shaffir has had his life seriously threatened, his comedic abilities questioned and the filming of his hour special cancelled.
Big thanks go out to Cris Italia, Paul Italia, Patrick Milligan and their unwavering support of comedy and comedians. The Stand comedy club swooped in and saved the day! These guys opened their doors so his sold out show “Ari Shaffir: Jew” was able to go on and I was there to see it! Within moments of walking into The Stand I was greeted by a glass of my favorite beer and a sea of familiar faces including my buddies Mike Harrington and Sam, comedians Sherrod Small, Derek Gaines, Aaron Berg, Mike Vecchione and one of the club owners and biggest fans of comedy I know, Cris Italia. Truth be told, I would choose to see Ari play The Stand over the Skirball Center any day of the week! I love that place so much! After catching up with these people I care about and respect, I headed downstairs for the show.
“Ari Shaffir: Jew” is so much more than a comedy special, it’s also his origin story. Ari Shaffir was raised in an extremely strict Orthodox Jewish household and even spent several years at a yeshiva in Israel studying to be a rabbi. I tried to imagine what he’d be like as a rabbi and came to the conclusion that if that was what he had wanted to do with his life, he would’ve been amazing at it. He could have used his gift for performing to captivate temples full of faithful followers with insightful, entertaining sermons but alas, he had other plans and as Ari stood on stage telling funny, personal stories and sharing revelations into the religion he once followed, truths and insights into his own evolution started to unravel and I began to understand why he refuses to conform. I saw how the rules of the PC culture that seem to be policing our social media accounts and comedy content never really stood a chance when it came to Ari Shaffir and I truly believe that his personal struggles with faith actually rescued him from the proverbial cave of shadows and forced him to see the world, for better or worse, for what it really is. Shaffir left Judaism in part, so that he could be free to live his life however he sees fit and I don’t think he will ever tolerate being controlled or brainwashed in that way ever again and understandably so. The religious orders Ari lived under are what I would describe as extreme. For example, his very first memory of being an Orthodox Jew is being told by his father to confess all of his sins into a cute chicken he had named Big Nate and being completely traumatized when his father proceeded to ritualistically kill Big Nate right before his six year old eyes. Ari, being a master craftsmen is able to recount his memory of the “sin chicken” with such humor and wit that it’s actually my favorite bit in his hour. I love it when comedians are able to find comedy within tragedy. He then moved down his timeline and revealed that in the Orthodox Jewish religion he was not allowed to touch girls in any way, shape or form… How’s that for sexual oppression?! While I went through puberty watching Madonna’s “Justify My Love” video, dancing to “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Dangerous on the Dance Floor” at school dances, playing truth or dare and spin the bottle with my friends and crushes, Ari and his friends couldn’t even play tag with a girl because the simple act of tagging her was considered to be obscene. He also recalled how he and his friends raged against the machine by secretly holding hands with the girls they liked…. and a rebel was born! I can’t even imagine what that would have been like! I had a boyfriend I used to hold hands with on the playground when I was in third grade! It’s no wonder Ari has such a “Fuck you!” mentally to anyone who tries to reign him in or set limits on him in any way. I probably would too if I grew up being completely controlled like that.
“Ari Shaffir: Jew” goes on to share some of the teachings he was expected to believe and follow from the Talmud, Torah and Kabbalah. Some of which included the miracle of Hanukkah, Adam and Eve and Noah’s Ark being told through Ari’s eyes and a demon lady getting impregnated by a demon child each and every time you masturbate. As Ari grew older and wiser he started applying reason and logic to the laws of the religion that was controlling him. Then one day he came to the realization that even though he was under pressure from his family to become a rabbi and years into his studies, he did not believe in god. Ari eventually gathered the courage he needed to face his father, who is an actual survivor of the Holocaust and break the news to him… Simply imagining the sheer amount of anxiety, guilt and fear Ari must have experienced all those years ago gave me agita. A lesser man would have ignored his dreams and conformed just to please everyone else and avoid the conflict… but not our Ari! He faced his father and told him that he didn’t believe in god and that he wanted to be a comedian. His father’s initial reaction was as heartbreaking as you can imagine but this story does have a happy ending. Ari held strong to his dreams, moved to California, became a student of the Comedy Store and is one of the greatest and most independent comedic talents of our time. He and his father have also worked through their differences and mended their relationship which makes me super happy and hopefully helps to share a message of hope to anyone looking for the courage to come clean, pursue their dreams and be free to be themselves regardless of the outside pressures they’re under.
Ari Shaffir is a complex man of extremes and everything in between so if you cannot love him and appreciate him for everything he does, please do not think for a second that any one segment of his work defines him, because it doesn’t. Ari is an artist with a long and impressive catalog which has earned him the respect of many and if his faith, family and father couldn’t mold him into being something he’s not, there isn’t a faceless PC mob in the world that is going to be able to stop him and I say Amen to that!