Friday, August 26, 2011

Larry David: The Shlemiel as Modern Hero

Not since Sacha Baron Cohen duped Israeli Yossi Alpher and Palestinian Ghassam Khalib, into confusing Hamas with hummus in “Bruno”, has a Jewish comedian had as much fun taking on the great divide in Middle East affairs.

This summer Larry David, who stars as himself on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, ridiculed the gulf between Palestinians and Jews with his “Palestinian Chicken” episode.

By pouring his brand of high anxiety comedy into the boiling boulibase of Israeli/Palestinian affairs, David carries on a great tradition of Jewish comedians

Cohen and David are part of an illustrious people (Jews) who have been able to mockingly point the finger at themselves and their haters, all while making the world laugh. From Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler” in “The Producers” to Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Throw The Jew Down The Well”, Jews have an ability to mock their enemies by pretending to be them, while cleverly displaying their own personal foibles.

As part of this prominent contingent, Larry David allegorically pokes fun at the recent dispute in Lower Manhattan over a mosque being built near the site of Ground Zero.

David concocts his fictional Palestinian restaurant, “named Al-Abbas” (sounds like Mahmoud Abbas) with chicken that’s so good LD says, “You know what? They should send this chicken over to Israel. Yeah, for the peace process. They'd take down all those settlements in the morning.”

(I suppose he means Jews would lay down their weapons in exchange for a pulke!)

It’s so finger lickin’ good and popular that in the episode, the owners of Al-Abbas plan to open a second restaurant, this time next to a Jewish deli. Such close border proximity is too bold a maneuver and sets off Larry’s entourage of Jewish pals to participate in a protest planned outside the new eatery.

But of course, it wouldn’t be “Curb Your Enthusiasm” or HBO without twisting in an “As The Bagel Turns,” sexual theme. While at Al-Abbas, Larry finds a Palestinian woman there very attractive and even says to his friend and agent Jeff, “You're always attracted to someone who doesn't want you, right? Well, here you have someone who not only doesn't want you, but doesn't even acknowledge your right to exist.... That's a turn-on.”

By noodling his perceived non-existence into a strength, Larry seductively takes her (to the astonishment of his friend, re-born Jew Marty Funkhouser) for a roll in the sack.

In the end, we find our non-hero haplessly walking down the middle of an alley between the supporters of the new restaurant—including the sensual Palestinian woman (offering herself to him on one side); and his Jewish friends shouting epithets at the Arabs, but enticing him to their side on the other.

It’s a Chaplinesque moment—the simpleton alone, maneuvering between opposing forces.

Just as Woody Allen before him, Larry David has become the face of the Jews. Like Michelangelo’s G0d touching Adam’s hand on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, David was given Allen’s doppelganger in the 2009 comedy “Whatever Works” as the misanthropic Boris Yelnikoff.

By challenging the political and social status quo, David has become the latest epitome of what Ruth Wisse termed, “The Shlemiel as Modern Hero.”