Watch the Circumcise Me Trailer:
|Directed by:||David Blumenfeld & Matthew Kalman||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2007||Running Time:||48 mins|
|More Info:||Yisrael Campbell’s Website||Category:||America|
About the Film:
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.
Instead, Campbell became completely enamored with Judaism and ended up going through a series of conversions, from Reform to Conservative to Orthodox Judaism. And with each conversion, even though Campbell had been circumcised as an infant, religious authorities insisted that he go through a ritual blood-letting of the penis. But Campbell is able to find the humor even in those painful recollections: “I said, ‘I’ll do it again. But I want you to know,’” Campbell tells his audience, with mock-stoicism, what he told his rabbi the third time around, “Three circumcisions is not a religious covenant. It’s a fetish.”
Campbell’s life is full of good material, and just when you think it can’t get any wackier, he reveals more. Like that shortly after his Reform conversion, he married an Egyptian Muslim woman soon. When her father asked him to convert to Islam, Campbell remembers, he tried to explain to his future father-in-law that if he became a member of all three major religions in the span of one year, people might doubt his sincerity. (Campbell has since divorced his first wife and is now remarried, to a Jewish woman he met in Israel.)
More than just a barrel of laughs, Circumcise Me questions the place and purpose that comedy should play, asking what is okay to joke about and what should be off-limits. Shockingly, Campbell works the suicide bombing that killed two of his friends into his act. But he is quite contemplative in discussing his decision to do so, saying that for a long time he felt ashamed of the fact that he dealt with tragedy by telling jokes. Over time, though, he’s accepted that it’s easier for him to come to terms with death and hardship through laughter. He appreciates that he is able to look at tragedy from a different perspective. which suggests that comedy and religion promise Campbell something similar: solace.
Throughout his routine, Campbell keeps coming back to one of the questions asked of him during his conversions: “Do I throw my lot in with the Jewish people, come what may?” Having found peace with himself by traveling halfway around the world and settling down in Jerusalem in the middle of the Second Intifada — and being able to laugh about it – Campbell can feel confident answering a resounding, “Yes.”
In the end, Circumcise Me takes us through one man’s wild story of self-discovery and provides huge laughs in the process.