While most 12-year-olds prepare for their b’nai mitzvah by learning trope and Torah, Nato Green had one additional — and unusual — assignment.
“When I was studying for my bar mitzvah, my dad required me to listen to Lenny Bruce as preparation,” Green recalled.
Now 32, Green credits his unconventional Congregation Emanu-El bar mitzvah prep as one of many elements that led him to pursue standup comedy.
Green is one of six comics who will perform in the fifth annual New Jew Revue on Dec. 15 at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley. It’s the second year he will share the stage with up-and-coming Bay Area Jewish comedians, and the first show he has organized.
“Part of what’s fun for me about this show is that it’s a gamble,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of places to work out material with [an audience] who has an idea of what the afikomen is.”
Along with Green, the New Jew Revue features Alex Koll, Moshe Kasher, Brian Malow, Jeff Applebaum and Sam Arno, who created the New Jew Revue in 2003.
“The nature of this work is intrinsically joyful,” Arno said. “It’s risky and demanding. But when it works, it’s very enjoyable.”
While Green grew up in Bernal Heights (where he still lives), Arno grew up with a French Moroccan mother and Russian father in a Jewish neighborhood in Baltimore.
“My Jewish identity is comedy,” Arno said. “I was always cracking jokes with my friends in Hebrew school. I think that’s where a lot of Jewish comedian training takes place.”
Arno says he is pleased to pass the New Jew Revue torch to Green, who’s not only keeping the comedy showcase going, but is continuing a behind-the-scenes tradition. The comics gather a few days before the show and have dinner at a local deli. Last year it was Saul’s in Berkeley; this year it’s Miller’s Deli in San Francisco.
“I’m grateful Nato’s keeping up with the tradition,” he said.
Green hasn’t always been a comic. As a professional union organizer, he initially aimed to “be the funniest person in the labor movement — which I found out was easy to achieve.”
While studying history in college, he briefly tried standup, but was “horrible,” he said, stretching the word out like Silly Putty. He considered the attempt a failure.
But he began having dreams about being on stage. When he worked on speeches for labor conventions, he would “obsess about the jokes rather than the content” of his talk.
A few years ago, he was between jobs and decided to try again during an open mic night at the Brainwash Cafe, a laundromat/entertainment venue in San Francisco. Again he was horrible, he said, a quality confirmed by the total absence of laughter during his routine.
He realized he “needed to suck” before he could be good. He tried again the following week; within a few weeks, people were laughing at his jokes.
Today, Green has a loyal following for Iron Comic, a comedy showcase loosely based on Iron Chef. He also produces and performs with “Laughing Liberally 415,” a monthly political standup showcase featuring Bay Area comedians frequently held at the Make-Out Room in the Mission District.
His routines often incorporate Jewish humor, and always include references to politics and current events.
Now is a good time for Jewish comics, he contends, even without a Borscht Belt venue. “Jewish comedians used to reserve their Jewish comedy for Jewish audiences, and assimilated comedy for mainstream audiences. Now a lot of Jewish comics — Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller, Seth Rogan — are openly Jewish and have mainstream, crossover appeal.
“It’s encouraging. We can be nebbish and still play funny, romantic leads.”
The New Jew Revue takes place 8 p.m. Dec. 15 at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets cost $20 and are available through Ticketweb.com or at the box office, (415) 383-9600.