"Is it hot in here, or am I the only one dressed for Poland in the 17th century?" Yisrael Campbell looks more like a rabbi than a comedian, but don't be fooled by the big black hat, frock coat and Hasidic side-curls. Born Chris Campbell, the son of an ex-nun and a Catholic schoolteacher, he converted to Judaism not once, but three times - Reform, Conservative and Orthodox. His spiritual journey began as a drug-drenched teenager in Philadelphia and ended in Jerusalem among the suicide bombs of the Palestinian intifada. So what's to laugh about? It's the way he tells it. CIRCUMCISE ME is a hilarious, searching and moving story of one man's quest for spiritual enlightenment against the bewildering backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Jewish Channel Circumcise Me Trailer
Interview with Yisrael Campbell
Yisrael Campbell Website
7th Art Booking info for Circumcise Me
March 26, 2009
‘Circumcise Me’. That’s the name of the debut movie by Jerusalem-based news reporter and film director Matthew Kalman.
Mr Kalman, 48, teamed up with photographer David Blumenfeld to co-direct the hit comedy. Circumcise Me: The Comedy of Yisrael Campbell traces the life of Catholic boy-turned-Jewish comedian Yisrael Campbell, whose story turns out to be one of wild self-discovery.
Mr Campbell — formerly known as Chris Campbell — undergoes three conversions: from Catholicism to Reform Judaism, to Conservative Judaism and then to Orthodox Judaism.
The film, which has been generating a lot of interest at film festivals across Canada and the US, has now arrived in the UK.
Mr Kalman, who made aliyah ten years ago, tells People: “During the intifada, I spent a lot of time reporting on and filming people getting blown up. People were generally interested in blood and guts and it was all very depressing. David and I decided we wanted to do something more fun. I went to see Yisrael perform and knew we had our subject.”
They started working on the film in 2005. It took three years to complete. “It was a really long process,” says Mr Kalman, who reports for Channel 4 in the UK, among other media. “I am a news reporter but have always been interested in comedy. I thought making a film would be easy. I was wrong.”
Nonetheless, Mr Kalman is pleased with the outcome. “There is a Life of Brian-type feel to the film,” he says. “It is a really funny, feelgood creation. It’s about the intifada but it’s also about how life is lived in Israel. As journalists here, we often have to cover deaths — but we wanted to capture that absurdist humour.”
Festival returns for third year
By PATRICK RILLS
Jan 23, 2009
The main feature of Wednesday night was “Circumcise Me,” a documentary chronicling the conversion of a Hassidic Jew stand-up comedian. Yisrael Campbell didn’t always have a four-corner beard, a Jerusalem address, and a Hebrew name. He was born Chris Campbell, a Philadelphia native and Catholic son of an ex-nun. Campbell is surprisingly hilarious for someone that looks like they should be teaching the Torah in a community center not telling jokes in a bar. It’s his transformation that is precisely the reason why “Circumcise Me” is so enthralling.
Campbell was once an outsider looking in, much like many in the audience who attended the screening Wednesday night. He approached the Jewish faith with the skepticism of someone who had never taken religion seriously, and that is the source of most of his comedy.
However, between the jokes is something more profound. Campbell’s fascination with the religion lies in his conversion pledge of “casting his lot in with the Jewish people,” and most of the movie is spent exploring this idea. Even as a convert, Yisrael is accepted into a tight-knit Jewish community after moving to Israel, and as Campbell suggests, it’s this binding sense of community that allows Jews to prevail in dire situations.
Campbell doesn’t waste words with his to-the-point approach and the film is short because of it, but it is also what makes the film work. The documentary style introduces us to the major players in Campbell’s life and gets the audience invested in his relatable story of a man looking for answers from something greater. He doesn’t need a somber recreation of a Holocaust story to show the great resilience and faith of the Jewish people, and that makes the film’s presentation that much more refreshing.
A portrait of a Jewish stand-up comedian, 'Circumcise Me' is one of dozens of movies playing the Austin Jewish Film FestivalBy Chris Garcia
AMERICAN-STATESMAN FILM WRITER
Friday, January 23, 2009
Though the title of "Circumcise Me" makes clever punnery of Morgan Spurlock's gruesome McDonald's gorge-fest "Super Size Me," the two documentaries share more than titular kinship.
Both are humorously insightful, plumbing in wry ways culture, values and politics. And both examine extremist practices: "Super Size Me" takes on the idea of devouring gobs of greasy, fatty junk food in the name of pseudo-health science. More squeamishly for some of us, "Circumcise Me" discusses one man's experience in getting circumcised, not once, not twice, but three times. (Wince.)
The man is Jewish stand-up comic Yisrael Campbell, who was raised Catholic and circumcised at birth. He converted to Judaism three times as an adult — to Reform, then Conservative, then Orthodox. Protesting that he'd already endured the procedure as an infant, a rabbi told him that it's the difference between a "medical procedure" and a "religious covenant."
All right, Campbell shrugs, standing on a bright stage in the documentary, gripping a microphone. "I'll do three circumcisions. But I want you to know that three circumcisions is not a religious covenant. It's a fetish."
Relating this story, Campbell is dressed in full Orthodox Jewish raiments. He perspires and gesticulates, punching the palm of his thick hand for emphasis. And a small audience erupts into knowing laughter, their open-mouth faces beaming with recognition.
The film's full title is "Circumcise Me: The Comedy of Yisrael Campbell" and was directed by David Blumenfeld and Matthew Kalman. It screens Thursday at the Arbor as part of the Austin Jewish Film Festival, which begins Saturday and runs through Jan. 30 at various venues.
At 48 minutes and a low budget, it's a small movie that exudes an enormous spirit of faith, understanding and fellowship, wrapped in wisdom and wisecracks. Campbell, who was born Chris Campbell in the suburbs of Philadelphia in 1963, strikes a jovial and clear-eyed figure. He strives for religious grace and yearns, like so many, for better days in a strife-riven Israel he has called home for years. (Though he concedes in the film that it's "near impossible that there will be an actual peace.")
As a teenager in America, Campbell became addicted to drugs and alcohol. Catholicism wasn't fulfilling his dire spiritual needs, so he began to explore. Long story short — Campbell's telling is far more entertaining than what we can fit here — he found Judaism.
He also found confusion, cultural shock, a wife, a divorce, another wife, twin baby daughters and the risks of living in a geographical powder keg. On stage, Campbell is bearish, like a middle-aged Seth Rogen. His delivery verges on shouting, words enunciated in a guttural baby tiger growl.
Off stage, the comic is philosophical and soft-spoken. He mitigates very real anxieties with calibrated irreverence that lets some of the air out of strict religious decorum. A comedian with a gimmick — Campbell appeared in Austin last week as part of the Israeli/Palestinian Comedy Tour — he dresses the part, with an unruly beard, traditional peyos, brimmed black hat and thick black overcoat.
"Is it warm in here, or am I the only one dressed for Poland in the 1700s?" he asks the audience.
It's Campbell's candid chatter, not the static video of his performance dominating the movie, that gives "Circumcise Me" a lingering thoughtfulness. He reveals as much about life, religion and comedy as he does about himself.
"I don't know what else to do (but) to turn my own discomfort, my own pain, into laughter. A joke is how I cope," Campbell says. "I used to think that it was a less than exemplary way to cope. I'm not sure that's the case any more. I think it's a valid way to deal with pain and loss."
'Circumcise Me' screens with 'Praise HA!,' Wendy Corn and Andrew Guidone's short documentary about the power of comedy as a universal balm, at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Arbor.
Brought To You By: JCC of Greater Baltimore
Event Website: Click here
Dates & Times:
The 21st Annual William and Irene Weinberg Family Baltimore Jewish Film Festival Circumcise Me United States/Israel, 2007; Directors, David Blumenfeld and Matthew Kalman Tonight's film starts out, “My aunt was a nun. That makes Jesus my uncle.” It only took three conversions for this hysterically funny and celebrated stand-up comic to become a Jew. Yisrael Campbell wears Hassidic side-curls, the observant’s big black hat and frock coat, his every-day and stage wardrobe. As you watch one of his sold-out performances you learn his amazing life story. His incomparable humor will keep you laughing for days. Yisrael, born Christopher Campbell, is the son of an ex-nun and a school teacher who became a drug addict in Philadelphia. As Yisrael takes us along, we find out more about his spiritual journey from Philadelphia, to acting studies in New York, then to L.A., and on to Israel. His numerous and brave conversions, “I told the rabbi, I’ll do a third circumcision” coupled with his true avatars have the serious undertones of a complicated and impressive human being. His one-man show is planned for Broadway soon. This is a live-documentary you will never forget. Honored and Special Guest Speaker: Yisrael Campbell in person
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