Well into his New York Comedy Festival set, Moshe Kasher read a letter. He’d written it at age 14 to “Brittany,” the first girl who ever broke his heart. Before launching into the old emotional diatribe, Kasher warned his audience that they’d hear the words of a sensitive teenage Jewish boy who thought he was black, context that explained its sudden shifts from “You’re the only girl I ever bought flowers for” to recriminations over tricking young Kasher into getting “hella sprung.” Kasher spelled out this semi-split personality as a pendulum swinging between “Iceberg Slim and Ralph Waldo Emerson,” as his 14-year-old self both waxed poetic and used the phrase “check yourself before you wreck yourself.”
Obviously Kasher’s writing and experiences have deepened far beyond that letter. Anyone who’s read Kasher in the Rye (his autobiography and potential television show) can tell you he elevates a life that would be hilarious in plain transcription by molding its details with truly author-ly textual illustration. Kasher’s live performance also sprung hella author-ly, in its quality and in references ranging from No Exit to the Bodhi Tree to Ray Kurzweil, all of which had his Sunday night UCB audience on board.
Despite his evident maturity, Kasher also kept that past teenage boy’s vulnerability close at hand throughout his set. Whether remembering his $1,500 phone sex encounter or mocking his deaf parents or doing openly aggressive crowd work, Kasher is at heart “a mischievous rapscallion” (his words), and it’s palpable. He can push our buttons and insult our thoughts and promise to kill an audience member, yet his well-meaning harmlessness shines through every time, because “duh, kidding, obviously” but even more because of his personal warmth.
After a quick open by Baron Vaughn (Conan, Fallon) and a strong feature by Sheng Wang (Comedy Central), Kasher launched into an hour of crowd work, riffing, and plenty of new material. That’s “new” as in not on his recent Live In Oakland special, not “new” as in still in progress. Kasher self-deprecated at light speed, working a few minutes from recent late-night TV spots into a larger narrative of his entire childhood and an extended session with the audience about every possible bar mitzvah theme. His self-consciousness on stage was engaging without ever pulling him off course, his jokes were precise and intelligent, and he even got away with a pun-based groaner through an overlong setup and a shameless insistence that it was in fact funny if you have any joy in your heart.
Moshe Kasher is co-headlining Carolines on Broadway with Natasha Leggero this week.