Jewish humor has always walked the line between self-deprecation and self-loathing, between not taking oneself too seriously and seriously wishing you were someone else. Everyone from Woody Allen to Larry David to Sarah Silverman has made careers out of exploiting that tension, making us laugh at their neuroses while simultaneously feeling kind of bad for doing so. Think of it as Jewish guilt for the masses.
At its best, Heeb is a brilliant 21st century link to that tradition. Its title, a deliberate misspelling of an epithet derived from shortening "Hebrew," is so openly self-flagellating it's practically an act of defiance. And its content, which simultaneously celebrates and mocks Jewish culture with little regard for the religious, challenges the reader to embrace a magazine that clearly has mixed feelings about itself. So it's understandable if you want to denounce Heeb as insulting to Jews -- plenty of people do. But you might as well denounce Jerry Seinfeld, Mel Brooks and Krusty the Klown while you're at it. They're all working off the same script.
On the cover of Heeb's fall 2007 issue is Superbad's Jonah Hill squeezing lubricating jelly into the hole of a bagel, which says a lot about the magazine's sense of humor right up front. This is also billed as Heeb's Chosen Issue, in which it profiles 100 up-and-coming Jewish performers, artists, business people and authors. (Actually, it profiles about 20. The names of the others are listed across the bottom of every other page with instructions to read about them online, one of several ways the print edition drives traffic to the Web site.)
Recurring sections include "Battle of the Schwartzes," in which readers are asked to choose their favorite of two people who share the surname (Go to HeebMagazine.com to cast your vote!); "Jewdar," a roundup of all things noteworthy in Semitic culture, from Jewish-penned novels to Israeli porn; and "Honorary Heeb," a Q&A with one lucky Gentile welcomed into the fold. This month, the honoree is black comedian Paul Mooney, who (irony alert!) explains why he recently dropped the "n" word from his vocabulary.
Unfortunately, if you caught any of Hill's publicity blitzkrieg in support of the August release of "Superbad," the cover story offers almost nothing new. But other, truly original features more than make up for it. The first, an account of one man's adult circumcision, managed to be hilarious, cringeworthy and strangely pious all at once. And I can't believe I'm about to write this, but an eight-page feature on the life and career of Joan Rivers left me wanting more. Apparently, she still does standup once a week at a Flatiron bar I used to frequent, and her act sounds pretty cutting-edge for a 73-year-old QVC host. Who knew?
No review of Heeb would be complete without mentioning the ads, some of which are as bawdy and irreverent as the mag itself. Moderntribe.com shows a woman with a dreidel tattooed on her back (which is pretty daring, if you know anything about Jewish law forbidding desecration of the body), and Udi's has photoshopped everyone's fave anti-Semite, Mel Gibson, into an ad with a piping hot bowl of its granola, with the tag line "nobody can say no." Yes, some of these ads are a little amateurish and cheap-looking, but if nothing else, they make it clear that Heeb is not alone in its approach to Judaism, or its sense of humor.
Published by: Heeb Magazine, LLC
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