As with many people who viewed a viral video about street harassment of women last week, New York comedian Scott Rogowsky takes the issue seriously. But that did not stop him from using it as the basis for a humorous parody clip.
In Rogowsky’s “10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Jew,” the unwanted advances are not catcalls, but rather exhortations from religious Jewish men to perform various rituals: putting on tefillin (phylacteries), praying, and sniffing a citron.
Like Shoshana Roberts, the actress in the original video, Rogowsky wears jeans and a crew neck t-shirt. However, he also wears a windbreaker “because it was really cold.” In other words, his Jewish mother would have probably killed him if he went out without a jacket.
“Hey, Moishe. Make me a bracha [blessing]. A little shehechyanu [thanksgiving prayer], a little something,” says one black hat-wearing, bearded yid to Rogowsky as he walks the streets of New York minding his own business.
“I don’t need to see your schmeckle [penis] to know which way you pray, pal,” another calls out as he passes by.
“Daven [pray] with me. Jewboy, let’s go!” says one prayer book-wielding man as he latches on to Rogowsky, walking alongside him and praying silently for five whole minutes as the comedian ignores him.
“You were in [the Jewish fraternity] AEPi. You can’t deny that. C’mon…touch the tefillin!” one guy desperately urges him.
Rogowsky, 29, tells The Times of Israel that he in no way means for this video to be a critique of the original video on harassment of women.
“I believe in curbing harassment of women. But the video’s form was so perfect for parody, and those Chabad guys who come up to you on the street came to mind,” he says, referring to Lubavitcher Hasidic emissaries who exercise a kind of racial profiling called “bageling” to identify Jews they can encourage to stop and do a mitzvah.
‘People actually feel harassed by the Lubavitchers who come up to them on the street’
Rogowsky, who has his own monthly live comedy talk show at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Chelsea called, “Running Late with Seth Rogowsky,” knew he had to move fast in getting his parody written, filmed, edited and uploaded.
He found actors to play hasidic men by posting on backstage.com, where he searched using keywords like “Jewish” and “beard.” Others he found by putting the word out among friends that he needed actors with a particular look.
Some of the actors in the video are not completely acting. They are Orthodox Jews who heard about the project and wanted to be involved.
“They were the real deal from Midwood and Far Rockaway,” he says.
“One guy emailed me, ‘I’m a BT Lubavitcher and I have a kapote,’” shares Rogowsky. “I had no idea what he was talking about.”
The comedian may not have known that BT means ba’al teshuva (a formerly non-religious Jew who has embraced Orthodoxy) or that a kapote is a long black coat worn by hasidic men, but he draws heavily on his strong Jewish identity and Conservative Jewish upbringing in his comedy.
“I recently did a fundraiser at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison,” he says, referring to the synagogue in his hometown of Harrison, NY, where he became bar mitzvah and where his retired politician father (who happens to be Rogowsky’s sidekick in “Runing Late”) is currently president.
While his main goal with his parody is to be funny, Rogowsky wants to make a serious statement about harassment of a certain type.
“People actually feel harassed by the Lubavitchers who come up to them on the street,” he says. “It can be uncomfortable, especially if you are not Jewish.”
“It’s racial profiling and it rubs me the wrong way,” he adds.
Rogowsky has his own way with dealing with aggressive Jewish ritual pushers.
“You just missed me. I converted to Lutheranism yesterday,” he tells them and keeps on walking.