Two Jews and a Presbyterian are at a Passover seder. Sound like a joke? That’s because it is. This year, sedergoers can take the edge off those bitter herbs with a new side-splitting haggadah parody, “For This We Left Egypt? A Passover Haggadah for Jews and Those Who Love Them.”
The plague-friendly, pocket-sized primer lands on seder tables this Passover 5777 courtesy of two accomplished Jewish writers, Alan Zweibel and Adam Mansbach — and their friend (and son of a Presbyterian minister) Dave Barry.
“If you reverse my names to Barry David, it sounds quite Jewish,” Barry tells The Times of Israel. “But as it is, Dave Barry, it sounds Irish, which is what I am.”
One of the original writers on Saturday Night Live and a celebrated author of books, plays and more, Zweibel has collaborated previously with Mansbach, author of “Go the F–K to Sleep” and other works. Their joint effort resulted in a similarly profanity-laden title, “Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My Ass.”
Naturally, Barry gave that book his endorsement: “This is absolutely the funniest book about time-traveling mail and Benjamin Franklin that I have ever read. And I have read them all.”
Barry is a wildly successful American humor columnist and the author of too many books to list. Like Mansbach, he has also co-written with Zweibel in the past, the result of which was “Lunatics,” a screwball comedy of errors and political satire.
As such, it was only a matter of time before these three 21st century stooges, Barry, Zweibel and Mansbach, brought the latter’s brainchild to life.
The idea was simple kismet for Mansbach, who is not alone in enjoyment of dropping the F-bomb, as evidenced by his New York Times bestseller.
“Last time I went to a seder, I made a million hilarious jokes, and I was like ‘Hey, I should write a fucking parody haggadah,’” Mansbach tells The Times of Israel. “I’d hung out a bunch with Dave, because he and Alan are friends and co-authors and we all, Dave by himself, Alan and I together, had kids’ books out with Hyperion at the same time, and the three of us had a great comic chemistry together. So I suggested we do this. They said yes, and we got to work.”
The trio each bought a copy of a classic haggadah online, though Zweibel, who usually relies on the Maxwell House edition at his annual seder and now plans to augment that with his own, could not recall which version the team bought.
“I might have thrown it out,” Zweibel says.
Still, the guys divvied up the text like it was the middle matzah.
“I’m in Jersey. Dave is in Florida and Adam is in Berkeley,” says Zweibel. “We just jumped all over it… we each chose the portions, the chapters we wanted to write. It was all emails. We were never in the same room.”
Whatever works. The three are a comic trifecta. Among the book’s strong points is its fun-poking at Maxwell House, which inspired the book’s simple line illustrations and its two-color print job. Their haggadah also contains rap and pop culture references, thanks to Mansbach. And the outsider’s perspective is owned by Barry, who, as it turns out, is not all that much of an outsider.
His second wife, Michelle Kaufman, is a Cuban Jew.
“They call themselves Jewban,” says Barry. “I say, ‘They didn’t come on rafts. They parted the Caribbean.’”
While his ancestors may not have escaped Pharaoh, Barry could still be called a Jew by association. For example, he is a member of a synagogue.
“They are so Reform, they let me in,” he says. “I consider myself to be a better Jew than Adam Mansbach, to pick one name at random, because I actually go to Temple.”
Periodically, he says, his wife reminds him of an upcoming Jewish holiday.
“There is no way to tell when they are coming up,” says Barry. “And then I’ll say, ‘What are we doing this weekend?’ And she will say, ‘It’s Harish Kardarma. It’s the third holiest Jewish holiday.'”
When asked why his example sounds strangely Hindu, Barry pays no mind.
“I have no way of knowing,” he says. “We end we end up in Temple for what feels like days. I grew up in the Christian tradition and you go every weekend. Jews save it up. They don’t go for a long time. And then they go for a long time.”
‘I consider myself to be a better Jewish than Adam Mansbach because I actually go to Temple’
Barry says his teenage daughter Sophie is a cool Jew — a reference this reporter appreciates — who celebrated her bat mitzvah and is active at their shul.
His adult son from his first marriage, Rob, lives in New York.
“Not only did I marry a Jewish woman, but my son did and I was the sandak,” Barry says. “I’m blanking on the name for the circumcision. I forget everything.”
His haggadah, however, is a tiny taste of magic. In a stroke of comedic genius, the book — despite being written in English — opens from right to left.
And the combination of the letters, “G,” “O,” and “D” is never spelled out. It is consistently spelled with a hyphen, even when quoting other words containing these three letters, such as “Waiting for G-dot” or “The G-dfather.”
Also distinct is the voice of the Borscht Belt humor that gave Zweibel his start writing jokes for $7 each fresh out of college in Buffalo. Take the following excerpt:
Because the Israelites had ticked G-d off, they did not get to go directly to the Promised Land. Instead, they wandered in the desert for forty years. Which is a lot of wandering, when you think about it.
Let’s say for the sake of argument that a standard Israelite wanders five hundred steps per day, with an average distance of two feet per step. That works out to a thousand feet per day. So for more than forty years — even if they didn’t wander at all on Shabbat, major Jewish holidays, Elie Wiesel’s birthday, and so on — the Israelites would wander about twelve million feet, which is more than two thousand miles. This means that, starting in Egypt, the Israelites could easily, with minimal exertion, have wandered to Norway.
It’s not all simply added levity to what the book jokes are often interminable festivities — the meat is there, too.
“We wrote it in such a way that you can conduct a seder with it, with all the washing of hands and the cups of wine,” Zweibel says.
Coming on the heels of Purim, it is still a bit early in the season for Passover reading. But the little book that could is already a No. 1 bestseller on Amazon in the category of Jewish holidays.
The trio seem to be getting a good laugh already. Still, one can only pray that they create another spoof we never knew how much we truly needed.
“We are trying to figure out the next thing to do with these guys because we get along so well,” Zweibel says. “Writing is a very solitary thing. You spend the day alone with your laptop… If you can have a dialogue, it’s a diversion to make each other laugh and before you know it, there’s a book.”