They say life imitates art — and, if Adam Goldberg’s Twitter feed is any indicator, the adage holds true.
Late last year, the actor, along with “Hammer” creator Jonathan Kesselman, revealed that the Hebrew Hammer was coming out of retirement in a new sequel, “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler.”
The announcement took the form of a rather politically-charged video featuring a certain US president. After the video’s release, a multitude of neo-Nazi trolls took to the internet to spew racist hate speech.
Goldberg viewed this as an opportunity to engage.
“Apparently I’m upsetting anti-Semites, who I guess feel really sensitive about Hitler still,” says Goldberg, “which is just kind of fucking weird… I mean, like, fighting Hitler should be pretty non-controversial. You know what I mean? Like, he’s not a great person.”
While the actor might be only half-Jewish, fortunately for us, he’s fully neurotic. His IMDB page is an endless scroll that includes credits for such canonical films as “Dazed and Confused” and “Saving Private Ryan.” But in one community, his role as the idiosyncratic superhero Hebrew Hammer is the most prized.
Goldberg predictably entered into the part with some ambivalence. His own personal identity politics made him unsure if he could ever really play this particular hero — or if he even wanted to embrace any cultural identity exclusively.
But in true Jewish fashion, Goldberg found a rationale he could live with.
“If that character can help someone feel a little bit more empowered, then great,” he told The Times of Israel. “But honestly the best thing that can happen is that people just fucking laugh. I mean, it is just a comedy.”
The upcoming sequel may not be breaking new ground as far as villains go, but the film’s initial Kickstarter campaign utilized a new investment method called equity crowdsourcing.
That campaign has ended, and a conventional crowdfunding campaign is planned for the spring. In the meantime, Goldberg had a chat with The Times of Israel about the movie, the war on Christmas, and playing the perpetual outsider.
The conversation was a rambling, profanity-laden series of mile-a-minute observations that were in turns poignant and hilarious — and for practical reasons had to be trimmed down considerably. What follows is an edited transcript.
I have to say, you were great in “2 Days in Paris.” I remember getting this very Jewish vibe from you, but I’m not sure they ever mentioned it explicitly…
[Laughs] Thank you. Well, I’m basically playing a version of me. I mean, Julie [Delpy] was my ex-girlfriend from years before and so we sort of developed that together. So we were just basically playing thinly veiled versions of ourselves – so I think that’s probably half-Jewish, or whatever I am.
It was reminiscent of — I hate to say Woody Allen, because that’s a racial stereotype already…
Yeah, I know what you mean. But actually, that movie did get compared to a Woody Allen movie, so I guess that’s a fair assessment — although I think at some point someone said I was the Tony Roberts character.
But Woody Allen was a huge influence on me when I was growing up, slash someone to whom I sort of hitched my identity wagon. I was kind of trying to figure out who I was and look for frames of reference I could relate to. But it always felt almost slightly disingenuous because he was this Brooklyn Jew and I was an Angeleno half-Jew.
Being a kind of a mutt from Los Angeles just didn’t feel very cohesive to me, and so I always felt like I wished I was an Italian-American out of a Martin Scorsese film, or a Jewish guy from Brooklyn, like from a Woody Allen film.
Do you have to qualify it? What if you just own the Jewish thing and to hell with everyone else?
You know, I’m not sure. Sometimes I think it’s not fair to parts of my history and genealogy to sort of disavow my maternal roots – which regardless of whether they have any effect on my culture or consciousness – well, let’s just put it this way: I’m a lot more like my mother, and my mother’s side of the family, than I am my father and my father’s side of the family. So I think that’s probably part of it.
And you know the other part of it is it’s just sort of disingenuous to kind of take full ownership of the Jewish identity when there are people who are genuinely, completely and totally Jewish, and totally unambiguously — you know it doesn’t seem fair to them.
Has it been challenging for you to play such a famous Jewish hero?
The Hebrew Hammer thing has always posed an interesting sort of conflict for me and I remember really grappling with it at the time. I mean it was like a decision of saying, “Well, you know somebody’s going to play this role, and I feel like I could do it better than anybody else, so I should play this role.” And that was a [difficult] decision about trying to sort of own this Jewish identity thing. Now recently, that changed a little bit and I feel like it’s more important to own that than it ever has been — at least in my mind, in my personal experience.
Yeah so I’m apparently upsetting anti-Semites, who I guess feel really sensitive about Hitler still. Which is just kind of fucking weird because ultimately when we made this film, when we wrote this, it seemed even less controversial than the first one. Because the first one seemed sort of controversial to the extent that we made fun of ourselves — we made fun of Jewish stereotypes, you know — in the spirit of Blaxploitation, in a way, and that I think offended some Jewish people. I mean, I know it did.
But, for instance, when I announced our [initial crowdfunding] campaign I announced it in an Entertainment Weekly article, and I retweeted it and said, “Donald Trump, you thought there was a war on Christmas before — Shabbat shalom, motherfucker.”
Hey @realDonaldTrump, you thought there was a war on Christmas before?
Shabbat Shalom motherfucker. https://t.co/9gMNENhh44
— Adam Goldberg (@TheAdamGoldberg) October 17, 2017
Now, I’ve celebrated Christmas every year of my entire life — like I have no problem with fucking Christmas. I don’t care. It’s just a joke. And then all of a sudden online, it’s just people going like, “We’re warming up the ovens for you,” and posting the anti-Semitic caricatures from the 1930s, and it’s just like, really? Because of a joke about Christmas? And a movie called “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler?” And I will tell you that some of these people aren’t necessarily intellectually challenged — in fact I’m actually going to start interviewing a few of them for a kind of podcast. I’m not quite sure what it is yet, but I have been talking to some of these trolls.
They’re sort of regurgitating all the “Protocols of Zion” bullshit – and they’re not inarticulate, so actually I want to talk to them and I’m genuinely interested in how the hell they ended up feeling this way and believing this shit. But it was all these really heinous… the environment in which these Tweets occurred was definitely an impetus for me in calling Jon and resurrecting the script, which had been sitting around since 2005. I mean, like, fighting Hitler should be pretty non-controversial. You know what I mean? Like, he’s not a great person.
Can you tell me more about taking on Hitler? And if the movie was written in 2005, did you update it to touch on contemporary issues? I mean, I saw the video for the Kickstarter campaign. It seemed pretty current.
Yeah, so I mean it’s basically always been about the Hebrew Hammer having to go back in time and essentially come out of retirement to rescue a kind of hipper, younger version of himself who got stuck in a shitty time machine, known as the “time sukkah,” in Nazi Germany.
And so, you know, the chief is going to pull me out of retirement in order to go back and sort of grudgingly rescue him, and then of course I deal with Hitler. But, you know, with the current climate I kind of felt like it would be ridiculous to make this without recontextualizing it slightly. So while there’s no literal reference to [President Donald] Trump or anything like that, we just kind of refashion it in a way.
The Hebrew Hammer has always existed in its own kind of reality, or, you know, comic book world, or whatever, so you know we’re we’re not being literal, even though the campaign video [referencing Trump] was very literal. It’s more of just almost like a preamble that gives the film context in a weird way it never had before. So it’s sort of like, “now’s the time.”
I feel like this is where I’m supposed to raise the topic of sexual harassment in Hollywood. Just kidding.
Well I’m happy to talk about that – because that’s also brought out a lot of anti-Semitism.
Because I follow all these fucking Nazis on Twitter now and engage with them. You know, they just list all the names of all the Jewish people — or many of the people — who have been outed as these sexual harassers, rapists, deviants, whatever. And of course they’re just loving the correlation between the fact that they’re Jewish and sexually deviant or whatever. So you know they’re going back to invoking [Roman] Polansky, and Woody Allen. I mean there are scumbags in Hollywood, and there always have been. And this industry, it breeds exploitation, it thrives on it. So I honestly didn’t even really pay any attention to if they were Jewish or not.
There are these two conflicting anti-Semitic stereotypes: the Jewish pervert, which, by the way, is a term I use proudly, since Jews were at the forefront of anti-censorship laws. I think we have a record of sometimes being perverted in the best way —
I mean, obviously. Look at “Portnoy’s Complaint” — one of my favorite books by Philip Roth. He’s talking a lot about Jewish identity and he’s talking a lot about sexual perversion. Or, quote unquote “perversion” — sexual obsession. Right, but I mean, so did Henry Miller. So I don’t know what we’re talking about. So did Charles Bukowski.
Are there Jewish people who are controlling Hollywood? Is there a lineage of Jewish people going back to, you know, the dawn of Hollywood? Yeah – thankfully! You have movies because some Jews got their shit together and made the studios. I mean, what the fuck are people complaining about? You know, you wouldn’t have your stupid fucking “Road Rage” video games if it weren’t for Jack Warner.
And then well then there’s this other thing you once mentioned, a pet peeve about being called a “nice Jewish boy” and this sort of emasculation that they do —
Right, right. See, this is what I don’t get — they’re either afraid we’re taking over the world, or we’re these big pussies. So which fuckin’ is it. And that’s what I keep trying to confront — that’s why I like to confront these guys on Twitter.
I’m fucking fed up, I can tell you that much. At some point I’ll have to get out because this is a virtual reality even though it obviously expresses an “IRL” [In Real Life] sentiment. But it’s still not a reality. That is why I wanted to do this podcast thing, partly, was to take it out of the realm of the abstract, the virtual, and just talk, see what’s going on. And then get the fuck out, because I’m not going to make this my life’s work.