NEW YORK — Although comedian David Tuchman was raised a nice Jewish boy in an Orthodox New York city home, his comedy series OMGWTFBible is anything but reverent — or orthodox.
For the past two years, Tuchman, 29, has retold Old Testament stories — with a modern twist — in front of a live studio audience for his monthly podcast OMGWTFBible (that’s Oh-My-God-What-The-Fuck-Bible for non-millennials). The podcast goes chapter-by-chapter through the Bible, recounting the stories with a hearty dose of cynicism, humor and wit.
Tuchman records the shows live every month in venues around New York City, accompanied by a different guest host who reads the translation while Tuchman interrupts with jokes, commentary and interesting tidbits.
“For thousands of years we’ve been under the impression the Bible was meant to be taken seriously,” he begins each show. “Finally, a new translation that will change all that.” What follows is 20-40 minutes of candor, and for the more devout, a rather blasphemous, translation of the Hebrew Bible, beginning at Bereshit (Genesis) and now, two years on, deep into Shemot (Exodus).
The idea for the podcast germinated from advice his writing professor at Hunter College had once given him: “If you want inspiration, all you have to do is read the Bible cover to cover.”
Years later while looking for material for a comedy gig, Tuchman turned to the trusty Old Testament for inspiration. He initially planned to do a live reading and translation of the story of Yehuda and Tamar, a juicy escapade involving prostitution and incest, but realized this could be solid material for much more than one routine.
“I got one verse in before I flipped back to the beginning of the book and decided to translate the Bible in its entirety, from the beginning.” he told The Times of Israel.
‘The seed behind the idea is that nobody has the one right way to translate the Bible’
Tuchman said that at face value, while the stories are pretty captivating, the Bible alone makes for a pretty dry read.
“Around that time, I bought a huge Oxford Bible, and I’d try to sit down and read it. But every time I’d get three chapters in and just stop bored to tears.”
And so began his quest to “rehabilitate the Bible.”
A few months later in October 2012, his first episode went live on iTunes.
For the formerly-Orthodox-turned-agnostic Tuchman, taking on a project that entails translating the entire Bible may seem like a step in the wrong direction. But he says it provides some of the best inspiration for comedy.
“The book’s got everything: genocide, incest, and even talking donkeys,” his website proclaims, so what better place to turn for inspiration?
Tuchman says he always found biblical stories fascinating, but felt that he didn’t get an opportunity to dissect them while in yeshiva since many of the more interesting (read: salacious) stories were often skimmed over briefly, or skipped out entirely.
‘The show has helped me recognize what is valuable about the texts and understand why they have stayed with us so long’
The podcast’s recording, peppered with profanities, sarcasm and movie references is sure to jibe some the wrong way. (“Don’t come any closer to the fire!” God said to Moses at the burning bush. “Don’t look directly at the fire, it’s definitely not a hologram!” — Tuchman jokes on episode 23. “And take your sandals off your feet. Put them on your hands, now spin around three times!”)
But while some may take offense, the show resonates with many who love the different approach OMGWTFBible takes and its strong following speaks for itself. The show gets around 1,500 downloads a month from users around the world, and a core group of fans attend the live tapings in NYC. Most of the listeners are young liberal-minded, Jews in their 20s and 30s, who span a wide range of approaches to religious observance. But not all.
John Passaro, who volunteers as the show’s producer and claims he’s “OMGWTFBible’s biggest fan,” says that many seem to find the show spiritually engaging.
“I’m a lapsed Catholic… But the show has helped me recognize what is valuable about the texts and understand why they have stayed with us so long,” Passaro says.
Over the course of the two years, Tuchman has had a variety of guests, including writers, fellow comedians and even a rabbi co-host the show alongside him. At the last taping hip-hop artist Y-Love joined David to read through Parshat Va’eira and replay some of the ten plagues.
His favorite story? Korach, where the ground opened up to swallow him and his followers after they challenged Moses’ right to the leadership. “To me it’s the most impressive miracle outside of Egypt,” Tuchman says. “But also the one that feels the most like a scene from a Michael Bay movie.”
If he could have anyone as a guest host on the show Tuchman says it would be American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson where he and Tyson could debate the scientific feasibility of the Korach story happening.
“The seed behind the idea is that nobody has the one right way to translate the Bible,” Tuchman says. “So the more views, and approaches I have, the more fun and interesting it is.”
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