Moshe Kasher Is Getting Problematic In Comedy Central’s New Series

In his new Comedy Central series, Moshe Kasher plans to deliver hard topics on a silver tray of comedy.

The first time I heard Moshe Kasher was when his first album Everyone You Know Is Going To Die dropped. A female voice outstretched over a synth-y harp of “Amazing Grace” called, “These are the last known recording from comedian, child genius, Jew, Jew comedian, OB/GYN, pleasure center, guiding light, good tipper, beefcake…” Thankfully he’s still here, still all of those things, and now adding talk show host to the mix with his upcoming Comedy Central show Problematic with Moshe Kasher, which premieres April 18th at 10:00 p.m.

Back in 2014, Kasher’s Hound Tall podcast premiered. Each episode brings comics and experts together for a discussion of today’s most intriguing—and yes, sometimes sensitive—topics. For his next trick Kasher is bringing that much needed conversation to television. Taking on the big issues with some comedy in the pre-internet stylings of talk shows like The Phil Donahue Show.  

Kasher took some time to speak with me about his upcoming series, humor, standup personas and well, you’ll see. Here’s how it went: 

DEN OF GEEK: I’m just going to jump right in.  I have been following your standup for a long time. 

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Moshe Kasher: Aw, thank you. People with good taste. 

What can I say, I’m an adrenaline junky… Your standup is brilliant. Especially for someone like me who grew up in a Modern Orthodox home, so I know my place in hell and all that. 

Oh cool! Well we don’t have to worry. Isn’t there something like about how like Jews can only go to help for like upwards of 12 months. What a Jewish way to do hell. 

We bargained our way out of eternity. 

Yeah. It’ll be like 12 months. It’ll be bad but we’ll get through it then go on up to whatever bar there is in heaven. 

I hope that’s what heaven is like. Just a giant bar. But only for the Jews, obviously. 

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Well there’s this old joke, definitely not my joke, where this old Jew dies—well I guess you can apply this to any religion, by the way—and they walk by all these Buddhists and they’re all like bowing to Buddha or whatever, and St. Peter or whatever is like, “Oh that’s the Buddha, they’re just doing their thing.” Then they walk by all these Hindus and they are painting their faces and praying to Shiva, and he’s like, “This is where the Hindus hang out.” Then they walk by some Muslims, and the Muslims are all bowing at a Mosque. Then they walk by this really fortified wall and the Jew asks, “Who’s in there?” And the guy’s like, “Shush shush, that’s where the Christians are. They think they’re the only ones in here.”

That’s hilarious. 

Classic street joke. I start that at every Christian party I go to. 

So you have your standup, your memoir Kasher in the Rye, Champs and Hound Tall. Now you’re moving into this Phil Donhue persona with your upcoming series Problematic. There are so many facets of persona do you separate them or do you feel like it’s just the natural progression over time?

Comedy Central just bought [Live in Oakland] and re-aired it earlier. It’s kind of funny, first of all, to watch yourself from five years ago. It’s fun. There were parts that I’m like, “Wow, that’s a great joke!” There are other parts where I’m like, “Ew, I would not tell that joke anymore.”  There are also parts of it where I’m like, “Oh, I looked really young.” And there’s also parts where you watch how your person has slightly changed. 

Natasha [Leggero] was saying it’s so interesting how frenetic [my] energy is on stage as a standup and then when she came to the taping we did on Thursday, as a host in these conversations I am so calm and having calm almost serious conversations. This high-level intellectual conversations that are funny but very calm. I was thinking to myself, “Oh man, it’s certainly not by design that I did that.” When you are onstage doing standup, it’s like you times ten. Some people are the exact same on as they are off, but I’m not. When you are on a podcast or hosting a podcast, or when you are hosting a TV show, I can’t be up there talking a thousand miles a minute when I’m trying to have a conversation about cultural appropriation with an expert. 

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So if you were to do some standup now then go to a taping, those two people would still be different even though it’s not five years apart?

Yeah. I am going to do another special this year of standup. That person, it’s not quite the same as it was five years ago, but it is definitely a lot more high-octane than my persona in these shows. The show is about having real conversations and it is pretty funny, and very silly and really cool, but it definitely a different rotations per minute. 

If you were to watch the standup separately from the memoir and the memoir separately from what Hound Tall is from what I assume would go into Problematic, the material is kind of different. 

I think if you watch my old standup special and then watch the new one, the new one is a lot more personal and autobiographical and includes some elements and stories from the book. You would go “ Oh this comedian is the same comedians but he has gotten a bit more personal in this special than in the last one.” I do think that if you watch that special and then watch Problematic, you would say, “Oh this comedian can host a really fun intelligent and silly roundtable conversation about how the Internet is changing your brain. [Laughs]

I hope it’s not somebody tuning in and going, “who the fuck is this fast-talking bespectacled guy from the special I just watched.” I don’t think so. I could be wrong. 

To be honest, , if you were trying to have a conversation about cultural appropriation or something with my standup persona, who is definitely me but me times a few iterations, it would be a very difficult conversation. [Laughs]

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Hound Tall, the way that I see it, seems to be the gateway into this new series. So how does it feel knowing that it’s going to be broadcast in this different medium? 

The thing about podcasts that is so awesome is that there’s no production pressure to perform. You can have a conversation where it doesn’t really get to kernel of the thing until minute thirty. Or you can have a conversation where you explore an idea for a long time and then you find the gain of the conversation further in. I was just on [Joe] Rogan last week for three hours. That’s a fucking crazy thing. Is it possible for a person to be ten out of ten funny for three hours? 

But at a certain point when you are having a three-hour conversation it’s going to be at times funny and at times serious and at times challenging. Actually, I think Rogan does a really good job of balancing all that stuff. You don’t have that luxury in television, especially a half-hour show. But what you do have is the ability to make it really joke after joke and point after point. So our big challenge is time, is fitting a conversation about topics this big into a medium this short. Twenty-two minutes is pretty difficult to get over a conversation plus a field piece or two. It’s a thing. We’ve so far been really successful in the first two episodes in finding a way to do that. 

From what I understand you also have the audience, you encourage them to participate in the conversation. 

Yes and so far that’s been very cool.  One of the things I really want is I want people to start watching the show and go, “Oh cool! I want to go to one of those tapings because I want to be involved in that conversation and feel empowered to get in that.” It is like an open-sourced television show in that way. We have gotten suggestions from Reddit users for questions, we’ve read them on air. We did a cultural appropriation episode and a local Native American leader came and spoke up about how appropriation affects his community. We want that, and we also want it to be there for people who were just watching Tosh and keep the show going. 

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I hope not. I’m banking my career on this optimism that everybody including every comedy fan and every Alt-Right person and every Democratic Socialist and every Antifa person wants to engage in conversations that challenge them and play to the top of their intelligence while being funny. I take it back, not every Antifa person wants things to be funny. My point is, I don’t think there is any worry about if it is going to be too smart for this audience or that audience? I think people are smart, and I think they like to be spoken to at the top of their intelligence. 

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This show is about conversations that people will get, especially if the floatation device it floats in on is comedy. I think that’s what my book was. My book was a book that was, I thought very very funny, but it was a trick. It was a hypnotism trick that all of a sudden you’re at the last third of my book and it got really dark and really sad and you’re like, “Wait how did I get here? I’ve been laughing for the first two-third of the book.” I think that’s like the power of comedy. 

It’s interesting, because I don’t know if this is how you see it, but it seems like all of our discourse now is just vitriolic debate over 140 characters. 

One hundred percent. That is it. That is the thing that has happened. 

So your show is the anti-model of that. 

I really hope so. I really think we can kind of tease out these conversations.  Like cultural appropriation is an issue I struggle with personally. It’s an issue that I have definitely struggled with taking seriously. It has definitely caused a number of eye rolls from me and I consider myself a pretty committed anti-racist leftist, but I just have a reaction to it, which is “what are you complaining about?” Culture borrows from culture. 

That’s how culture is and has always been, right? So engaging with the topic in the way that we did, doing a deep-dive of reading. I mean I am reading an amount that is not pleasant and each and every week it starts over. You throw all that information in the trash bin and just start over with a new topic. Given the amount of reading I did about cultural appropriation and talking to people I came to this realization about cultural appropriation, which I hope I come to with a bunch of them, which is that it is not really about rules. 

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It’s not something you role your eyes out, you roll your eyes at people saying, “We have a rule, don’t cut your hair like that! Don’t do Yoga! Don’t have sushi!” It’s like what the fuck are you talking about, that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, right? But it’s not about rules it’s about understanding where people are coming from and about acknowledging where they are coming from, and it’s about getting underneath the ridiculous examples into the more emotional realities. Cultural appropriation is like a lifetime of little racist injustices and a lifetime of Elvises taking the cream of black culture and not paying it back into the community. So it’s not really about going, “Don’t do that!” It’s about going, “Think about this.” I hope that, if anything, [Problematic] creates a world of which we think about this kind of stuff.  

I want the thesis of this show to be just because I don’t agree with something doesn’t mean I ought to not talk about it. 

Hound Tall takes on a lot of different topics, it went from animal minds one week to talking with a pimp the next. Is there anything you are staying away from in the show? 

There are definitely some topics that I am not interested in doing. I am not having White Nationalists on because I don’t think that there’s a fun conversation to be had there, and I don’t think I need to get into their idea of what the world is all about. I think Israel and Palestine. I have a strong feeling that we will never have an Israel/Palestine conversation. I mean, god, if I was able to make an Israel/ Palestine episode and make it cool and make it funny I think I could retire from comedy. So maybe that will be my last episode.  

I don’t think we are trying to do the political news cycle. I’m not trying to talk about [Donald] Trump every week. I don’t really care about that. There are other shows that are doing it and doing it better, and they can talk about Trump and I’ll talk about, hopefully, the kind of culture that created Trump. That’s what I want to do.  

Switching gears a little, I’ve read your book and as you mentioned earlier it’s definitely funny but it’s more this Salingered imprint that is the touchstone of everything, and it’s not about the comedian Moshe Kasher. 

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Sure. It’s a lot more sincere than a lot of my standup for sure. 

It’s humor writing as opposed to being about coming up. You flew right past the comedy part, there’s only a small mention. Is that the next book? 

Oh yes, completely. Yes. I did that on purpose. 

I thought it was corny to write a book about drugs and alcohol and then say, “here’s my journey to recovery.” I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to tell the story as it was. But the next book that I am working on—I haven’t shopped it yet so we are not quite there yet—but it’s what’s next. What was after that molten bath what emerged form the iron.

If I sell it and it gets published it’s a very deliberate writing style where it is not a mere sequel but takes a different form of storytelling. Each part of the book is not connected to a time but rather connected to a social scene and one of the would be comedy. 

I spoke to Pete Holmes a couple of months back and he is very into the comic origin story as he calls it. Your first book is definitely that. The funny thing is, though, from your first two albums most of it is not focused on that—except for the Jew parts. Maybe I am wrong…

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No you are definitely right. It’s not confessional comedy at all. I never really was a confessional comedian and I am still not a confessional comedian. But, my third album—the next special—will be a lot more personal and have a lot more stuff that comes from the memoir and stuff like that. But, I am a comedian, I am not a autobiographer, well I guess I am an autobiographer, scratch that. My point is that I have always wondered why—and I am not suggesting you are saying this—people think confessional comedy is the best and highest form of comedy. It’s all good comedy if it’s funny. Any comedy is the best form of comedy. 

Yeah, I don’t think that at all. The way I view is as a writer and then also a comic. 

Yeah, I think that is right. I wanted that difference to be true when I wrote that book. I was really happy about it. The one thing that really bums me out when I was shopping my book around, was you’d get these copies of books by comedians that they’d published, some comedians books are amazing and beautiful, but a lot of them you read them and you’re like, “Oh, you were just trying to make some money.” 

I didn’t know if I would ever write another book, if I would continue to be successful, and I was like I’m not going to waste this amazing opportunity that I have dreamed about my whole life. I mean, I have thought about writer a book a lot more than I thought about appearing on late-night growing up. 

I can tell that, but it is interesting to see the totally different things that are obviously intertwined but have their own mediums and space. 

I think that maybe that is a theme of the show. Like, these different identities coming together. Not just my own, but also everybody’s from these different polarized identities coming together. 

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[Problematic] is one hundred percent a comedy about big things. The most powerful part of the book, for me, was that it was a kind of thing where it was a comedy about serious stuff, and I think people like that.  Actually, I don’t know what people like. I know I like that. I enjoy reading stuff that makes me laugh and also makes me feel stuff or makes me sick. 

Especially the Jewish humor tradition of gallows humor and turning dark into light. 

Absolutely. That Shalom Aleichem book, Some Laughter, Some Tears. I thought that summed up the Jewish experience pretty perfectly. 

I’m hoping the show is more laughter than there are tears. 

Problematic with Moshe Kasher premieres April 18th at 10:00 p.m. on Comedy Central.