Nato Green, Offender of the Faith

At 11, Comedian Told Rabbi He Didn't Believe in God

Funny Guy: Nato Green was a comedian at an early age. He incorporated a comic book and Lenny Bruce into his bar mitzvah.
Alex Thornton
Funny Guy: Nato Green was a comedian at an early age. He incorporated a comic book and Lenny Bruce into his bar mitzvah.

By Sheerly Avni

Published August 16, 2012, issue of August 24, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Now 37, Nato Green stands tall, with a deep sonorous voice and just enough of a spare tire to justify his riffs on personal gluttony. It’s difficult to connect his attractive adult persona with the outsider his parents describe. But Green says he grew up feeling very alienated, especially as a Jew in San Francisco. This was due in part to the city’s small Jewish community, and in part to that community’s affluent, German-Jewish Gold Rush-era ancestry. In high school, during a phase he refers to as “Early Trenchcoat Mafia,” Green often daydreamed about a Jewish New York of some magical, bygone era: He imagined watching Yiddish theater on the Lower East Side, drinking coffee with members of the Frankfurt School and listening to the Ramones at CBGB. “It seems like there are these major moments that I would have had a place in,” he says, “and that I would feel more comfortable in than I do in my own life.”

In his teens and 20s, Nato Green visited San Francisco comedy clubs, where he watched performers such as Greg Proops, Margaret Cho, Arj Barker, Will Durst and Jake Johannsen. But after a few humiliating attempts at trying stand-up while a student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, he set aside those dreams and joined the labor movement back home, starting off his 12-year career as an organizer by trying to form a union when he was working at Noah’s Bagels in San Francisco. (He got fired.)

When he returned to comedy, Green’s organizing skills came in handy for setting up shows and recruiting audiences, and he rose to prominence in a very short time, to the point where after a few years, the now-married father of twins decided to flout all common sense and quit the labor movement for the even more thankless career of full-time comic. That career choice has hardly lessened his political engagement, though: For the past year, Green has acted as the Bay Area Occupy Movement’s comic laureate, performing at encampments, blogging about politics for the Huffington Post, and, in 2011, embarking on a national tour called “Laughter Against The Machine,” with performers Janine Brito and W. Kamau Bell.

When Bell landed his six-episode deal with FX to host his own late-night comedy show, his first move was to try to staff his writers’ room with as many of his favorite comics and collaborators as possible. “I had to have him,” says Bell. “Nato is the country’s preeminent political comedian — even if the country doesn’t know it yet.” In late May, Green got a call from the FX offices, giving him less than 10 days to pack up and get himself to Brooklyn, where, he says, he’s spent the past three months “converting from being a burrito-based life form to a falafel-based form.”

Even before he moved to Brooklyn, Green knew that the New York he once dreamed of is gone, if it ever even existed. But at least he no longer has to explain his Judaism to new audiences or acquaintances, the way he often did in San Francisco. “For the first time, I don’t have to represent my entire species,” he says, adding “I’m open to the idea of a Jewish right-of-return… to New York.”

Sheerly Avni’s work has appeared in Salon, Esquire, LA Weekly, and Mother Jones. Follow her on Twitter @sheerly


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • Meet Alvin Wong. He's the happiest man in America — and an observant Jew. The key to happiness? "Humility."
  • "My first bra was a training bra, a sports bra that gave the illusion of a flat chest."
  • "If the people of Rwanda can heal their broken hearts and accept the Other as human, so can we."
  • Aribert Heim, the "Butcher of Mauthausen," died a free man. How did he escape justice?
  • This guy skipped out on seder at his mom's and won a $1 million in a poker tournament. Worth it?
  • Sigal Samuel's family amulet isn't just rumored to have magical powers. It's also a symbol of how Jewish and Indian rituals became intertwined over the centuries. http://jd.fo/a3BvD Only three days left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.