A Coupla Jewish Writers Talk Theater, Drinking and Escaping the Midwest

Joshua Furst Throws Some Back With Brooke Berman


By Joshua Furst

Published March 09, 2014, issue of March 14, 2014.
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That’s what makes you such a Midwesterner!

One of my first friends here was from Minneapolis and he would often talk about us as Midwestern-New Yorkers. There was this kind of person who comes to New York but is from the Midwest and who still looks you in the eye and says hi and is super genuine and a little innocent. I was naïve to a great many things that my friends in New York weren’t naïve to.

Did you feel like your Jewishness marked you as an outsider?

Never.

Never?

No, that’s not true. When we lived in Libertyville, I was one of two Jews in the public school and my mother’s second husband was not Jewish. So my Jewishness marked me as an outsider in my home. And then it was never really an issue.

To me it was a huge issue. There were five Jews in the town. Everybody knew who they were. They would say to your face that they didn’t trust you because you might “Jew them.”

Yeah, I’ve heard stuff like that. The other thing is that I got to my fancy private college that I was really excited to go to and had fought really hard to go to and I kept looking for the psychedelic, like, let’s-go-inspire-each-other-and-make-the-revolution, and those people weren’t there. I was aware of my otherness as a Midwesterner by not being part of the Northeastern educated class.

You were shut out.

I was a freak.

So you’d been shut out, by virtue of being an artist, from your Midwestern society, and then you were shut out of the society that you were trying to join by virtue of being —

You know, I wouldn’t say shut out —

Yeah, I’m totally projecting myself onto your experience here.

I felt like a foreigner. Nobody was shutting me out.

I myself was shutting me out. I was a Midwesterner with zero confidence.

Yeah, me too. I had bravado, I didn’t have confidence.

There’s a big difference between the two. Bravado is what gets you killed.

I got to college and I had never heard of or conceived of white liberal guilt. Jews have such a crazy persecution complex we don’t think of ourselves as the oppressor. We think of ourselves as part of the struggle.

You and I both started out in downtown experimental theater. It was a vibrant, very alive scene back in the late ’80s early ’90s. And we both moved away from that world. And I know why I moved away. I had been writing fiction as well and I was fighting with everybody I knew in theater and I thought, well, why don’t I just keep doing this other thing. When you moved away, you entered, I want to call it legit theater.

None of it was intentional. I loved downtown theater. I was chronicling the lives of my friends and I was interested in really small things, but always with a downtown sensibility. Then I wrote a 10-minute play that got produced by Naked Angels. They grounded the whole thing in a naturalistic construct. I didn’t know enough about playwriting to understand why that was unsatisfying to me. After that, I decided that I needed to go back to school.

So you went to Julliard.

Right. But it wasn’t strategic. I applied to a lot of programs and then Christopher Durang called and said come to Julliard and it’s free. I felt like the infinite universe sort of picked me up and said ‘I’ve got a plan for you baby.’

This is what’s so interesting to me. This is specific to us, to the people who were born within four of five years of us. The people in the exact same position that you and I were in, but were five years older, they —

They got funding, yo.

— they had been able to build their careers downtown without it being pulled out from under them. And people five years after us, it would never have occurred to them to throw their lives away on this dream about the purity of art. This idea of collaboration that we were exploring in our 20s didn’t have the idea of the noxious relationship between money and art. I feel like you moved to LA and you put yourself into the mouth of the lion. Now you’re doing a different kind of collaboration that harkens back to what was happening in the early ’90s.

Well, the move to LA was about writing for film and television, but while I was in LA I realized that if I wanted to see the kinds of films that I really wanted to make made, I’d have to make them myself.

And you made a movie.

It’s called “Uggs for Gaza,” and it’s based on a story that Gordon wrote. The idea is that a guy moves to LA. He doesn’t know anybody. He goes to a party. He tells people he’s Joe Schmo who works in marketing and they’re not interested. So he drinks a little bit and meets a hot girl and in order to impress her he pretends that he runs a nonprofit. And she asks him which one and he says, off the top of his head, Uggs for Gaza, we send Ugg boots to the Gaza Strip and she says, “Oh my god, I think I’ve heard of that.” And she tells all her friends and he’s besieged by Ugg boots.

Is the movie out yet?

It’s on the festival circuit. We’re waiting to hear.

Oh, my god, Gordon, speak of the devil. It’s good to see you!


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