There are many stand-up comics, but how many wear their jokes on their sleeves? One funnyman from New York — a city not shy on stand-up — who does is Steven Bender, 24, the owner and creator of Off the Desk T-shirts, which boast pithy ripostes to contemporary culture such as “Hebrew School Dropout” and “Did I See You on JDate?” They are snarky. They are cheeky. They are often very funny indeed.
“The whole T-shirt thing started on the Fourth of July almost completely as a joke,” the young entrepreneur told the Forward. He was on his way to an Independence Day bash in Brooklyn last year, when he pulled up the e-vite and saw the responses: “I’m not coming; I’ll be in the Hamptons.” With a smirk, he took a white V-neck and wrote, “Who Needs the Hamptons?” on the back. He pulled his creation over his head and jumped on the subway. At the party, people giggled and gushed. “You could totally sell that in all the stores,” they told him.
After that, Bender — who has been known to yuk it up to audiences at comedy clubs such as Stand-up New York and Gotham — began “cranking out all these iron-ons and coming up with all these one-liners,” he said. It turned out that the asides of everyday life made perfect fodder for tongue-in-cheek T-shirts, which cost $24 apiece and can be purchased at Offthedesk.com. Inspiration is lurking everywhere. It can be “something that you hear someone saying over dinner,” he said, “or you’re telling a story, or you’re complaining about something or you see something on a sign or a billboard or on a side of a bus.” In other words, he has turned everyday irreverence into an art.
What are some of the other T-shirts in the works? “Let’s Play Jewish Geography,” “Did We Go to Camp Together?,” “The Doorman Never Talks,” “Brown Rice Dollar Extra,” “Sunday Was Made for Bagels and Lox,” “Celebrate Christmas in Boca” and “Not Just Kosher for Passover.”
So is Bender really a Hebrew school dropout? Hardly. As a youth he attended Hebrew school at Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Livingston, N.J., and celebrated his second bar mitzvah in Israel at Masada.
Then how did the “Hebrew School Dropout” T-shirt come into being? “It goes back to the third grade,” he said. “Some girl dropped out of Hebrew school.” While he can no longer remember his role in writing the lyrics, the song he used to sing about her to his classmates still sounds in his head. Think “Beauty School Dropout” from the movie “Grease”: “Hebrew school dropout, no bat mitzvah date for you.”
Bender said the “the first time I did stand-up” served as more recent inspiration. “The whole time,” he said, “I was talking about your cell phone and people blabbing, and you’re like, ‘Listen, I only have 200 minutes,’ so you finally say to her, ‘Listen, I’ll be home in five minutes; stop wasting my daytime minutes….’” This comedy routine keeps them laughing in one of his tees: “Stop Wasting My Daytime Minutes.”
But consider yourself warned: The next time you’re being snarky, your words might just end up on one of Bender’s T-shirts.
Laurie Heifetz interviews celebrities for New York Post Travel.