Comics Take Sides in Rift Over Anne Frank Jokes
LOS ANGELES — For the past two years, the Comedy Central-sponsored “Sit ’n’ Spin” nights have provided a supportive setting for local comedy writers to try out new material on an audience of their peers. The humor is usually profane and often sexually explicit, and the writers who gather twice a month at Hollywood’s Hudson Guild Theatre are like family.
Or at least they were, until one brought up Anne Frank. Now some in the once tight-knit circle of comedy writers are no longer on speaking terms.
The friendly atmosphere was shattered September 29 when Jon Hayman, a Jewish former “Seinfeld” writer, did a routine in which he pretended to be Anne Frank reading a typical teenage girl’s summer camp diary entries — only the camp in this instance was Auschwitz. Hayman’s routine had Frank — who actually died in Bergen Belsen — innocently wondering why the Dachau and Auschwitz softball teams wore the same uniforms, referring to the pulling of gold teeth as a camp arts and crafts activity and offering lewd descriptions of sexual encounters with historical figures such as Jackie Kennedy, John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I love Anne Frank humor as much as the next guy,” said Jill Soloway, one of Sit ’n’ Spin’s two producers. “I was a little freaked out [by Hayman’s piece]. I didn’t think that he shouldn’t have done it. It was certainly on that edge; it was something that was begging for the groans.”
But one first-time attendee went further. Annie Korzen, a comic actress who had a small recurring role on “Seinfeld,” heckled Hayman, calling him an “abomination.”
Soloway responded by offering Korzen a slot at the October 16 Sit ’n’ Spin — much to the dismay of many of the show’s regulars. She and Korzen both said they received ugly e-mails, including threats to heckle Korzen into silence.
Soloway, a supervising producer on the HBO series “Six Feet Under,” said that some writers who were friends with both her and Hayman “were really, really, really angry at me for putting [Korzen] on stage.”
Korzen performed her rebuttal routine without incident, coming onstage after two men crassly satirized their poor sex lives and a woman joked about her abusive ex-boyfriend. Korzen called Hayman’s routine an example of “the contempt that some Jewish men have for Jewish women.”
One comedy writer, however, was determined not to let Korzen have the last word. Ron Zimmerman, who has been a producer on the WB’s family drama “Seventh Heaven,” took the stage and read from Holocaust revisionist literature, asking why Korzen was not heckling. He then read from Hayman’s original routine, prompting Korzen’s husband to storm out.
The Hudson Guild Theatre’s management — not Soloway or her co-producer — cut his set short, announcing the show’s end and cuing the house band.
Zimmerman was livid as the audience left; he launched into a profanity-laced tirade: “Imbeciles! Get out!… And I won’t leave the stage until you’re all gone! The last Jewish man standing, that’s what I am!”
Some of the comedy writers are still upset by what they see as the intrusion of prudishness into their oasis for ribald humor.
Zimmerman accused Korzen of having “managed to sneak in there and take advantage of every artist’s basic immaturity and manipulate an entire community of artists and take over an entire community of artists and the show.”
Korzen, whose one-woman show, “Yenta Unplugged,” tours Jewish community centers nationwide, said that her mostly male detractors likely view her as “the mommy who said ‘no.’ I think the response has been very much like children having temper tantrums.”
Things have since cooled down — sort of. At the next Sit ’n’ Spin nobody stormed out in anger, nobody was cut off and nobody heckled — with the exception of one person who mocked Korzen by interrupting a friend’s bit about McDonald’s McGriddles, accusing the performer of committing an “abomination” against the breakfast food.
Zimmerman, however, says he will not return until he receives an apology from theater management.
Zimmerman is not the only one for whom Sit ’n’ Spin has lost some of its charm. Generally with Sit ’n’ Spin shows, Soloway said, “everybody goes out afterward, and that’s kind of stopped. Everybody still goes out, I just don’t.”