Thirty minutes into a high-flying conversation with Joshua Cole, founder of the smash hit British club night “Buttmitzvah,” he hits me with this quip.
“If it was called Inherited Trauma, I don’t know how many people would come.”
If you find the party’s given name a bit cringeworthy, the tagline — “the ultimate cumming of age party” — may not help. But Buttmitzvah’s organizers aren’t afraid of the cringe factor. They’re more interested in camp, satire, and celebration. And wordplay. (See: Buttmitzvah.)
“I had the name before I had the party,” Josh tells me. For three years, the London-based comedy-producer and party planner was sitting on this idea. It took a conversation with a fellow friend and comedian Simon Amstell to realize the night should actually mirror the experience of going to a bar/bat mitzvah. Three years later, they’re working on their 8th edition of the “immersive, experiential, satirical, subversive, all-gender clubnight-comedy-theater-megamix” party, and bringing it to New York City for the first time this upcoming Halloween weekend.
Growing up Jewish in the UK, Josh tells me, felt in some ways more isolating than being queer. And he still struggles with the connection between these two identities. “It’s in there in black and white, you aren’t allowed,” he says, referring to the prohibitions against homosexuality in the Torah. Buttmitzvah, he admits, is an attempt at creating a Jewish space he feels a part of.
Buttmitzvah founder Joshua Cole as pharaoh.
I tell Josh about my own bat mitzvah, which I recall as a series of awkward social settings and a deep sort of dissatisfaction. I’m not sure I’m ready for a repeat, even held at a gay bar, I admit. Am I the only one who remembers their bat mitzvah as, in a word, isolating?
“That’s being a young queer person” charges Josh. “We all experience that, at some extent, where all the other kids are talking about the boys and talking about the girls. And this was a big part [of Buttmitzvah], to reconcile this.”
After all, how else do queers respond to feeling isolated but by creating new, queer family? And so, Josh and his co-creators developed a backstory for this club night, starring the Rimmer family (yup), hosts of their daughter Becky’s bat/buttmitzvah. This traditional British Jewish family they created even has cousins, the Clitovitzes (double yup) of Long Island, here to welcome us to their simcha, or celebration, in Brooklyn.
If your own b*mitzah (as the cool kids are calling the gender-free version these days) featured backup dancers, glowsticks, and prom-like dresses, perhaps the level of camp at Buttmitzah will feel familiar. “You feel like you’re going to a simcha,” Josh promises. “We’re trying to create a really powerful experience.” And, of course, to poke fun at our institutions.
Buttmitzvah NYC will have all the standard trappings of a mitzvah, plus some: chair-dancing, “kosher-ish” catering, awkward speeches, a shofar-blowing competition, and a drag troupe from Boston called Turmohel.
But when it comes down to it, it’s not all fun and kitsch (though it is a LOT of fun and kitsch). “There’s lots of heaviness in the Jewish community,” Josh tells me. “Anti-Semitism is becoming popular again.” Our celebrations are bound to come up against these tragedies. Case in point: They held a Buttmitzvah the week after the attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue last year. This year’s party will be just after the one-year anniversary.
“Our existence is incredibly political,” Josh tells me. “It’s becoming important that we continue to shout loudly and proudly about being LBGT, and being Jewish.”
Buttmitzvah has seen thousands of people come together to celebrate — okay, I’ll say it — the ultimate cumming of age ritual. At one party, Josh’s friend brought his mom, and they danced, together, to what Josh calls “the beats of our ancestors” (though whether he meant “Hava Nagila” or “I Will Survive” I’m not sure).
“That instinct of belonging is really powerful,” Josh says. I’d call this instinct — to build family and community through celebration — one of joy and of survival, a practice of resilience.
So, see you there?
Buttmitzvah: NYC Challahween is on Saturday, November 2 at 3 Dollar Bill in Brooklyn. Get tickets here. Photos courtesy of Joshua Cole.