Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Jewish comedian Remy Kassimir, here to save the world that’s absolutely gone to total shit.
As soon as coronavirus put everyone’s social life on lockdown, Kassimir, 30, responded with a quick trip to a local Michaels for supplies. No, she wasn’t stocking up on huffing glue to get through being stranded at her boyfriend’s childhood home in Portland — the NYC-based comedian swiped her card to pick up supplies to recreate a comedy club in their home. And thus, Remy’s Comedy Club was born.
A belated shehechayanu (Jewish blessing for firsts) is due for Remy: On Saturday, March 14, the platinum blonde Jewess rallied the troops and aired her first-ever Instagram live from Remy’s Comedy Club called “Saturday Night Instagram Live,” featuring a roster of stand-up comics including Eitan Levine, Eileen Hanley, Dan Perlman, and Dylan Adler. It was all she could do to lift her spirits after her last brick-and-mortar show.
“One of the live in-person shows was cancelled [the last night she performed] due to COVID-19 and the rush I felt on stage immediately turned into ‘OMG I am not going to be here again for a very long time,” Kassimir told me via text. “I’ve always anticipated really difficult times and kind of thrive in them. Humor and creativity is the only option.”
I first saw Kassimir perform at our mutual friend Emily Wilson’s monthly stand-up show a few years back, and I’ve been fangirling ever since. Since diving into the comedy pool five years ago, Kassimir launched her own show “Bacon Bits” at The Stand in New York City and has helped hundreds of women achieve their first orgasm through her hit podcast How Cum (she also co-hosts We Really Love Island with Wilson). Taken with her latest initiative of tikkun olam, I caught up with Kassimir to talk about her most inherently Jewish act yet: sparking a light in dark times through humor.
Let’s knock this tired question out of the park: How have you been holding up with self-isolation?
Honestly I have been holding up okay and I feel that I got lucky during all of this. My boyfriend and I (another comic) were already in Portland, Oregon visiting his parents on the way to do shows on the West Coast when we found out how serious the virus was getting in the U.S. I had been planning to go to LA for shows and podcasts, and then to Houston for a comedy festival, but day-by-day things were getting cancelled and we decided to self quarantine [in Portland] since it seemed like stand-up and comedy were not going to be happening anywhere else.
The weather is good here, there’s more nature, weed is cheaper in Oregon, his parents have a house much bigger than my apartment, and they cook and eat regularly, which I know I would NOT be doing if I was alone with my cat in NYC. So I feel like I have a very cope-able situation, and I understand a lot of people are struggling a lot more than I have been. [My boyfriend’s parents] also gave me a separate bedroom to keep my clothes in and it has become my office/my escape from my boyfriend when I need it!
Being a live performer, have you been hit with economic hardship since the pandemic?
The paths to making money and performing have both changed. Since clubs have shut down, I’m not able to make money on the shows I host and produce — Bacon Bits at The Stand — and I’m obviously not being booked on other paid shows since venues are closed.
As far as money is concerned, my boyfriend and I were laughing the other day that comics are probably saving money in a lot of ways from not doing shows anymore. In NYC you can do four shows in a night and a lot of them are only paid in stage-time, so sometimes you end up spending more on travel than what you made on the sets. Most comics at our level are not living on stand-up money alone — they either have a day job, side gig, or a podcast. I know some of them have lost jobs as well. My podcasts How Cum and We Really Love Island have both been on a break between sessions, but now that I have so much more time I will likely bring both back to give people quarantine entertainment, as well as to make money for myself in lieu of produced shows.
So tell me about how you conceived the idea to stream your shows.
I miss stand-up so much. It feeds me mentally and creatively, and the second I found out we’d be quarantined I was like, we need to just do it online. I quickly texted a few comic friends, like, “Would you be willing to do this?” and put up an Instagram poll asking my followers if they’d watch this, or even Venmo the comics. 95% of people said yes.
One guy wrote me separately and was like, “‘Where’s the HELL YES and I”ll pay you so much,’ option?” So I booked a bunch of guaranteed funny comics, made a two-hours long sound track of laughs, music, clapping, and did my first Instagram live EVER on Saturday, March 14. I called it Saturday Night Instagram Live.
Your first live ever, mazel tov! How’d it go?
The first one went great. So many new followers for everyone, so many comics felt a serotonin rush again — FINALLY! So I wanted to ramp things up: I went to Michael’s for some supplies to build “Remy’s Comedy Club” in my boyfriend’s high school bedroom. Now I Instagram Live with other comics as my screen shows the comedy club so it looks like the viewers are in the club, and I play the laugh track after their punchlines when people applaud in the comics.
After the first “club” show I had a performer’s high like you wouldn’t believe — for two hours! And like, I hadn’t felt that in what feels like the longest time ever. So I made it permanent and created a handle on Instagram and Twitter — @Remyscomedyclub.
I don’t know where it’ll go from here, but I’ve been doing them on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I feel like it’s getting more fun every time. The second show had comics quarantining from NYC, Denver, LA, and Virginia. And this last one was the first international show, with Oliver Polak streaming in from Berlin, Germany.
What’s the response been like from fans and the comics who perform?
Fans have been loving it more than I thought they would! Our second show had 6-7,000 viewers. There’s so much support in the comments, and the comics gain followers and are Venmo-ed after, too! Fans have been vocal about laugh track volume — we’re working on perfecting it! — but ultimately come back for more every week.
From the comics, the responses have been amazing. They say it’s given them that serotonin rush they’ve been craving — they’re basically laugh junkies — and some have thanked me for “doing this for the NYC comedy community” and giving them a forum to tell their jokes again while making some money.
Laugh junkies, lol. Have you gotten any flack from other comedians?
There have been comics who’ve posted jokes about it saying they’d never do it, that it would “ruin the art of stand-up comedy.” But those same comics have been watching my lives religiously, so, we’ll see if they change their minds. I feel like there is room for both and while one isn’t going on, there’s no harm in supplementing people’s craving for comedy.
Anyway, I took a screenshot of their comments, posts, and stories shitting on live streams just so I can send them when this shit takes over and they inevitably do someone else’s live show in the future (insert devil face emoji). I’ve already seen 10 live shows popping up this week alone.
What are the best and worst parts about social distancing?
The best part is that creepy people and close talkers have to stay away and learn a little bit about themselves. For example, this guy waiting on line at the pharmacy with me kept trying to chat and floated closer to me. I just kept pointing out the X he was meant to be standing on. Six feet, buddy.
The worst part is that extroverts seem to be having a tough time. I am sorry for that, but cannot relate.
I want to talk about Jews and humor. Tell me more about how your Jewish identity has impacted your comedy.
My family has always been funny but also dysfunctional enough to have to joke about it. They are often the subject of my jokes and also the reason why I have drive — they don’t fully believe any career besides medicine, accounting, and law can actually become successful, so I work every day to prove them wrong.
I have an amazing story about Jews using comedy to get through stuff, and I think about it all the time. When I visited Germany a few years ago, I did a tour of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp with a guide, Gabe, who had spent his life interviewing Holocaust survivors. Gabe showed us the whole camp and then our last stop was the kitchens, which was apparently the best place to work for prisoners at the time. He told us this story about a Jewish man, David, who was in Sachsenhausen during the Holocaust.
Here’s the story he told me, paraphrased from David:
“The only night the Jews were ever left completely alone was Christmas, because the guards were in their own dining hall and all the Jews/ prisoners were left in the kitchen. We decided since we were alone that we were going to do a stand-up comedy show. I was performing and doing very well, so well that everyone was laughing so loud that an SS guard came to see what the ruckus was. He said, ‘What’s going on?’ as I was on stage and I realized I had three options: stop telling the jokes — but then he’d take my jokes written on paper and he’d kill me; keep telling the jokes, and then he’d kill me; start telling completely different jokes that are harmless. So I did the third and started telling the stupidest jokes — why did the chicken cross the road, etc. — and as the jokes became more mundane the crowd, who knew what was going on, laughed louder. Finally, the guard said, ‘These Jews have no sense of humor,’ and left.”
Gabe said David saved his life that night, which I always think about. But I also think about how [Jews] were using humor to save their lives constantly, going so far as to do stand up in the Holocaust.
Wow. One last question: What Yiddish word would you use to describe this year?
This year is verkakte (shitty)!
Image courtesy of Remy Kassimir