Shalom Life | July 01, 2014

Judges Love Standup, Rabbis Not So Much [VIDEO]

12-year-old Josh Orlian provided much entertainment for the America’s Got Talent judges, but to the dismay of his yeshiva

By: Graham Sigurdson

Published: June 27th, 2014 in News » World

The ever popular America’s Got Talent is back and, as always, for every five acts that fail to impress, there is one that shines. Josh Orlian, a 12-year-old comic, was one such act, with his raunchy stand-up routine proving wildly popular to both the show’s judges – which features fellow Jews Howard Stern and Howie Mandel.

Orlian’s act both seemed to shock and entertain: the judges unanimously put him through to the next round of the show. His yeshiva, however, did not feel the same way.

In an email obtained by the JTA, Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, the head of Orlian’s Yeshiva, the Westchester Day School, noted that “The message conveyed by such a performance was entirely contrary to the Modern Orthodox values taught and lived at WDS. The student and the family have committed to never repeating this kind of comic performance in the future.”

The performance aired on NBC on June 17th, and – perhaps unsurprisingly for a 12-year-old male – featured jokes exclusively about Orlian’s genitals, or actions that relate to them.


“When I first got here and saw the line of people waiting to audition, my father said to me, ‘Wow, this is so much longer than I expected it to be,” begins one joke. Then, a proud smile crossing his face, Orlian continues with “The last time I heard those words, I was at my doctor getting a physical!” earning both screeches and laughter from the audience.

For his third joke – of the three he told, and again, about oral sex – Howie Mandel stands to applaud as an uneasy Heidi Klum and Mel B look on. Mandel mused that the performance would prove a hit at Orlian’s future bar mitzvah, adding that “If nothing else, you’ve got a great piece of tape for the reception,” while Stern noted that, while Orlian would have to work on his stage presence, he did have “…good material.”

In reality, at least one of Orlian’s jokes had been borrowed from a 2011 stand-up gig his father had performed at Gotham Comedy Club. Something to which Joseph Orlian declined to comment on to the JTA

That said, the performance was not as popular with some members of the Jewish community. David Rothner, director of the New Jersey nonprofit Areyvut – which provides Jewish youths with volunteer opportunities – spoke to the JTA about how he felt that Orlian’s performance reflected poorly on the community. “There’s a difference between conversing at camp with friends and doing it on national TV,” he said, adding “For parents to approve of that is troublesome.”

Likewise, some online commentators decried the performance as “chilul Hashem.”

Detractors aside, Orlian’s performance did have some champions, with Conservative rabbi blogger Jason Miller arguing that Orlian had done what was necessary to advance: make the audience laugh. “Sure, it could be argued that Josh’s jokes were tasteless enough that he was violating the Jewish ethic of tzniyut (modest behaviour), but what came out of Josh’s mouth was not anything that’s never been heard or alluded to on Prime Time TV in the past,” he said on his blog. He further suggested that, for Judges Stern and Mandel, the performance resonated with them. “They became nostalgic for the teen versions of themselves. Both guys were shocking their parents friends with dirty jokes, profanity and sexually themed humor from a young age.”

Westchester Hebrew High School, which Orlian’s brother attends, did not seem as welcoming, removing a Facebook post from earlier in the year that announced Orlian’s mother and father – who appeared on America’s Got Talent and were the basis of many of the jokes – had been named parents of the year.

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