What happens if you cross the irreverence of Monty Python with the sacred cows of Jewish and Israeli life and history?
The result is Ha Yehudim Ba’im (The Jews are Coming), a controversial sketch-comedy show from Israeli TV that has the guts to add belly laughs to the execution of a Nazi war criminal and poke fun at the origins (not to mention the pain) of God’s covenant with Abraham that required the circumcision of his son.
Co-creator Natalie Marcus credits her desire to avoid hard work for much of the show’s success.“My writing partner Asaf Beiser and I are long time history buffs (and Monty Pythons) so the idea came natural for us,” Marcus told the Daily Dot.
“If we do a sketch comedy show,” she said, “we decided our focus should be history. Besides we are lazy, and the history has been written by other people. All we needed to do was give our interpretation.”
Ha Yehudim Ba’im was supposed to premiere in October 2013, but right-wing members of the Israeli national legislature, the Knesset, came out against the Israeli Broadcasting Authority’s decision to air it, sparking a mess of political entanglements. After the creators campaigned to get their show on the air and several personnel shifts at the broadcast agency, the first episode finally aired in early November 2014, with a total of 12 episodes scheduled for season 1.
Marcus said that despite some of the pre-premiere concerns, the reception has been positive and has even changed the profile of Israel’s public TV channel.
“More than a year ago, the controversial promo aired that made a lot of noise and delayed the show for over a year,” she said. “But now, after it broadcast, we get very warm comments from the audience and critics—people who say they started to watch the public channel after they found it less relevant for many years.”
While perhaps an unfair comparison so early in its run, Ha Yehudim Ba’im bears a resemblance to the early humor of Saturday Night Live. A bit where Israeli guards have difficulty figuring out the hanging procedure when ordered to execute Adolf Eichmann is as funny as it is meaningful: Up until the execution of Eichmann in 1962, Israel had never put a criminal to death, hence the lack of experience in such matters.
Marcus said she believed that looking at history through comedic eyes made its lessons far more accessible to a wider range of people.
“Adults who watch [the show] with their kids and say it sparked discussion about the history and the stories,” she noted. “We recently discovered that sketches were screened in schools, and that makes us really proud.”
All of this makes us wonder: Are any topics off-limits?
“In the editing process, we were afraid a few sketches will not to be understood correctly, so they remained on the cutting room floor,” Marcus said. “I don’t think there were defined lines we did not want to cross, but on every skit, we thought carefully whether we’re saying something just and worthy of saying… and if it’s funny of course.”
Despite the fact the show has only been out for a few weeks, Marcus said that interest is pouring in from the U.S. and Europe. The show has a YouTube channel, and its episodes have English captions and annotations.
Screengrab via רשות השידור/YouTube