It’s pretty clear that the masses of our day don’t need a lot to feel offended and become self-righteous. And so, less than 24 hours after Netflix released the first season of its “Historical Roasts” comedy series – including one of Anne Frank – dozens of furious viewers tweeted that they were canceling their Netflix subscriptions. They called for a boycott of the streaming service because it “demeans the memory of the Holocaust,” and accused the comedians behind the half-hour episode – most of whom are Jewish of course – of anti-Semitism.
It’s almost certain that many of those who complained haven’t seen the Anne Frank roast. If they had, they would have discovered that the final product is very far from demeaning the Holocaust – the opposite is true, in fact.
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This is a sensitive 30 minutes, compassionate, funny and historically accurate. The roast does everything it can to honor the 6 million using humor – the Jewish people’s most effective weapon of survival. The show also uses the stage to get across a message that’s universal, compassionate and relevant today – and it doesn’t hurt that it’s very funny.
During his opening, the show’s host, Jeff Ross – who’s usually a comedian with very little compassion – acts very uncharacteristically and says frankly: “I only kid the ones I love, and Anne Frank is close to my heart.” He tells how much he admired her when he was growing up, how he learned about the history of his religion and family from her, and why she’s the most appropriate figure to have the last laugh about World War II. (The custom at a roast is to give the roastee the last laugh at everyone else.)
The show is filled with references to “The Diary of Anne Frank.” Ross ends his monologue with a universal message: “When we talk about the Holocaust we always say ‘Never forget,’ yet genocides continue to take place all over the world,” he says, and later mentions the killing of Darfurians in Sudan and the civil war in Syria, which for the international community is a strategic issue, not a humanitarian one.
The ghost of Don Rickles
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The other comedians taking part in the roast are Rachel Feinstein as Anne, Jon Lovitz as Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler, Fred Willard as God and Mindy Rickles in the role of her father, Don Rickles. With a moral message, they skillfully combine the unsentimental and the politically incorrect – as is necessary in the last comic territory that leaves P.C. on the outside.
Unlike the standard rules of the roast format, in this case Anne Frank is almost never the subject of ridicule. When Lovitz as Roosevelt limps from his wheelchair to the podium, he focuses on only two things: the old rumor that Hitler had only one testicle, and the Americans’ staying out of the war until the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Lovitz devotes most of his monologue to propose a radically alternative narrative to the one about one of America’s most popular presidents. He makes fun of the Americans’ delay in getting involved in the war, Roosevelt’s draconian immigration laws – a quota of only 15,000 Jews allowed into the United States – and the internment camps established at his orders for Japanese Americans.
The casting of veteran comedian Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler is brilliant, maybe even best-ever quality. As Feinstein/Frank says, it was a victory to let a Jew play Hitler, “and it’s the loudest, most annoying Jew we could possibly find.”
Gottfried has a rich history of making fun of remembrance, starting with 9/11 of all things. He crosses every boundary in his path in all his shows, but even Gottfried is careful to direct his poison at everyone but Frank.
In the exaggerated, nasal Jewish accent he’s known for, Gottfried/Hitler makes fun of the homophobia and racism of America’s “greatest generation.” He pokes fun at privileged white men, goes after the Catholic Church, and repeatedly mocks Roosevelt for not intervening in the war in time. But his only mention of Frank is still the best joke of the show: “Everyone knows you as a hero and a best-selling author, but to me you’ll always be little number 82506.”
Strange bat mitzvah
At the end of the roast, Ross calls Anne Frank to the podium and says: “Anne, I’m sorry to tell you that anti-Semitism is still a scary thing in this world. Even here in America Jewish temples aren’t safe. Your story reminds us to stand up to hate, never give up hope and to never forget.”
When she gets her turn for laughs, Frank calls the show the “most fucked-up bat mitzvah ever,” makes fun of Hitler because he looks like he spent more time in the attic than she did, and gives it to Netflix for offering 5,000 documentaries on Hitler – and not a single one about her.
She ends the show on an almost moving note: “And let’s remember the people that were gone too soon and also, and perhaps most urgently, let’s think about the living, the ones that need us now.” After calling on everyone to raise a glass with her and say “l’chaim, to life,” she adds: “And Hitler, eat a dick.”
If only every memorial ceremony ended that way, with a call to choose life over wallowing in death and a heap of curses on the enemy.
It’s not surprising that the backlash against the Anne Frank roast comes mostly from Jews in the United States and the Netherlands. In Israel, we get less worked up over Holocaust jokes because demeaning the memory of the Shoah has been a daily matter here for a long time.
There’s the frequent use of the word Nazi as a curse, the disproportional comparisons by both right and left of events here and the concentration camps, and of course Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s very subjective and cynical interpretations of the great trauma of the Jewish people.
This is the case whether it’s a folktale about the mufti’s role in the Final Solution, the mentioning of Europe in the ‘30s when Netanyahu talks about the Iranian nuclear deal, or his alliances with far-right leaders around the world – whose supporters include plenty of Holocaust deniers.
I swear I have no intention to tell people what to be offended by, but as far as I’m concerned, not only would I not ban showing the Anne Frank roast, I’d make it part of the curriculum in every school.