Allison Raskin, left, produces a weekly webseries, Just Between Us, with her best friend and comedy partner, Gaby Dunn. (photo from Allison Raskin)
Tens of millions of online viewers may have learned a little bit more about being Jewish after seeing Allison Raskin’s wacky BuzzFeed videos.
There, the young actor has brought her comedic take on many topics. Her Jewish shtick includes such witty shorts as 11 Things Jewish Friends Just Get, Christmas Explained by Jews, Jews Decorate Christmas Trees for the First Time and the Funny or Die video 1-800-4-Jew-Now, where nice Jewish girls Rebecca and Rachel make themselves available as fill-in dates for family get-togethers.
“Finding success on YouTube has been both the most exciting and confusing thing that has ever happened to me (other than my bat mitzvah),” she wrote recently on her blog.
Raskin, a Scarsdale, N.Y.-native, who now calls Los Angeles home, also performs improv and stand-up around Los Angeles, and produces a weekly webseries, Just Between Us, with her best friend and comedy partner, Gaby Dunn. With more than a hundred segments thus far, they tackle relationship issues in an irreverent and unconventional manner.
“Basically, it’s two girls on a couch giving love advice, but we’re terrible at giving advice,” explained Raskin. “That’s the shtick. It’s not at all about the questions or advice, but about our relationship. People say we’re the odd couple, a classic comedy approach.”
The Jewish Independent recently caught up with Raskin.
DG: What videos of yours are your favorites?
AR: A couple of contenders for different reasons. If Buying Condoms Was Like Buying Birth Control, I’m really proud of that one because I think it had a message and did really well. From a comedic level, that didn’t do well, but the writing was good. The other, Is This a Date?, is a sketch I liked. It’s a miscommunication between a man and a woman, and how their dialogue confused each other.
DG: You’ve done a few videos with Jewish content. Is our heritage and culture inherently funny?
AR: We all know how our families behave. Sometimes there’s a larger familiarity people will get even if they’re not a part of your family. I find things funny in my family and people I grew up with that I’m sure are funny to other people also.
DG: So, how do you make a Jewish video funny to people who don’t know about Jewish culture?
AR: The hope is that you’ll relate, even if you’re not Jewish or have a lot of Jewish friends that get it. At the end of the day, everyone is just human and we all do just funny things. My sister is married to an Italian and their family is very similar to ours. It’s all about the food; everyone is into each other’s lives, it’s all just loud and fun and caring. Even if they’re Roman Catholic, there’s a lot of similar culture there. And Italian has always been our favorite food.
DG: Are any of your comedic influences Jewish?
AR: My friends flatter me and say I’m like a female Woody Allen, but I know they’re just sucking up. But I definitely relate to some aspects of his point of view and I think that there are certain neuroses that I bring to some of my characters that are similar.
Other than that, one comedic influence is Julia Louis-Dreyfus (not Jewish). She has such presence – timeless and perfect and commanding. I love Veep.
DG: Is comedy natural to you?
AR: I think you either have it or you don’t. Have spark of it, or don’t. But you have to nurture and grow with that spark. It’s something you study and refine over years, with stand-up especially. Refining just my presence on stage took a long time, not just the actual jokes, but how I would deliver them was a whole journey. Just have to kind of need to love it.
All I ever want to do is to make a good joke. That’s what drives me day in and day out. Not just on the internet, but also to my best friends.
DG: What’s the environment like with other BuzzFeed actors?
AR: It’s definitely work; but it’s like working at a college campus – everyone is friends, we hang out, it’s great, awesome to be surrounded by young, talented people who want to do the same stuff you want to do. So, it’s definitely a fun office. I’ve been to my dad’s law office and it’s nothing like that.
DG: You’ve done some of the famous taste-test videos of ethnic foods. What would you eat again?
AR: Boiled peanuts. Everything in the Southern taste test was incredible. Okra was incredible. All I think about now is okra and boiled peanuts and how to get them.
DG: Have you tried okra in beef stew?
AR: I don’t eat beef, so maybe I’d pick it out. I’ve been a vegetarian for ethics reasons since I was 8, but now I eat birds and fish.
DG: BuzzFeed fans found out through the Jewish videos that there are other young Jewish actors at BuzzFeed. Do you guys hang out or talk Jewish stuff?
AR: Nah, maybe like “Oh, what are you doing for Passover? Hmm, nothing.” A lot of people were shocked that more than one Jew works at BuzzFeed.
Most of my friends, oddly enough, are Jewish and there’s shared culture there. I thought, with the video of Jews explaining Christmas, some online comments were antisemitic, and then the one with Christians explaining Chanuka nobody cared about.
DG: Did it upset you?
AR: I grew up surrounded by Jews, so I forget that there’s a lot of antisemitism in the world.
DG: What’s funny about being Jewish?
AR: Um, my mother. I just think the traditional Jewish mom is so funny to me. It’s already been passed on; if someone doesn’t call me back, I think they’re dead. I really have to work on my anxiety about thinking everyone’s dead.
DG: OK, pop quiz. Just like in the videos: A Jew explains Easter. Go!
AR: Oh, crap. That’s the one where Jesus is born, no, dies? He dies, right? Something about bunnies and chocolate? Lent, where you swear off doing something? The stores are closed?
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer and managing editor of landmarkreport.com.