Moshe Kasher – a comedian who calls himself “America’s most Jewishly named man” – is a smart dude. He’s got a modern, hip look, with dark, backswept hair, bulky chic glasses and just the right amount of stubble. His stand-up sets are sharply honed, his podcasts contemplative and lengthy, and his new TV show is bursting with more ideas than he can cram into a half hour of late-night TV. He’s successful because he seems like he would be genuinely fun to hang out with.
His new show, which debuted in mid-April on Much in Canada and Comedy Central in the U.S., is called Problematic with Moshe Kasher. It can be summarized as a hybrid panel/talk/sketch/comedy hodgepodge about the social and political issues currently plaguing modern societies.
It’s inescapably Jewish, because Kasher is inescapably Jewish – which makes him a wonderful person to explore these issues, riddled as he is with Jewish guilt, white guilt and a resume full of observational comedy. (I have not read his book, Kasher in the Rye: The True Tale of a White Boy from Oakland Who Became a Drug Addict, Criminal, Mental Patient, and Then Turned 16, but I would like to.)
Yet the first episode of Problematic is jarring. Dealing with the subject of cultural appropriation, Kasher opens with a typical late-night monologue. He then dives into a one-on-one interview with Black-ish director Kenya Barris, then introduces two comedian guests who join the panel, then jumps to an off-set interview with influential Jewish rapper MC Serch, then takes a few questions from the audience (some of which aren’t really questions, so much as comments), then closes with a goofy sketch. And all this is packed into a 21-minute episode.
It’s way too much content for such a short runtime and the editing is distractingly choppy, interrupting the speakers’ cadence to hustle onto the next sentence. I got the sense that the production team was trying out everything they could, as creators often do, to try and gauge what worked best.
Sure enough, some parts do stick out: MC Serch is charmingly insightful on the subject of cultural appropriation, admitting with some thought that he appropriated black culture in the late 1980s and early ’90s, while justifying his actions (it was the first golden age of hip hop, he argues – of course a Jewish rapper was going to emulate the best) and slamming current appropriators like Iggy Azalea for just trying to look cool.
The show falls very much into the oeuvre of left-leaning, late-night talk shows, of which I believe there are already far too many. The first three episodes preach to the leftist Comedy Central crowd without changing anyone’s mind.
But there’s good news: Problematic doesn’t have to be like that. In fact, by the sounds of it, Kasher doesn’t want it to be.
In a recent interview with entertainment website The A.V. Club, he talks about wanting to do an episode on the liberal case for guns. “That’s the perfect example of an issue that I don’t necessarily agree with the premise of, and yet I see that there is an argument for,” he says.
And I agree: it would be refreshing. A late-night leftist who actually challenged his audience’s beliefs would be unlike any other late-night show out there.
And Moshe Kasher could be just the guy to do it. “I’ve always resented the idea that the primary positioning of the comedian ought to be to bring great change or social justice,” he told The Gist podcast. “But it’s a thing now.”
It’s not a thing he has to do, however. Hopefully, once he figures out his beats with Problematic, Kasher can look at bringing about change to the traditional late-night TV format itself.