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Charming spoofs on Jewishness

Two nice boys offer mockery and appreciation of a religion and its social culture.

Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson - such nice Jewish boys. Not exactly a doctor and a lawyer.


- not even close. But consider an old Yiddish saying that translates something like this:

The person aware of his foolishness is a wise man.

That would mean that the two creators of (and performers in) World of Jewtopia are pretty smart. The show, a follow-up to their wildly successful Jewtopia, is 90 minutes of Hebraic hijinks, a skewering of all things Jewish - in particular, American Jewish. It opened here at the Kimmel Center on Christmas Eve, an apt night for Jews, who don't celebrate the holiday, to come together for Jewish-themed entertainment. It runs through tomorrow.

Fogel and Wolfson, both likable, deliver their derision in World of Jewtopia with such charm, it's obvious they're aware of their foolishness. In that, as the Yiddish saying suggests, they are wise indeed.

The material is most loving when it's most lacerating - at once a mockery and an appreciation of a religion or, more to the point, a social culture within it. Over here are your Jews who walk into a restaurant and cannot find a single table that comes without some problem to wreck the dining experience: too close to the action, too isolated, too much of this, too little of that. Over there are the Jewish moms who delight in their children, and also delight in pushing their children's hot buttons and, ultimately, their own. In between are the standard Jewish household freezers that preserve food not for eating, but for having - is that kosher brisket simply iced, or by now petrified?

Fogel and Wolfson were struggling stand-up comics when they met in Los Angeles in 2001 and decided to produce their own show - a ploy Angeleno actors sometimes use to draw attention. Jewtopia lasted 16 months, becoming L.A.'s longest-running comedy, then went to New York and became Off-Broadway's longest-running comedy, closing two years ago.

And that led to a book based on the show, and to a forthcoming film adaptation. All of which proves that people love to laugh at themselves.

For Fogel and Wolfson, that essentially still means stand-up comedy. They know how to propel themselves with commentary, but when they play characters - this happens at the clunky beginning and at the end - their cadence slows, and the show falters.

In between, when the two are not taking too long to set up their punches, and riffing with the aide of slide projections on the way Jews travel, or eat, or do just about anything - in other words, exploiting the stereotypes - the show's at its best. And wisest.