Is professional wrestling any place for a nice Jewish boy? Probably not. But then again, Robert Cait's not your typical nice Jewish boy -- or your typical Jewish comedian for that matter.
Cait grew up in a lower middle class Jewish neighborhood in Toronto Canada. The typical class clown, he says that until he was 12 years old, he thought his Hebrew name was "Chaim-get-out" (not just "Chaim"). Soon he was given a George Carlin standup comedy tape and as he says, "It blew my mind." After high school Cait enrolled in the radio and television program at Ryerson University – what he calls the "Julliard of Canada."
But here's where the story starts to get atypical. At Ryerson Cait developed a career in -- not comedy -- wrestling. "I always liked wrestling," recalls Cait, "so as part of a school project I wanted to shoot a wrestling match. When I went down to the match, it turns out that they needed a ring announcer. They asked me if I had experience in television. Of course I said yes, even though I was only a student at the time, and the next thing I knew, I was their ring announcer. One thing led to another and I became the official promoter for the wrestling league in Trinidad and Tobago. I used to shoot the interviews at Ryerson at 6 in the morning...those were crazy times."
But while Cait was focusing on clothes lines (a wrestling move), he was neglecting another passion – punch lines. He had been writing jokes for other comedians, and finally decided to try it out for himself. He went to an open mic at Yuk Yuk's in Toronto and he "killed" -- not with figure fours, or leg drops, but with jokes. And after a few years he moved to Los Angeles got some gigs on MTV, and Comedy Central, and became a regular on the club circuit.
"Cosby had the whole crowd laughing. He didn't swear. I liked that."
But just when things were taking off professional for Cait, he started to have second thoughts. "As I'm doing my sets in the clubs the language started getting dirtier and dirtier and I just got fed up with the swearing. I remember when I used to watch Cosby for an hour and a half, he had the whole crowd laughing. He didn't swear. I liked that. Because it was an art form." Cait had some religious misgivings as well. "I got married and we were going to have kids and in standup you have to work weekends, and I just didn't want to work Friday nights for religious reasons."
Cait may have been "on the ropes" but he was far from being "down for the count." Soon, he had successful appearances on television and in radio commercials and was doing voiceover work for animated shows on Nickelodeon. But while things were going well, Cait still felt like something was missing.
"I realized that I had all of this Jewish material that I still wanted to use!"
So Cait did what any self respecting Jewish, entrepreneurial, former wrester, standup comedian would do – he started doing Jewish comedy shows. "I started doing some shows for Jewish schools and shuls. And I realized that this just felt right. I love performing for Jewish audiences because the jokes are like family jokes. Inside jokes that we can all share."
So what kind of Jewish jokes does Cait tell? "Don't cross the Jewish mafia...they'll put a sub-contract out on you," kids Cait. "My mother was actually part of the Jewish mafia. But now she's in the witness overprotection program." Cait continues, "Noah and the ark? Not Jewish. No Jew could travel with all of that meat and not barbeque."
While Cait loves to kibbitz, he also has a serious side. "As harmonious as we as a society pretend to be, anti-Semitism still exists – it's just gone underground. And it's not going away either. As long as we Jews are different, anti-Semitism is going to be there." Cait thinks comedy can even play a role in combating anti-Semitism. "With comedy, if you make fun a stereotype, you can hold up a mirror to the hatred and show how preposterous it is. Like the concept of the Jews controlling the world media and banks. As a Jew – I am exhausted. When am I going to get some time off so I can eat?"
But Cait wants his audiences to know that he doesn't simply define his Jewish identity by anti-Semitism. "I love God, Torah and Israel – that's the trifecta." Well, perhaps he's a typical nice Jewish boy after all.
You can watch a clip from Robert Cait's "Kosher not Kosher" DVD here.