The Raunchy, Religious Tween Comic

Josh Orlian, the raunchy, religious tween comic.

Josh Orlian, the tween comic with adult humor (timesofisrael.com).

Oy, the scandal! When even religious Americans embrace the worst aspects of our secular culture, is it time to declare culture war defeat?

Josh Orlian, a (not so) nice Jewish boy from my home county of Westchester, New York, recently auditioned for America’s Got Talent with a racy comedy routine. The Internet’s calling him “naughty,” but having now heard Josh’s humor, I’d say “raunchy” is more apt.

We know that 12-year-old boys delight in sexual banter. However, cracking jokes about someone else’s mom when you’re hanging out with friends is different from sharing similar sentiments on national television.

Josh’s quick, three joke set made me cringe. It was bad enough that a tween was telling sexually charged jokes, but even worse that he did so while wearing a yarmulke, a sign of Jewish religious observance. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised, as Josh proclaims on Instagram, “My motto is ‘The younger the kid and the dirtier the jokes, the better.’”

And dirty they were. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the Jewish version of the Associated Press, described Orlian’s set as such:

The jokes were surprisingly risqué for a Modern Orthodox day school student, including innuendoes about testicles, penis length, and even fellatio. (Orlian said that after attending circus camp, he wanted to learn “sword swallowing,” but his mother objected. To which, he said, his father replied: “I’m not surprised. Your mother hasn’t been interested in sword-swallowing since we got engaged.”)

The only thing worse than Josh’s jokes may have been adults’ reactions to them. Howard Stern was predictably charmed. Former Spice Girl Mel B. announced, “’You’re 12-years- old and you’re talking about all that dirty stuff. I like it!’” Howie Mandel wished him a “Mazel tov!,” and noted that Josh could play this clip at his Bar-Mitzvah party. (How it would be appropriate to share such a video at a religious rite-of-passage celebration remains a mystery.)

The judges voted unanimously to send Orlian to the next round. Only Heidi Klum alluded to cognitive dissonance between the jokes and the comic but allowed that she was alright with the act if Josh’s “naughty dad” was.

Most mortifying was watching Josh’s parents. Josh’s father, Joey, was clearly tickled by his son’s performance. According to JTA, Mr. Orlian is even the source of his son’s sword swallowing joke. Mother Tina Orlian evoked Stephanie Seymour as she chuckled and cheered, while her pubescent son joked with countless strangers about hooking up with a classmate and his parents’ sex life. That didn’t make Mrs. Orlian uncomfortable? Have we completely dispensed with boundaries?

This may be the crux of the problem: some adults actively encourage precocious and overly sexualized behavior among teens and preteens, while others simply laugh it off. The result is an adulation-craving 12-year-old whose routine should thrill only Andrew Dice Clay.

In the new preface to A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue, Wendy Shalit writes that today, “being famous is not just the most important thing—it’s  a kind of birthright . . . As long as your name is ‘out there,’ it seems not to matter what it’s out there for.” This is problematic, especially in cases like Orlian’s, because as Shalit notes, “relationships without boundaries never end well.”

More to the point, if this is how 12-year-old Josh Orlian speaks about his mother in her presence, what are the odds that he will treat a girlfriend or wife respectfully in 10 or 20 years? What are Orlian’s parents and our culture teaching Josh and others like him?

These gloomy questions may point to the story’s one ray of hope. It’s obvious why social conservatives are dismayed, but perhaps left-leaning feminists concerned about rape culture will also be disturbed by what Josh represents. There is room for cultural convergence in defense of children’s innocence, as well as women’s dignity. And if not now, then perhaps when Josh takes Howard Stern’s advice to “step it up” in round two, because really, how crude do we like our 12-year-old boys to be?

This article appeared in Acculturated.

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