A hilarious new show debuted last night on Comedy Central, and it’s called The Ben Show. The show follows Ben Hoffman, a Southern Jew with a raunchy sense of humor and quick wit. Viewers get a picture of Hoffman’s day-to-day adventures, with segments featuring his real-life dad, therapist, and ex-girlfriends.
Throughout the premiere we find him obsessing over buying a gun (compensation for something else, we soon learn) and auditioning grandmothers for a fake ‘Gangster Granny’ movie.
Naturally, I had to talk to him.
So tell me a little bit about The Ben Show. What should viewers expect?
It’s out there. It’s pretty raunchy. It’s the oddest mix of filth and reality that I’ve ever seen on TV. And I have my nice Jewish dad on there a lot. On a later episode I introduce my dad via Skype to a prostitute, so there’s something for everyone. And to let Jewcy know, in Episode 5 I go back to Kentucky and visit the synagogue where I was a bar mitzvah. It is sadly now a pizza parlor.
Is there a big Jewish population in Kentucky?
The year of my bar mitzvah there were four Jews in my graduating Hebrew school class. My rabbi was blind and had one leg. The school was in this rickety, old building downtown. He didn’t like his fake leg so he took it off and put it on his desk when it bothered him. So I’m 13 years old staring at this rabbi with no leg and his black socks are rolled up high and match his dark black sunglasses. So I don’t see his eyes, but the sunglasses were also uncomfortable so he would take them off too. His eyes would be rolling back in his head and his fake leg was on the table. I would cling my fingers to the car door like please, mom, I don’t want to go in there!
What’s your favorite Jewish food?
Growing up in Kentucky there was no such thing as a Jewish deli. My mom’s from Nashville, so I have a lot of family there. We’d go for Passover and have matzoh ball soup. Now that I’m in LA, the idea I can drive to a deli and get matzoh ball soup anytime I want. It’s is crazy. I eat it three times a week either at Greenblatt’s or Canter’s. I still can’t get over it. I used to get it twice a year.
Who are some of your comedy idols?
Being a neurotic Jew, my friends would show me Woody Allen movies and say, dude you got to see this, this guy is like you. I was such a neurotic kid, full of anxiety. I looked nothing like him but they were like you have to see this movie Annie Hall, Basically what they were saying was this Jew I know acts like the other Jew I know. And then I discovered Al Brooks later. Also Norm Macdonald, David Letterman, and Howard Stern.
In the first episode we see you in therapy. How long have you been going?
I’ve been in and out for 15 years. They’ve got my money for life.
Your dad seems like a great sport on the show. What’s he like?
He’s a doctor from Kentucky so he has no idea what’s going on, so he’s like ‘if you want me to do it ill do it.’ What I like about him on the show is that I’m not really making fun of him, my dad’s funnier than me. I like the idea of having a dad who is funnier than I am. Growing up people would always come over and say your dad is so cool, and later I got to appreciate his sense of humor.
What was your childhood like?
I had undiagnosed ADD as a child so I only watched The Naked Gun and Letterman. When you have ADD you are blessed and cursed, but I had amazing memory skills. I would get good enough grades to not get yelled at but still spaced out. I had no interest in school but had great interest in music and comedy. So I would go home put in my headphones and watch Seinfeld and listen to Aerosmith and I’d go sleep.
Where did you go to college?
I started at Tulane. My parents met there. Here’s how lazy I was: Senior year in high school my parents told me that since they went to Tulane, it would be the easiest place for me to get in. So it was the only application I filled out, that and Emory and Syracuse. I got in everywhere. I hated Tulane.
How realistic is your show? Is your love life as bad as you describe?
It’s all real. In Episode 4 you actually see me on a blind date. When I try to make out with her she pushed me off, but we stayed friends. Obviously the sketches are silly but everything between the sketches is real and everything I say is real, as are all the people in my life. So when I say I can’t get girls, I ain’t lying.
I got my face on a billboard on Sunset Blvd and still can’t get girls. My brother and I were driving around the other day and got out and took pictures in front. I felt like the biggest douche bag.
What was your career like leading up to The Ben Show?
I moved out here and I wanted to be a writer, so I kept getting writing gigs and I landed a job on this Current TV show, InfoMania. They hired me as a writer and then I was on camera and I did that for years, and as much as I complained about it and as much as no one was watching, it did get me enough attention to get noticed.
I got a job shortly after writing for Norm Macdonald, and Comedy Central liked my work and asked me to be a correspondent. So then I started writing for The Roast and other shows and they were like if you ever want to pitch a show to us let us know. I pretended I didn’t care but of course that’s what I wanted. I didn’t move to LA to be ignored.
I really made the greatest pilot they’ve ever seen. It was so out there and so dirty. They loved it. It was a mix of filth and heart. The pilot was a sample to get better writing gigs but they loved the pilot. They were like let’s make this show and that’s when the Jewish anxiety kicked in.
It seems like you incorporate a lot of your own music throughout the show. How long have you been playing guitar?
Since I was a kid. I’ve always been obsessed with music. My brother is in the band Scissor Sisters. You think I got it rough? He’s gay Jew from Kentucky. I take credit for getting him into music, and he became a rock star of course. But I was really into music before him so when he gets Grammy nominations and stuff I take credit. But a lot of the show you have this generic, catalog music and I hate that. I thought I could play my own music so I did most of it myself. It was half out of ego and half of just being sick of hearing the same old music on TV shows.
Why should Jewcy readers watch The Ben Show?
If you want to see a neurotic Jew from Kentucky and how he navigates his life, watch my show. The viewers are going to feel like they’re looking in the mirror. Growing up Jewish in Kentucky, I wasn’t particularly religious but it was important to my parents that I have a bar mitzvah.
Being Jewish was a big part of my identity, more for other people than for me. I was known as the Jew. So basically what you’re seeing is the result of all that categorization. I go overboard sometimes with Jewish humor. My Jewish reference points were from documentaries on TV or from Mel Brooks on the tonight show. I had no culture of it in my life. It’s a weird life of a Southern Jew.
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