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By Corey Levitan
As a Jew, I'm nervous about enclosed spaces run by Germans. But nerves make for good adventures. So I pursued the Alpine Village in Torrance, asking to emcee their Oktoberfest on a busy Friday night.
Apparently never having read this column, they agreed.
They even leant me lederhosen. And my decision to slip into them early proves fortuitous. Sure, it provokes catcalls while walking through the crowd.
"Look, it's Peter Pan!" one guy yells. "You can fly, little boy, you can fly!"
But little did I know that hooking into this leather bondage device would require half an hour of troubleshooting. The straps are preposterously long.
"And those were the short ones!" says Sonia Bailey, Alpine Village's publicist, who graciously assists.
New holes must be punched, way up past the other ones. And for the rest of the night, two eight-inch tails of extra suspender remind me of precisely how much shorter I am than even a short German with a 32-inch waist.
"Vee have vays of making you drink!"
I'm in the dressing room an hour before my debut, practicing my German accent. It's patterned after Governor Schwarzenegger, but comes out more like either Hans or Franz from "Saturday Night Live," whichever one was more effeminate.
The regular emcee, Rod Hewitt, overhears me.
"Let me get this straight," says the stone-faced 75-year-old, who has hosted this Oktoberfest for more than 20 years. "You're going to do this in a German accent, but you're not German."
Hewitt is not sure how to react.
"Does Hans know about this?"
Hans Rotter is the owner of Alpine Village, a strapping, grey-haired German who built his dream community -- including a restaurant and several boutique shops -- atop a former semi-pro soccer field 36 years ago. He seems like a good enough sport, judging from his only directive to me.
"Come up with a lot of silliness," he said a week earlier. "Everything goes here, as long as it stays clean."
Oktoberfest was begun in 1810 by King Ludwig of Bavaria, upon his marriage to Therese of Saxon-Hildburghausen. The festivities lasted five days and included a lot of beer drinking, oompah bands and meat objects ending in -wurst. The king liked it so much, he decided to do it every year.
That's how Oktoberfest began, anyway. The story of how it ends could unfold tonight in Torrance.
"Welcomen, ladies and Germans!" I greet the crowd as my alter-ego, Kurtz Judah. I'm now also wearing a black wig, courtesy of Lelands Just For Fun in Hermosa Beach.
"In Germany, which is the country I am from," I say, in case my accent isn't as accurate as I think, "we drink to make the ugly person next to us look attractive. I want you to look at the person next to you.
"Tell me, is it working?"
Only a smattering of laughter wafts from the audience of about 300, most of which pays no attention. The band, Die Durrbachtaler -- a Wuerzburg outfit two weeks into its first trip to America -- appears dumbfounded.
One audience member thrusts his beer stein up to stage level, demanding a clink.
"Oktoberfest!" he screams. "Woo!"
After my shtick, I'm shtuck. Unlike Hewitt, I don't know the names of the songs I'm supposed to announce. The trumpet player, Stefan Heller, gave me a set list last week, but I misplaced it.
"Don't worry," Hewitt assured me earlier. "The band will announce its own songs." Indeed, Heller does. But that creates another problem. I am now entirely useless on stage. Tired of just standing around, I give the guy in front his clink.
"Oktoberfest!" I issue the scream return. "Woo!"
A couple of patrons approach to ask me to make announcements. One has a friend, Veronica, with a birthday. Another wants everyone to know that the Chicago Cubs won their playoff game. (I refuse to make the latter announcement without independent verification. I guess I'm still a journalist, even while dressed like the label on a Dutch Boy paint can.)
Kurtz Judah means "short Jew," by the way. And a big reason I'm short on material is my decision not to use a slew of Jewish jokes I came prepared with. It had to do with something Bailey said during a break at the side of the stage.
"Don't do Jewish jokes," she said.
Rotter had gotten wind that I might slip some in and was very concerned. And separating the crowd into "Jews on the left, Aryans on the right" was probably not a good call if I wanted to keep my job. (The Daily Breeze is a co-sponsor of the event.)
"How long until 'The Chicken Dance?'" I ask Heller off mike. This song is also a jig that's as ridiculously simple as it is simply ridiculous. First you wave your hands, then you flap your arms, execute a twist, and clap three times. This is followed by swinging a partner around during the chorus.
It is the only song I'm prepared to announce, since it's the only one whose title I know. But it comes only at the end of each 45-minute set.
"Five more songs," Heller replies.
Great. I proceed to scrape the bottom of my bag of German knowledge, saying anything remotely Germanic I can think of between songs: "Farfignugen," for example. "Frau Blecher" from "Young Frankenstein" comes in handy. Oh, and I also imitate Colonel Klink from the first and undoubtedly last sitcom about a Nazi prison camp.
"Ho-o-o-gan!" I say.
Then I remember this traditional German toast.
"Ticky tacky, ticky tacky!" I scream. Suddenly, the crowd stops ignoring the stage and screams back a thunderous "Oy! Oy! Oy!"
Apparently, they have seen "The Man Show" on Comedy Central, too.
During "The Chicken Dance," the emcee gets to invite 10 lovely ladies on stage with him. Tonight, this is my favorite part. I point a few out in the crowd that catch my eye, like David Lee Roth at a Van Halen concert in 1982.
"'The Chicken Dance' goes back to the year 1826, when the King of Germany -- which, again, is the country I'm from -- was a chicken," I tell my beautiful fraulines. "Yes, he was an actual chicken. So now we dance for him."
Again, without the Jewish jokes, I didn't have much.
Off mike, I tell a stunning 24-year-old blonde named Devora to meet me after our chicken dance. While the song plays out, I walk her off stage.
Next comes a contest, held on a separate stage -- something to do with sawing blocks of wood. The fastest sawer gets a shot at a free trip to the fatherland. As I make my way over, Bailey stops me.
"You should probably let Rod handle it from here on," she says. My trip has ended right here. I've been fired at the peak of my celebrity. Now I definitely feel like David Lee Roth.
As I step out into the crowd, I am besieged with requests from young ladies to pose for photos.
"You have such big blue eyes!" one says.
Hmm, before I went on stage, I was Peter Pan. Now I'm the German Paul Newman?
"Hey, where did your accent go?" asks a thickset redhead named Kelly.
I track down Devora, who gives me her number right in front of the suave-looking dude holding her hand.
"He's not my boyfriend," she whispers to me.
I'm also groped by a 65-year-old woman who demands to know, "What's up your lederhosen?"
"Are you running for governor?" I reply while running away. (Later, as I remove my outfit, a dollar bill falls out.)
Now I know why the guys in Air Supply still try to tour. If you're up on a stage, doing pretty much anything, women like you more.
But I'm afraid this thesis requires further study. Anyone want to start a Novemberfest I can emcee?
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