Behold: The Triple Delight Soup at PJ Bernstein (All Photos By Gail)
Shortly after I moved to NYC, I started dating a wonderful Jewish guy. We were together for about 8 years, until we eventually broke up amicably. He was pretty much a perfect boyfriend, but once it was over, what I missed most about our relationship was the delicious Jewish food I enjoyed so very much when we visited his family for the holidays. As a matter of fact, I am still not over it. Because Jewish food is the bomb.
Fortunately, for those who crave authentic Jewish home cooking but either don’t have a Jewish Mother/ Grandmother, or just don’t want the fuss of maintaining a committed relationship, there is PJ Bernstein Deli, where you can eat like you are a member of the tribe every day of the week. Founded in 1965, one visit to PJ Bernstein will show you why celebrities flock to this place, and families trust them to handle all their holiday catering.
I lived in Southern California until I moved to NYC at age 27; and from ages 3 to 19 (1964 to 1980) I resided in the city of Orange. The main street in my neighborhood was Tustin Avenue, which was populated with countless fast food and casual restaurants including McDonalds, Taco Bell, Marie Callender’s, A&W (Root Beer) Drive Up, Arby’s, Jack In The Box, Winchell’s Donuts, Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, IHOP, Baskin Robbins and others whose memories have been lost to time.
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To many, comedian and actor John Belushistill feels like a contemporary artist — owing to the tenacity with which his work has embedded itself in pop culture — but the fact is that Belushi has been dead for a long time. A friend who accompanied me to the opening-night performance of a new play entitled With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi wasn’t quite two years old in March of 1982, when the hard-partying performer died of an accidental drug overdose in a Hollywood hotel room. But while she wasn’t even born yet when John Belushi broke comedic ground during the first incarnation of Saturday Night Live, and probably didn’t see Animal House until it had been in the can for 20 years, my friend has a conversational knowledge of all his best bits. That’s what it means to be a legend.
Jack Zullo (Far Right) as John Belushi in a Scene from With A Little Help . . . (Photo By K. Bentley)
The story behind The Rise and Fall of John Belushi is seriously overdue for a stage or screen adaptation, and playwright/actor Jack Zullo — who fully embodies Belushi’s manic energy and uncompromising spirit in the title role — admits that it’s been over thirteen years since he was first inspired to work on John Belushi as a character study, and immersed himself in the comedian’s material. What started out as a spec feature film script evolved into this current stage production of With A Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi, which was previously honed through multiple West Coast performances. With a goal of finding a place in the NYC theater scene, Zullo aspires to reverse-engineer the play back into a feature-length script to tell the story of John’s life in narrative form; something that has been attempted by many, but not successfully executed.
With a Little Help opens quietly on a scene in the bungalow at the Chateau Marmont where John Belushi spent his final moments of life, having just fatally overdosed on a combination of heroin and cocaine. As he collapses on a mattress and takes his last breath, a chorus of disembodied voices ring out in the theater, admonishing the reckless thirty-three-year-old for being such a “dumb sonofabitch.” But the tragic tone quickly segues into a high-energy flashback of John, accompanied by his girlfriend Judy and best friend Steve, on a night in 1967 when he attended his first comedy show at Chicago’s The Second City club. John is visibly bursting with creative inspiration as he declares that he has found his life’s calling and intends to pursue a career in comedy.
From there, we follow John Belushi’s rise to prominence as an iconic American entertainer; working his way up from an indie college performer in 1968, to Manhattan in the mid-1970s, where he was part of the infamous National Lampoon Magazine and its Radio Hour, all the way through his four-year stint as one of the Not Ready For Prime Time Players on Saturday Night Live.
The story of Belushi’s quick ascent to pop culture success shines the spotlight on his struggles to maintain control on the excesses afforded a budding star, counterbalanced with his desire to always be ahead of the curve by keeping the work fresh and exciting, and setting trends rather than following them. With a Little Help effectively revisits a time in American TV when the field of comedy was a Wild West for creative invention. John Belushi’s career was a wild ride while it lasted, but it’s not like we don’t already know how the journey ends.
With a Little Help takes its title from the now-legendary Saturday Night Live skit in which Belushi gives an over-the-top impersonation of British singer Joe Cocker’s eccentrically-mannered performance of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” This skit is recreated in the play, as are musical numbers made famous by The Blues Brothers — Belushi’s band with Dan Aykroyd. The production features the terrific Crazy Tomes Band, who provide a live soundtrack, accompanying the many musical numbers in the show, and playing a set of covers before the play starts.
In addition to the great live music, With a Little Help truly becomes a multi-media production, as it incorporates both newly-produced and archival film and video clips, which further the action in ways that would otherwise be impossible, such as when John and friends experience an LSD trip, or when SNL cast members indulge in drug binges that history tells us were common on that set.
The play’s supporting cast of characters includes John Belushi’s devoted wife Judy Jacklin (Jennifer Lieberman, who also appears as Gilda Radner), as well as a who’s who of the comedian ‘friends’ who supported, collaborated with, and cajoled Belushi on his path to fame, such as the National Lampoon’sTony Hendra (Len Rella), Christopher Guest (Benjamin Batchelder), Brian Murray (Artie Brennan, who also play’s Belushi’s close friend Steve Beshekas), Joe Flaherty (Nicolas Dipierro, who also appears as Lorne Michaels) and Dan Aykroyd, portrayed brilliantly by Keith Saltojanes. All the actors are excellent in their handling of multiple roles, but Jack Zullo as Belushi is so spot-on in his timing and physical comedy, I forgot multiple times that I was watching an actor and not Belushi himself.
John Belushi did not get to live a long life. It’s tragic that his comedic legacy also includes the bleak Hollywood cliche of self-destructive behavior, but With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is less a cautionary tale and more a celebration of and homage to a phenomenally talented individual whose body of work has been, and will continue to be, endlessly influential. Funny, smart, and deeply nostalgia-inducing, With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi is a story whose time is now.
Directed by Levy Lee Simon With a Little Help . . . It’s John Belushi runs through December 22nd only at Theatre 80, located at 80 St. Marks Place, in NYC’s East Village. Tickets are super affordable at just $30 — $40 and are available via With a Little Help Show Dot Com. Showtimes are Thursdays at 7 PM, Fridays & Saturdays at 7 PM and 10 PM, and Sunday Matinees at 3 PM. A portion of ticket sales from the Theatre 80 run will be donated to The Comedians Assistance Fund and Gilda’s Club charities.
Do you like drinking? I sure do. If you enjoy drinking and you also like going to the theater, maybe you have wished that there was a play where the actors brought cocktails right to your seat for you to enjoy during the show. That would be insane, right? What a great idea! Well, what if I told you that this is not just a beautiful, utopian dream, but that it is already happening right now? Yes, it is true, and this magical event happens at New World Stages in midtown. The show is called The Imbible: a Spirited History of Drinking, and the cherry on the cake is that it all takes place in a bar!
Full Disclosure: If you are an avid fan of Worleygig.com, you are aware that Geoffrey Dicker is my BFF/Partner In Crime, and that we have experienced many, many crazyfun adventures together; most of which are documented with photographic evidence right on this very blog! So, you already know that Geoffrey is one rad dude whose devil-may-care attitude carries over into every facet of his ass-kick in his life. Good for him, I say! Good for everybody!
With that introduction, it is my pleasure to announce the publication of Journal of Grievances, Geoffrey’s latest book and first novel! Warning: this book is recommended for immature audiences only, as it is riddled with ridiculous amounts of adult language and thoroughly twisted situations. Journal of Grievances is a ‘raw and uncensored’ look into the controversial ups and downs (both in and out of the bedroom) of a struggling, single gay male writer living in New York City!
Told through daily journal entries in a year-long approach to turning The Big Four-Oh, the Journal’s protagonist spills his guts with hilarious observations as he waxes philosophically: analyzing his raunchy sex life, drug addictions, debauched relationships, life encounters, and his frustrations with society. With razor-sharp prosaic hooks and brutal honesty, our narrator navigates through relationship drama and job-loss as he struggles to find his place in the world. Or maybe not.
Geoffrey suggests that if you are easily offended by profanity or graphic depictions of gay sex, please do not buy this book. Alternately, he advises the reader to flip to any page and promises that within 2 sentences, he or she will be laughing. “I’d like to think of this book as a gay loner version of Sex and the City meets Curb Your Enthusiasm meets Catcher in the Rye — in other words, it’s completely fucked up!” Journal of Grievances is an unconventional coming-of-age story with no filters and absolutely zero fucks given! The supporting characters in the story remain nameless, because what matters is how their words and actions affect our anti-hero. “Despite the story containing generous helpings of extreme gay sex,” Dicker continues, “I think the anyone – straight or gay – will be able to relate to the situations and moral dilemmas in which the main character often finds himself.”
“I’ve read so many books that never teach me anything new, make me think differently, or, at the very least, make me smile, Dicker continues. Journal of Grievances will bring each of these experiences to the reader, hopefully repeatedly. There are 11 months of daily journal entries, and one month’s entries made up of random ideas; including a short story told almost exclusively via use of the F-word.” Ant any rate, he promises, “You’ll never be the same again, after reading Journal of Grievances!”
Journal of Grievances is Released Today, September 20th, 2016, and is Available to Purchase From Amazon at This Link!
Coming of age in the late 1970s, I was in the right place at the right time to enjoy the character-shaping birth of British Punk Rock, as well as having a ground zero experience of the Southern California Punk Rock movement, which was equally legendary. It was a great time to be a teenage music lover! It was also a blessing that driving up to LA to see a punk band was not always necessary, because Orange County had its own live music venue that booked both US and UK-based acts; a dive-y little joint, hidden away in an industrial neighborhood of Costa Mesa, which was called The Cuckoo’s Nest. It was at The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1979 that I first saw The Damned live, on tour in support of what is arguably still their best and most popular album, Machine Gun Etiquette. Lyrics from that album’s eponymous track now lend themselves to the title of a fantastic documentary on The Damned, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, which has just become available on home video. I am overjoyed to report that this film is a must-see for all Damned fans, old-school punks, rock music historians and anyone who was a punk back when the guys in Sum 41 were still toddlers.