OyChicago articles


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This year the latke gets a makeover


I admit to being somewhat of a gastronomic and a culinary discontent. I like to push the envelope and play with an idea or recipe and then move on and do it all over again. The same applies to holiday menus. I love the rituals of the Jewish holidays and the foods, but I do not like the routine recipes that often accompany those dishes. This Chanukah I am thinking outside the box and mixing it up a bit.

I love the basic latke of potatoes and onions, all crispy and golden brown with the aroma of crackling onions and fat topped with a generous dollop of homemade applesauce or sour cream. I could eat a whole platter full of them myself—on the first night. And then what? We have eight nights to celebrate. So I started thinking HOW COULD I MAKE THIS CHANUKAH DIFFERENT FROM ALL OTHERS?

I do not want an ordinary Festival of Lights. I want something spud-tacular. I want a LATKE-PALOOZA. An extraordinary celebration of crispy fried goodness. I am going where no chef has gone before. I am going to create an abundance of delights, a different one for each night of Maccabian Madness.

Latke options are infinite. I can stick with the classic potato and onion cake as my base but I want to add some pizzazz, creating endless variations on the central theme. After all, even the little black dress needs a little “bling.” I am adding carrots, parsnips, celery root, roasted garlic, herbs, and more. These latkes will be so amazing we will want to add nights to the holiday.

I also want to play with the toppings. After all, why limit ourselves to just plain apple sauce and sour cream? Like all classics that just need a little tweak, I am updating the humble applesauce and bringing it to new heights. For Latke-Palooza, I am dolling up the modest condiment with crystallized ginger, pomegranate molasses, mango chunks, and even sweet and gooey caramelized onions. Delish!

Chef Laura’s Latkes (basic latke recipe)

I like really crispy latkes that are only slightly creamy inside. I don’t use yolks in my batter as egg yolks make dough and batters tender. Egg whites hold the ingredients together but don’t make it soft or cakey.

2 pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded (after shredding the potatoes, place them in a large bowl with ice water-they won’t oxidize and turn rust colored)
Neutrally flavored oil for frying (I prefer canola)
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and grated
3 egg whites, beaten with a whisk until frothy
3-6 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1. Place the shredded potatoes in a large clean towel and squeeze out all of the moisture; make sure the potatoes are completely dry.

2. Place all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and add the potatoes. Mix all of the ingredients together until thoroughly combined.

3. Heat a large skillet with 1-½ inches of oil. Drop spoonfuls of latke batter into the oil. Flatten it slightly with the back of a spoon. Brown the latkes on both sides. Remove to a platter lined with paper towels.

4. To re-heat: Place the latkes on a cookie sheet and heat in a 400 degree oven until hot.

Apple-Cranberry Ginger Sauce

This is a beautiful garnet-colored tart applesauce. It is a perfect complement for the crispy latkes. The addition of ginger adds a deep citrus spice flavor that balances the vegetables in the latke.

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1-cup fresh or frozen cranberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 whole cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons chopped crystallized ginger
½ cup apple cider or juice
Pinch of kosher salt

1. Place all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan. Cook uncovered over medium heat until the cranberries pop. Continue cooking until the excess moisture evaporates. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir to combine. The applesauce may be stored covered in the refrigerator for up to one week or frozen for up to 2 months.

Chef Laura’s Latke-Palooza Variation 1

I was so excited when I wrote this recipe and even more thrilled once I smelled the latkes sizzling away in the pan. This latke variation is so good and savory that you will want to make these all year round. I served them with a slow cooked pot roast and the Apple-Cranberry Ginger Sauce, of course.

1 ½ pounds Russet potatoes, peeled and shredded (after shredding the potatoes, place them in a large bowl with ice water-they won’t oxidize and turn rust colored)
Neutrally flavored oil for frying (I prefer canola)
1 large Spanish onion, peeled and grated
2 medium parsnips, peeled and shredded
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
¼ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, finely minced
3 egg whites, beaten with a whisk until frothy
3-6 tablespoons flour
2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

1. Place the shredded potatoes, parsnips and carrots in a large clean towel and squeeze out all of the moisture; make sure the vegetables are completely dry.

2. Place all of the remaining ingredients in a large bowl and add the vegetables. Mix all of the ingredients together until thoroughly combined. The mix should be slightly wet and holding together. If not, add a little more flour.

3. Heat a large skillet with 1-½ inches of oil. Drop spoonfuls of latke batter into the oil. Flatten it slightly with the back of a spoon. Brown the latkes on both sides. Remove to a platter lined with paper towels.

4. To re-heat: Place the latkes on a cookie sheet and heat in a 400 degree oven until hot.

Meet Ari Engel, a nice Jewish boy with a poker face and a kippah

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Meet Ari Engel photo

The first thing that struck me upon meeting Ari Engel was just how, well, normal he looks (and, I should add, is).  Standing there in jeans, t-shirt and wearing a kippah upstairs in the Venetian Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, I easily could have mistaken him for any guy in town for a bachelor party, who had probably just lost his last $100 on a badly played hand of Blackjack.  He was very much a nice Jewish boy from Chicago, the son of an Orthodox Rabbi.  My mom instincts immediately kicked into high gear.  I offered him something to eat, and asked if he was single, wondering if I knew any nice Jewish girls living in Las Vegas to set him up with.  (I don’t. If you do, email me.)

Of course, that nice Jewish girl would also have to be completely comfortable with the fact that Ari is a professional poker player who gambles at all hours, day and night, risking sums of money that could buy a nice family home along Chicago’s North Shore.  Hmm, this could be hard.

It’s not surprising that Ari blends in to his surroundings.  After all, his unique ability to “fly under the radar” is something you would expect to be a key asset for his ‘job.’  But you might not expect another thing that has also worked to his advantage: wearing a kippah while playing.

“I always wear a kippah when I play,” says Ari, who is religiously observant.  “I get a lot of ‘shaloms’ and yiddish words.  It is interesting how people respond to me as a religious person—it has been my experience that some people don’t think that ‘religious people’ are that smart, and often these people will treat me as if I don’t know the game.  And this works in my favor, although over the years as people have gotten to recognize me, I don’t get that as much.”

Some people might question if there is an inherent conflict between Ari’s religious beliefs and how he makes a living.  But Ari has made peace between his professional and spiritual worlds.

“I’m comfortable with my decision, and with myself,” says Ari.  “I know that it is impossible to reconcile what I do—gambling—100% with my religious beliefs.  But I go about it in a way that reflects favorably on myself...I am very professional.  Frankly, I’d rather play poker ethically than be a shady businessman.  I’m very comfortable in what I do.  And my parents have been very supportive—my dad will even mention me in his sermons.”

Ari’s religious observance has occasionally barred him from participating in poker tournaments—many which span several weeks with no days off, including Shabbat.  This is one of the reasons why Ari has focused much of his playing online, versus playing in the casinos.  He spends 90% of his time gambling online, and only 10% of the time in casinos.  And when in a casino it’s all business—in and out. 

“Casinos hate people like me,” jokes Ari.  “They don’t make hardly anything off me.”

So just how did a nice Jewish boy, a graduate of Skokie Yeshiva, wind up as one of the most successful online poker players?  Well, that’s easy: college.

Ari was introduced to online poker gambling by his freshman year roommate at NYU.  At the time, he didn’t play, but was interested and learned while watching his college roommate.

“During my second year of college, my roommate, Andrew Brown—Browndog19 online—used to play online poker all the time,” says Ari.  “I began to watch him a lot, and for three months I only watched, never played a hand.”

After Ari graduated, he took an entry level job, making just enough to pay the rent and the monthly payments on his six-figure student loan debt.  After “scraping together enough cash,” Ari decided to play online and within six weeks, he had made enough to quit his job and play online full-time. 

“After college graduation, I completely stopped for about two months, barring my weekly $40 home game with college friends,” said Ari.  “During one of those games, two of my friends were raving about a new site where they both made over 1K.  I signed up for Bodog, and 10 days later quit my day job.”

I admit, listening to Ari, I was tempted to quit my job and go ‘all in.’  But before I could break out my credit card, Ari brought me down to earth, warning about the perils of online gambling.

“This is a 90% failure rate,” warns Ari.  “One year I can make well over six-figures, the next year I could lose money.  It’s part skill, and part luck.  I’ve been very lucky.”

Which is one of the reasons why Ari has started a business teaching others how to play.  Warning shameless plug alert: Ari has opened a successful training academy: The Maven VT (www.mavenvt.com).

And even with all his success, Ari is not sure how long he will stay in the online poker world.

“At 26, I’m one of the old guys,” says Ari.  “I don’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life.  The poker world is unstable; eventually I might need to move on.”

Well, shit, if 26 is old, that makes me… oh, forget it.  One final thought: Ari is indeed single, and you can stalk him online at his blogspot: bodogari.blogspot.com

Is Barbie Jewish?

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An interview with author of the Good, the Bad and the Barbie Tanya Lee Stone

Question: What little girl grows up without owning even one Barbie doll?

Answer: Me.

I was just never that into her— American Girl dolls were always more my thing. (Mom and Dad, I’m still waiting for that American Girl doll you promised me oh, 20 years ago…) So I surprised even myself when I offered to interview author (and full disclosure, Stef’s aunt) Tanya Lee Stone about her new book the Good, the Bad and the Barbie.

Is Barbie Jewish? photo

While I may never have owned a Barbie doll growing up, Barbie has affected my life, and arguably every other little girl’s life in America, since Ruth Handler introduced her to the world in 1959. Recently, I sat down with Tanya to chat about Barbie the icon, why she wrote a book about such a polarizing figure and whether or not Barbie is Jewish.

Oy!Chicago: What is your background?
Tanya:  I was a children's book editor for a long time, but when we moved to Vermont 14 years ago, I took that opportunity to try my hand at writing professionally. I have always written, and was an English major at Oberlin. That, combined with my editorial experience, made for a nice transition into a writing life. I have been steadily publishing books for kids and older readers for more than a decade now.

How did you come up with the idea to write a book about Barbie?
I was thinking about icons in our culture and how they come to be. Around the same time, the editor of my book Up Close: Ella Fitzgerald (Viking) had asked me to think about doing another book in that series. When I thought about the criteria for the series—an American icon, 20th century figure, someone that kids would know...I thought Barbie fit the bill pretty well. She laughed, but when I told her I was serious and that there was a really interesting back story there about the woman who invented Barbie and all kinds of meat to get into in terms of topics related to the doll, she realized I was on to something!

As a self-proclaimed feminist writer, why write a book about such a polarizing and some would say anti-feminist figure?
Things that are polarizing are always interesting and thought-provoking, otherwise they wouldn't be controversial. I like to dig underneath and find out where the controversy is coming from in the first place. What's the back story, the origin of the invention, the context of the inventor—why did a woman invent Barbie, and why this woman—this Jewish entrepreneur, Ruth Handler? I was never a Barbie girl, but that is not because the doll struck an angry chord in me. I was just too much of a tomboy to be interested in dolls. And I always thought it was interesting that people could be so up in arms about a bit of plastic. I wanted to explore why a plastic doll could be so vilified and thought of as anti-feminist. What lies beneath such strong feelings? The little I knew about Ruth Handler did not fit in with the urban myth that Barbie was created to make girls feel badly about themselves. I wanted to examine Barbie's beginnings and see for myself what all the fuss was about. 

Do you think Ruth Handler realized she was creating such a powerful icon?
I suspect she had a pretty good idea, and it was certainly her intention to create something spectacular for her company, but she may not have realized the full extent of what Barbie would become, and how influential she would be. Ruth was a very powerful person in her own right. Her picture should be next to the word chutzpah in the urban dictionary.

Why do you think Barbie is such an icon?
I think that Ruth's original intention—to create an attractive yet malleable fashion doll that little girls could pin their hopes and dreams on, and let their imaginations soar—is still at the root of why the doll appeals to kids. Even though Barbie's face and outfits have morphed and changed, she is actually still kind of bland-looking, if you ask me. And that's what Ruth was going for. I don't know, maybe it's the Jewish perspective of both Ruth's and mine, but I find the more ethnic-looking dolls much more interesting and appealing than the regular blonde Barbie with the perky nose. And honestly, I think that's how Ruth saw her, as a kind of blank slate on which girls could impose themselves. 

What do you think Barbie says about our culture?
Well, I think the consumerism Barbie triggers is the part that bothers me the most about our culture. It's not enough to have one Barbie, is it? The materialistic machine is in full gear here, driving the desire for kids to collect more and more and more and more. It's not really about the doll itself, it's about the accessories—all that stuff. I think that says a lot about our culture.

I found the chapter about Barbie as art particularly interesting, what do you think it is about Barbie that inspires artists?
I loved researching that chapter! I was amazed at how many different ways artists manipulated the doll and how she inspires a variety of artists to rethink what she means to them. I think artists are drawn to playing with the stereotypes about women and body image, and re-shaping them to fit their own visions. It's a creative and powerful way to make a statement about feminism, culture, icons...the list is long. And she most definitely brings out the mischievous side in artists. "You want me to play with Barbie? Oh, I'll play with Barbie!"

Is Barbie Jewish or Jew-ish?
Ha! Well, since both of her parents were Jewish, I think she qualifies as Jewish—but I don't think she's very Jew-ish!

Were you surprised by all of the responses you got from people about Barbie? Did it change the direction of your book? Overall, did you find people to be more pro- or anti-Barbie?
I was surprised by the sheer volume of responses I got—probably about 500 emails within a couple of months. For a nonfiction book request, that's a lot! But I think what startled me most of all was the near even split down the middle between love and hate. Passionate responses from both sides of the fence, but even within age groups, the anti or pro was spread evenly. I had 16-year-old girls write and tell me that Barbie never made them feel badly about their bodies, and 16-year-old girls who said they could never live up to the perfection and that it damaged them. And stories came in from people ages 6-70 and from both genders, so I think the 50/50 element was the most surprising of all.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to our Oy!Chicago readers?
I personally took great pleasure in learning that one of the biggest toy giants in the world was founded by a newly married Jewish couple who simply wanted to create their life the way they saw fit. He was an artist, she was a savvy entrepreneur with no lack of confidence whatsoever. She looked at his creations and said (paraphrasing)—those are beautiful and I can sell them. And voila—a toy giant was born. I also love the fact that Ruth never apologized for who she was. She was certainly aware of criticisms of the doll but always stood her ground. She knew her intentions, she knew her goals, she knew what she wanted girls to take from Barbie. Agree or disagree with her, Ruth Handler was one strong woman who shaped her own life and continued to until the day she died.

‘Is anyone here Jewish?’

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YLD’s Big Event featuring stand-up comedian Sarah Silverman draws record crowd 

‘Is anyone here Jewish?’ photo

Photo credit: Robert Kusel


What happens at the Big Event stays at the Big Event.

To invoke an overused, yet fitting phrase in this case, those words came to mind while watching comedian/writer/actress Sarah Silverman perform her funny, crass, and sometimes controversial stand-up act on Saturday night at the JUF’s Young Leadership Division’s (YLD) third annual Big Event, held at the Sheraton Chicago. And it really was a “big event.” Launching YLD’s 2011 Campaign, YLD’s Big Event drew more than 1,500 people, making it the single largest YLD event in history.

In her detached, little-girl voice persona, Silverman—consistent with her usual social commentary-brand of humor—tackled taboo subjects like stereotypes, mocking her fellow members of the tribe, Jewish persecution, racism, sexism, and other touchy isms.

Her act makes my task of summarizing her routine for readers an arduous one.

‘Maybe I can write “bleep” or “&*#$@*!” every time Silverman utters something too racy for JUF News publication,’ I thought to myself cartoon bubble-style during a raunchy song she sang during her act.

But then, I figured, every other word would be &*#$@*!

So, instead of relaying every detail of her act, I forewarn you that there might be a few holes in my story.

While the crowd roared during most of her act, Silverman broke the fourth wall between her and the audience when one of her jokes on the subject of stereotypes fell flat. She analyzed the inner-workings of her shtick, explaining why she broaches taboo subjects in her act. “I like to take the air, the power out of words,” she said.

In contrast with the crowd of young Jews in festive attire, the beautiful comedian was clad in her usual casual sportswear, a hoodie, and a messy ponytail, making her look like she’d just gotten off the elliptical machine. Yet that didn’t stop a large contingent of my male friends in the audience from declaring their huge crushes on the comedian.

Her Torah portion would have been off the charts
“Is anyone here Jewish?” Silverman asked the humongous crowd of young Jews at the event.

The youngest of four daughters (including Silverman’s sister, who is a rabbi living in Jerusalem), Silverman grew up in a non-Jewish neighborhood of New Hampshire in a non-observant Jewish household. “I never really felt any different from my [non-Jewish] friends other than being coated in hair,” Silverman said. “I never had a bat mitzvah,” divulged the comedian, “but if I did, my Torah portion would have been off the charts.”

Silverman jokes lovingly about her divorced parents in both her recent autobiography “The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee” (HarperCollins Publishers) and in her act. The best advice she ever got, she told the crowd, came from her mother after Silverman was heartbroken over a breakup. “Don’t let this keep you from falling in love because it’s worth the pain of taking the chance to have love,” her mother told her. “It’s not funny,” Silverman told the crowd, “but it’s true.”

Single and 39, Silverman says she doesn’t want to get married, but she does hope to find love. She also broached wanting to have children someday after her “whimsical” days are over. She said she’s considered adoption and surrogacy. “I feel like I’m so busy and so popular that I would probably have a surrogate have my baby,” she said. “And I’m so busy and so popular that I would probably have a surrogate raise my baby.”

“Are you guys having a good time?” she asked the crowd midway through the show. “I know I’m fishing but…you have a long night ahead. I don’t know how you do it. I have to get home and watch Law and Order immediately…I can’t go to sleep without a rape and murder.”  

At one point in the show, someone heckled Silverman from the audience. “When people yell out,” she said, “I just want to hold them and hug them and tell them ‘it’s okay.’”

Scrabble points
Following her standup, Silverman answered questions in a Q and A format with Brad Morris—a Jewish comedian, actor, and writer originally from Chicago, who has performed at Second City. She also answered questions e-mailed earlier in the week to YLD and from the audience directly.

When asked why so many Jews perform comedy, she replied, “We become funny at a young age because we need to be. It’s a Jewish survival skill.”

Then, Morris read an e-mail from a young Jewish woman. “You don’t want to get married…Why shouldn’t I get married?” “It’s just not my cup of tea,” said Silverman. “…You have to decide what makes you happy…I also don’t personally want to get married because not everyone can. It’s like joining a club that doesn’t allow Jews or Blacks.”

Morris closed the evening with a pressing question, asking the comedian which word she’s more partial to—schmuck or putz. “Schmuck is in my life more,” she said, “but putz is a great scrabble word.”
Thank you to YLD’s Big Event Supporting Sponsors Eleven City Diner, CAR Leasing, Inc., Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, and Event Sponsor Steve’s Deli.

The return of Lamb Chop, and the woman who brought her back

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Mallory Lewis talks performing with Lamb Chop, her work with the USO, and why she voluntarily jumps out of planes as a hobby

You all remember her. The cute little New York Jewish girl was on all of our television screens when we were children. She sang songs, and became one of our favorite characters. You know exactly who I’m talking about.

Lamb Chop.

The return of Lamb Chop photo

This sock puppet sheep rose to fame with Shari Lewis, her puppeteer, and was a fixture in most households with young children. In 1998, however, tragedy struck, and Shari died of viral pneumonia at age 65 while undergoing treatment for uterine cancer. It seemed as if Lamb Chop could also be gone for good. And then came Mallory Lewis.

Mallory, daughter of Shari, took over her mother’s legacy and brought Lamb Chop back to the spotlight, performing at state fairs all over the country. While flying through Chicago, in between state fairs and doing a television segment for WGN, Mallory sat down with Oy!Chicago, and gave us some insight into her life as Shari’s daughter, Lamb Chop’s sister, military enthusiast, and skydiving extraordinaire.

Oy!Chicago: So tell me a little about yourself.
Mallory Lewis: My name is Mallory Lewis, I’m a Cancer and I like long walks on the beach…I went to Beverly Hills High School, yes, 90210! And then I went to Barnard College Columbia University. I majored in anthropology, “the study of man!” It has had nothing to do with my life today at all in the slightest! I chose anthropology because I was always interested in evolution but also because at the end of my sophomore year I had the most classes in that. So that worked out.

And what did you do after college?
After college I started out being the eastern regional sales manager for New World Pictures Home Video. This was back in the days when home video first came out, when the choice was beta as the format or VHS. And then I went on to work for RCA Columbia Pictures, and then freelancing with some smaller companies. I moved to Los Angeles, back home, and then I worked in publicity, which most young, talkative, Jewish girls do at some point! And then I started writing. Now I had actually been writing for my mom [Shari Lewis] since I was about 12. And then I started writing for her TV series and Lamp Chop’s Play Along, and then became the producer on that and Charlie Horse Mystic Pizza, and all of the specials. And while I was doing that I started skydiving, for fun, and I met my husband there, and we have an 11-year-old son named James Abraham Tarcher Hood. And when my mom died I started performing with Lamb Chop. So that’s sort of what happened in the last 20 some odd years.

How was it growing up with Lamb Chop?
It was great growing up with Lamb Chop. Mom was very smart and I can only do what I do today because I watched her do it. Because the biggest part of what I do is not the performing although that seems like the biggest part. The biggest part is knowing how to get to the studio on time for a 6am taping, how to deal with the people backstage, deal with agents, deal with the public, deal with very nice interviewers sitting across the table from you who even when they smile don’t have any wrinkles which is kind of irritating! You know my mom led by example, and she really set a very good example for how to be Shari Lewis, I guess would be the way to describe it. She was a good mom, she was fun.

One of the main reasons I started doing Lamb Chop was because I was pregnant when my mom died and I didn’t know how to be a mother without Lamb Chop in my life. And by that I mean my son has had an hour in an F-18 simulator at Miramar Naval Base, he travels to state fairs with me, he has been all around the world because being Lamb Chop’s kid is a great, fun thing to be. And so I couldn’t let that die out of my life and I certainly couldn’t let him not have that specialness in his life.

And how was it growing up with Shari Lewis as your mother?
It was great having Mom as a mom. I didn’t learn as much from her as I should have when I was younger. It wasn’t until I had to be her that I understood the lessons that she was trying to teach me. She used to say things like, “The day begins the night before.” Okay, well that made me want to barf. You know, I was just a normal teenager. But what she meant was, I had a 5:30 wakeup this morning and I was lights out by 9:30 last night because the day begins the night before. I had my clothes laid out, I was ready and I was organized. She set an amazing example on the sets; she was the first one there and the last one to leave. Always. And she and I actually used to have a little contest to see who could get to the set first until finally my producing partner got us both sitting down and goes, “That’s it you two! You’ve made the Kraft Service girl cry three days in a row because you’re here before her! And she can’t get here fast enough!” So she just set a good example and as a mom now, I realize how difficult the number of choices she had to make were. Because you can’t have it all at the same time. Absolutely can’t. I’m so glad that I did not get a TV show with Lamb Chop, which I had been trying for when my son was little, because I wouldn’t have been as good a mom. I wouldn’t have been there. Now my son is older, now my son comes with me. He understands and I had the chance to mold his little self.

When in your life did you realize just how famous Lamb Chop was?
When did I realize how big Lamb Chop was? Well, Mom was off the TV for the sort of crucial five years of my generation. The 4-9, you know when things make an impression on you. And I went to Beverly High, I was at school with huge stars’ kids, so it didn’t feel that big. It felt bigger when we were on the road. Because outside of Los Angeles, you know, in Malibu I don’t feel slim, but when I travel the rest of the country I’m like, “Wow, I am skinny!” But when you live in the shiny bubble, you don’t feel particularly shiny. It’s only when you get out of the shiny bubble that you’re like, “Wow, look at that! I sparkle!” So what’s really sweet is now I do a huge amount of work for the USO and for the troops. And the troops are all 18-30—which is the key pocket for Mom right now because of Lamb Chop’s Play Along. And it’s so nice for me because I have no pretentions that it’s me, I mean it’s this wonderful and amazing character. And so whenever I’m autographing I usually just do Lamb Chop’s autograph which is her little face, and people say, “Oh, aren’t you going to sign your name?” and I’m like, “Oh! Okay!” And sometimes people will call me Shari by mistake and then they’ll go, “Oh, I’m so sorry!” And I’m like, okay, I’ve dyed my hair red, the puppet’s on my hand, I have false eyelashes glued to my face, really, you think I’m going to be offended by that? It’s the ultimate compliment. It’s not like they called me Hitler!

So there are no feelings of competition between Lamb Chop’s character/fame and you?
I don’t know, I’m just not competitive with a sock. But also, she’s mine, so why would I be competitive with her? I’m proud of her! Someone once met me at the airport with a big sign that said Lamb Chop, you know a car company, and the guy goes, “Sorry, is this okay that the sign says Lamb Chop?” And I said, well as long as I don’t have to ride in the trunk then I’m good with it! She’s the one in the trunk! I’m comfortable.

And when did you decide to continue on with Lamb Chop’s performances?
I decided to keep Lamb Chop’s legacy alive. When my mom died I was eight weeks pregnant and I spent most of my pregnancy and most of the first six months of his life accepting posthumous awards for my mom. Until one day my husband looked at me and said, “Sweetie we cannot make a living of this so either go back to producing or put the puppet on.” And so I did. And the first thing she said was at a charity event run by Pat Proft (who wrote Airplane and stuff like that). I put her in the podium because I didn’t want to commit to doing it, and I put her on and just said “Shari would be so proud.” And then in the audience there was silence and then a gasp and then a round of applause. And I thought, okay, I can do this. And then I started by doing like two minutes, a three-minute routine, a five-minute routine, and seven-minute routine, you know I just had to build a routine. Because even though I knew how to do the puppet I didn’t know any material. So that’s the how and when I started.

So how did you figure out the material for the routine?
I was always Lamb Chop’s head writer.  So some of it was mom’s material, more in the beginning—because Lamb Chop is Mom’s daughter, she’s my sister. So now it’s a very different relationship. She has absolutely no respect for me whatsoever.

So what do you do differently with Lamb Chop than what your mother did?
The one thing that I do differently than my mom is that I always have children onstage with me. My mom was an extremely good performer. She was incredibly precise. She ran a much tighter show than I do. She didn’t mess around, I guess. I happen to be a very loose performer. I love having kids onstage. There’s just nothing cuter than a little two-year-old. I once had a little girl who was sitting on my lap onstage after a number, and she holds up this little red bag and goes, “I have a puhse!” I said, “Oh really? What’s in your ‘puhse?’” and the audience starts to laugh immediately, and she goes “Whipstick!” and she holds up a lipstick. And then she goes, “And I don’t know what this is, my mommy gave it to me.” And she holds up a tampon. So the audience starts to roar with laughter, and I go, “Well you can ask mommy about that, here she comes! She’s the one with the really red face!” So I love playing with the kids onstage. So I do that differently than my mom.

What is your favorite part of working with Lamb Chop?
My favorite part of working with Lamb Chop is the USO stuff. It is the most amazing honor to be able to work with the troops. They are all Play Along kids and I had a really emotional experience happen at a fair. There was this very tall guy who came to the autographing. He said that during one of the really bad firefights the guys had started singing the song that doesn’t end, and they didn’t let it stop until they had won. And they sang for four hours, like different people would be singing. And I was told that also by a colonel, and he said that when the guys were on point they were scared. And they would sing, “This is the war that doesn’t end.” So my greatest joy is to do things for the military and their families. That is unbelievable. But it’s just all the love that people give me. It is just like a giant massage, it’s so nice.

Did you ever envision Lamb Chop reaching so many different people, like the troops and their families?
I always knew Lamb Chop had a million ways of reaching people. Because I worked as my mom’s producer, I saw it all. Mom was extremely focused on what she was doing. She never did USO work though—at least not as far as I know—and I feel so sorry for her that she missed that. Because that’s an aspect that it’s just unbelievable, because when you live in the world of “Oh my latte’s too cold!” and then you go to see people who, you know, we have a volunteer military! These are not people being forced to give up their lives and their families’ lives to protect our country, they are doing it because they really believe, even if they don’t believe in the war, even if they don’t believe in the Commander in Chief, it doesn’t matter. They believe in the republic. And they believe that they have a responsibility to protect it. It is so humbling being with members of the military.

Have you ever been formally recognized for your work with Lamb Chop?
We got the Palmer Vision Award, the Kids First Award, I just got one the other day, the UNIMA award, which is for excellence in performance and UNIMA is the international puppetry association. My mom won the UNIMA award 20 years before me.

So it’s like things came full circle?
There’s an awful lot of that. Most of the time I walk around happy, but if you could just add a zero to all my paychecks then I’d be really happy. But other than that, it’s okay. And I love performing with Lamb Chop, she really helps me feel close to my mom. Which is really nice because she [Shari] was my best friend. I miss my mom. You can remarry, you can’t remommy. So it’s wonderful.

What are you most proud of outside of your work with Lamb Chop?
The thing that I’m most proud of outside of Lamb Chop is Jump for the Cause. Jump for the Cause is a women’s world record skydiving event that my girlfriend Kate Cooper and I organized for the last 10 years. We’ve raised over 2 million dollars for breast cancer research. And we bring in the top female skydivers from around the world for a week where we build new freefall records. I had started organizing it before I had my son, and had to stop jumping because I was pregnant. And then all of a sudden after I had Jamie, what had seemed like the only way to spend my weekends, for years, turned into, “Really? Jumping out of a plane? But I have a baby!” All of a sudden my mother brain kicked in, which is a whole different brain than my “Wheeeee!” brain. So I still organize the events but I no longer skydive actively. The first time I jumped, I jumped because someone in the studio said something about skydiving and I said, “Oh I’d love to do that” and my mom goes, “I forbid you to do it.” So of course being the mature 28-year-old that I was, I went skydiving. I hated the plane ride, I hated freefall, I hated the canopy riding, I hated the landing, and the first thing out of my mouth was, “Wow, that was great, can we go again?”

Do you see Lamb Chop as more than just a puppet?
Am I insane? Is that the question? Well actually she is more than just a puppet. Sometimes when there is such a well-drawn character, it has a life of its own. And sort of like Tinkerbell, if you don’t believe, she died. Well Lamb Chop has touched so many millions of people that their love for her has imbued her with a certain amount of life. I mean obviously I know she’s a sock, I’ve been there when they make her. But once she comes to life she is more than the sum of her parts. When I was a little girl, I would talk to her. And I could tell Lamb Chop anything and I never got in trouble. Like I could tell her that I left my new sweater at school and I don’t know where it is, you know the big crimes that an eight-year-old-commits, and she never told my mom.

So she was like your confidant.
Yeah! I still don’t think Mom knows about that. So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

So where do you see Lamb Chop going in the future?
I would love to have another TV series. I think Lamb Chop will continue to be an ambassador that brings out a lovely side of people. When she’s there, people are nicer, I don’t really know how else to explain it. They’re happier, and I think that’s why she works so well for the troops, because she reminds them of a time when nobody was shooting at them. Where things weren’t blowing up.

So would you say Lamb Chop is mainly for kids? Or do you think there are other audiences that would enjoy your routines?
I like children’s entertainment, I like kids very much, but I also have a nightclub routine that I do with Lamb Chop.

Really? A Lamb Chop routine in a nightclub?
It’s on Youtube, and it’s called “Lamb Chop After Dark.” I really try and keep my two worlds fairly separate. Lamb Chop never is X-rated but she does come out wearing a burqa. And it’s politically downhill from there. She’s a very liberal Jewish puppet. Sarah Palin takes quite a beating during this routine. I mean, my humor, I’m more politically incorrect, but even when I don’t have Lamb Chop on my hand, I am still representing my mom, so all the material is just double entendres, it never crosses the line into anything that truly would be inappropriate. And you can deliver a line in a million different ways. So what I deliver with a giggle and a smile during my kids show, I do with a bit more of a shimmy and a smirk in my adult show.

Do you think being Jewish affects how you perform in any way?
Oh totally, being Jewish completely affects my performances. A woman came up to me at my last show and she goes, “Hey we have a lot in common!” and I immediately knew she was Jewish. I mean in Ohio it’s not hard to spot the Jews because there are three of them. And she said, “My mother was a Jewish ventriloquist too.” So I’m like, “Wait, come back after the show, we gotta talk.” So she and her husband the cantor come back and by the end of the conversation I got a gig coming up at their temple during Chanukah. So being Jewish really affects my performances. The Jews turn out for the Jews. Also, Lamb Chop is Jewish. I mean she is clearly Jewish, very publicly Jewish, and so her whole personality is a little New York Jewish girl. I mean she doesn’t daven, so the whole country can connect with her.

Has she ever gotten you into any trouble on the road?
No, she hasn’t caused any trouble on the road, but she has gotten me out of a couple speeding tickets! This one time, a cop pulls me over, and he goes, “What were you thinking?!?” So I just pulled out Lamb Chop and got out of a ticket. She often gets me upgraded because I’ll go up to the first class counter and I’ll assume shock, “Oh I’m not in first class?” And then Lamb Chop will say, “Well I’ll have no objection to being upgraded.” And sometimes that works. So she never gets me into trouble, she gets me out of trouble on the road.

Is there anything else you want the Oy!sters to know?
Thank you for being fans of Lamb Chop. And I’m more than willing to come to a college near you and do my nightclub routine!

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