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"A Couple of Things That Could Be Better About This Town."

A frank conversation with comedian Charlie Varon's alter ego, the star of Feisty Old Jew.


On stage, Bernie Schein is an 83-year-old former bookie living in a San Francisco retirement castle, noted for his hatred of yoga, lattes, tattoos, smart phones, and the young people who brought them to his city. In actuality, Schein is a character invented by comedian Charlie Varon for his hit one-man show Feisty Old Jew, returning to the Marsh theater in Berkeley this Saturday. So, of course, we interviewed Bernie. Wouldn't you? Here's the San Francisco legend on everything we're all doing wrong:

Feisty Old Jew, the title seems to put rather a fine point on it. How do you feel about it?
It’s not my idea of a title. I would have called it  "A Couple of Things That Could Be Better About This Town."

Just for your sake, I’m conducting this interview via an old-school rotary phone instead of my smart phone. [Ed note: Not a joke. He borrowed his landlady’s.]
I love it. As long as it’s not that retro shit from the boutiques on Valencia and Polk. They’re trying to be postmodern. I don’t know what that means, I just hear the word on NPR. I’ll tell you something: I’m not anti-tech. I love the iPhone, it’s a thing of beauty. I like the technology, I just don’t like the people who come with it. We need to offshore some of them. I mean little floating islands of young tech people, like offshore drilling rigs. Traffic would improve.

Maybe underwater, so they don’t spoil the view?
Now you’re talking. There's probably venture capital for that. You have a mind for this, you‘re sharp. Are you Jewish? You can be Jewish by association.

My friend has an idea for a Feisty Old Jew app: It gives you an opinion every couple of minutes, and you can never turn it off.
That’s a stupid idea, but I’d be interested in getting some of the licensing fees. What I hear is nobody makes money because nobody wants to pay for content. Say, are you getting all this? I want to make sure you’re doing your job. A lot of young people don’t like to work. What is a journalist today anyway, someone who types pixels on a screen? Where are the old shoe leather reporters?

I'm saving up for shoe leather on installments right now. So what can we say about this show?
It’s a great show, it’s about what’s old, what’s new, what’s changed and what should never have changed. It’s got something for everybody.

You don’t hate everything these days, do you?
Well, there’s decent cocktails at the Top of the Mark. The Golden Gate Bridge will always take your breath away. You can still get a good steak in this town. Also, there’s no dog shit all over the streets anymore, I like that. Used to be you’d have to pay a kid a quarter to hose your shoe off every time you went out.

There‘s an old joke: “Ask two Jews, get three opinions.” Talking with you makes that seem like a lowball count.
That’s some funny math. The truth is, it’s an exponential increase. I’m not sure, I never finished high school. Once you get five or six Jews you end up with eighty opinions. It’s a mysterious force, like atoms splitting. If we could harness that it would solve the energy crisis: The Jewish Opinion Accelerator. Write that down. We’ve got that and the app and the techie oil rigs. We’ll clean up.


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