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‘SNL’ Greats Dieter and Linda Richman’s Coffee Tawk in Auschwitz

Mike Myers’ classic characters—plus Madonna and Babs—together in a buddy flick about anti-Semitism. What could go wrong?

Rachel Shukert
October 18, 2013
(Collage Tablet Magazine)
(Collage Tablet Magazine)

Now that the public face of nihilism has increasingly become ruddy, well-fed, and bellowing in a country-fried accent something about how compromise is a Judeo-Bolshevist invention, it’s hard to remember that there once was a time when our cultural image of an adherent to this most ridiculous of philosophies was altogether different. Sleeker. Cooler. Artier. German.

Nobody embodied—or satirized—that Platonic ideal better than Dieter, the iconic SNL character sprung from the mind of Mike Myers, which was arguably the most fertile terrain in ’90s comedy, populated by various charter members of various hilariously specific subcultures, each of whom had somehow been selected to host their own talk show. Dieter’s show was Sprockets, a virtuosically bizarre rendering of what might happen if Klaus Nomi was the host of Crossfire, involving disturbing black-and-white video, a mysterious monkey that favored guests were exhorted to touch, and of course, “the time on Sprockets when we dance” a jerky assemblage of geometric movements that would not be out of place in a Merce Cunningham piece.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his cultlike appeal, Dieter never reached the dizzying heights of Wayne Campbell, Myers’ most famous SNL creation, having been denied a starring role in his own feature film. Such a project was green-lighted in 2000 and set to feature then up-and-coming new talents Will Ferrell and Jack Black in supporting roles and looked to be yet another smash hit waiting to happen. Until, that is, Myers unexpectedly pulled out, citing unresolvable issues with the screenplay (which he himself had written, no fewer than 14 times) and triggering a series of lawsuits that, depending on what you thought of The Cat in the Hat, effectively ended his non-Shrek film career. The script was shelved, never to be seen again by human eyes.

That is, until now. Comedy news website Splitsider managed to get a hold of a copy and has kindly reported back, Harry Shearer-style. The verdict? Pretty good! Pretty, pretty, pretty good! A little dated, perhaps, but that’s to be expected, and given the unprecedented nostalgia of the pre-Millennials (i.e., we’re mostly too broke and depressed to make up our own art, so we spend a lot of time tearfully combing Tumblrs strewn with the detritus of our Elysian childhoods), not unviable in today’s marketplace.

But why not really reach into the vaults? Maybe Dieter isn’t enough; maybe it wants to be a buddy picture. And for the role of Dieter’s buddy, allow me to nominate my favorite of Myer’s great triumvirate of sketch comedy creations: the big-haired, butter-adoring, Streisand-worshiping, mighty taloned Linda Richman, the host of “Coffee Talk.” Dieter and Linda. A buddy film reconciling postwar German Nishilism with postwar American-Jewish bagels and lox and buttah culture: There’s a truth and reconciliation committee for you. If you tell me you don’t want to buy your tickets right this minute, I’ll call you a damned liar (or, you know, under 30).

Here’s the pitch: Conceptual artist Dieter, despondent over what he sees to be the detrimental effect of reality television breaking the last taboos (after the Kardashians, how can one ever be disgusted again?), decides to make the most offensive piece of art ever made, after which he will commit suicide. To that end, he gathers Miley Cyrus, Terry Richardson, Paula Deen, and a small troupe of acrobatic dwarves in furry bear costumes and sets off for the Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he plans a remake of Jerry Lewis’ unreleased master-shonde, The Day the Clown Cried. He didn’t reckon, however, with running into the Temple B’nai Israel Synagogue Sisterhood delegation on their biannual heritage tour, led by one Linda Richman, who isn’t very amused by his project. They get into an altercation, Miley Cyrus is wounded, Paula Deen helplessly offers sticks of butter only to be told she is pronouncing it incorrectly and besides, they had flaishich for lunch, and eventually, both Dieter and Linda are arrested by overzealous concentration camp guards—excuse me, docents—on crimes of attempted assault and Holocaust denial.

Ultimately, they are released, but Linda’s tour group, now in the thrall of Liz, Linda’s bitter rival/best friend (played by Madonna) has moved on to Bergen-Belsen without her. Dieter agrees to escort a distraught Linda across Germany, but unbeknownst to her, he will be recording their trip in order make a film titled “Travels With Old Jewish Woman,” which he plans to enter in the annual Anti-Semitic Film Festival in Gaza. The trip starts out rocky, but slowly they form a grudging rapport in the manner of such things, and when they arrive at Belsen to find themselves foiled once again by Liz, whose rich son has surprised the women by flying them all out to Jerusalem for a Barbra Streisand concert in the Old City (without Linda, and winning the presidency for Liz once and for all), he comes along. (The anti-Semitic film festival is at the same time.)

But! Barbra Streisand had been kidnapped by jihadists and is being held in Gaza! Linda, naturally, is furious when she sees Dieter’s film of her and realizes his plans, but he redeems himself by gaining the terrorist’s trust and pretending Linda too, is a hostage, and together they go to rescue Barbra. And then at some point Barbra sings “People,” and we realize that we are all, in fact, just people, and Dieter’s life has meaning and the conflicts of the Middle East are solved and Liz is ousted from power and oh my God, people, I’m getting verklempt.

Talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic. The Final Solution was neither final, nor a solution. There, all right, I’m better. And now it is the time on Tattler when we dance.


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Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.