Returning for its second season this week, Alone Together is a Curb Your Enthusiasm for millennials. Much like Larry David’s revered program, this buddy comedy has its stars playing lightly fictionalized versions of themselves. We follow Benji Aflalo and Esther Povitsky as they complain their way through self-absorbed Los Angeles misadventures.
In an interview with Tablet, Aflalo talked about his comedic influences, how to keep an unlikable character funny, and his connection to being Jewish.
Can you tell me a little about your Jewishness, and specifically how it, or if it, influenced your comedy?
I’m not a religious person. Growing up I went to a Jewish private school, but luckily they were very reformed and liberal, so I wasn’t subjected to too much praying or weird indoctrination. I talk about being Jewish on stage but it’s not really an influence on my comedy. Biologically I’m Jewish, so it comes up. I find the stereotypes funny, like complaining or allergies, or complaining about allergies, so I exploit that I guess. But overall, leaning too much into Jewish stuff is counterproductive.
For example, I noticed an article on Tablet that criticized Bernie Sanders for not being outspoken about anti-Semitism. So dumb. It’s like wow, a Jewish guy started a revolution in this country based on fairness and equality for EVERYONE, and instead of just appreciating that, he’s criticized for not thinking more about the small group of people who share some of his DNA. Jewish people have a great track record of contributing things to the world but the Jews who sit around just thinking about being Jewish have nothing to do with those contributors. But people can do and be what they want, for me though, pride via association is a death trap.
Interesting. Growing up, did you have any comedy heroes—Jewish or not—that you looked up to?
I grew up a big fan of comedy so it’s hard for me to choose a favorite comedian. I was obsessed with Comedy Central when I was a teenager which showcased so many different comedians on shows like Dr. Katz. I loved Jeff Ross, I loved Eddie Murphy, and I loved George Carlin. I also loved Adam Sandler. But overall I just loved comedy and I still do. There are so many funny comedians out there, and despite people complaining about ‘what you can and can’t say anymore’ I think the First Amendment and comedy are in great shape.
So in Alone Together, you and your co-star Esther Povitsky play “Benji and Esther.” How autobiographical is the show?
Alone Together is somewhat autobiographical but it can vary from episode to episode. The road trip in season one is very much based on a real story. Other episodes can lean into stuff that writers and producers think are funny.
A lot of the humor here stems from your characters acting insufferable and not making the best decisions. Were you ever worried that you were making “Benji and Esther” too unlikable for audiences?
Sometimes I worry about being unlikable, sure. Like in one episode I take a girl on a date who was dating my brother—I would never do that in real life. Most shows have imperfect characters in order to create conflict. With no conflict it’s kinda hard to tell a story. In choosing those conflicts and imperfections, of course I want to be likable, but wanting to be liked is always subordinate to being funny. I’d rather be funny and unlikable than likable and unfunny. Still, there’s a balance.
On that same note, Alone Together is the rare comedy on Freeform, a channel known for teen dramas like Pretty Little Liars and Shadowhunters. Was there ever pressure from the network to make tweaks for, let’s say, the typical Freeform viewer?
Freeform has been pretty chill with us through the whole process. Everyone always asks a question like this. People wanna think the network ruins stuff for creative people but it hasn’t been the case.
You’ve got a big lineup of guest stars this season including Fran Drescher, Natasha Leggero, and more. Was there anyone in particular you were most excited to work with?
Alone Together is a show of guest stars so there is always someone in each episode I’m excited to meet or work with. We were lucky enough to cast some of our comedian friends in the show which is really fun. To name a few: Fahim Anwar, Andrew Santino, Jesus Trejo, Rick Glassman, Sandy Danto and so many more. In many cases, these comics are people you started doing open mics with and then years later you’re on a show together. It’s kind of romantic and surreal. Being a new comic is a very rough and dumpy life, so to climb out of that together and survive in comedy with your peers gives me a warm feeling. Baywatch’s Carmen Electra did not do open mics with me but she’s in the episode I got to write and that was super fun and exciting. She’s a very talented and sweet person.
Lastly, do you have a favorite Jewish joke?
A gentile walks into a used car lot, goes up to the used car salesman and says, “How much for that car?” The used car salesman says, “$7,000.” The gentile says, “I’ll take it!”
New episodes of Alone Together air Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. on Freeform. The entire season is available to stream on Hulu.
Elazar Abrahams is a former intern at Tablet, and will attend Yeshiva University after a gap year at Netiv Aryeh in Jerusalem.