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Josh Orlian Really Does Have Talent

After all, the 12-year-old comedian knew how to make Howie Mandel kvell

Rachel Shukert
June 19, 2014
Josh Orlian performing on 'America's Got Talent.'(YouTube)
Josh Orlian performing on 'America's Got Talent.'(YouTube)

Much Jewish ink has been spilled already on Josh Orlian, the 12-year-old yarmulke’d wonder from White Plains, N.Y., who alternately wowed and shocked the judges on America’s Got Talent the other night by performing his stand-up act—you know, the one he performs for his three weirdo friends in the coat room when they’re supposed to be in the children’s service. We’ve heard outrage about his temerity to appear in the vestments of frumness and then tell dirty jokes, how his act was an affront to his parents (although, obviously, one wants to be supportive), and fury at his parents themselves for allowing their son to do such a thing.

I’m not religious and I’m not a parent, so I’m not too bothered by either of these things, and anyone who thinks a yarmulke is some talisman against hormones has never been to a USY convention. But I am a person of the comic persuasion, and, as such, I’m in awe. Not of his jokes, which, frankly, were pretty tame by current standards, or his delivery, which could use a little work, but whatever, it was his first time.

What impresses me is how at the tender age of 12 (not even bar mitzvah’d!) Josh Orlian has already mastered the first, and perhaps only, rule of comedy: know your audience. The only people that matter at this stage of the competition are the judges, and there was no way, no way, that Howie Mandel and Howard Stern were going to look at this incarnation of their past selves, an awkward little Jewish boy making jokes about his penis, and not put him through to the next round. (Heidi Klum, for her part, just saw his yarmulke and immediately said Ja, as was mandated decades ago in the Marshall Plan.)

So it was no surprise that we’ll be seeing more of Josh in the future. What I found more surprising was how moved I was watching Howard and Howie watching him. Is this the little boy I carried? Today, he is a man. It was a comic’s bar mitzvah, with Rabbi Stern and Cantor Mandel. We’ll see how forgiving they are when he comes back with his haftorah.

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.