(Editor’s note: Comedian Rachel Feinstein will be performing at the Pittsburgh Improv at the Waterfront on Thursday evening, Nov. 14. An article in the Nov. 7 edition, “ ‘Last comic standing’s’ Rachel Feinstein appears here,” contained an incorrect date.)
At the age of 17, after “barely” graduating from high school, Rachel Feinstein moved from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., to New York City with “this ridiculous guy and his metal band.”
Every Jewish mother’s dream, right?
While the relationship only lasted three months (whew!), the move to New York launched the comedy career of this widely acclaimed stand-up, a finalist on Season 7 of “Last Comic Standing.”
Feinstein will be bringing her brassy brand of humor to Pittsburgh next week when she performs at the Pittsburgh Improv, Thursday, Nov. 14, along with comic Ed Blaze.
Feinstein is a master of mimicry, a character-driven comic, whose penchant for impressions began as a child raised by a civil rights lawyer-turned blues musician father, and a WASP-turned Jewish mother, both of whom encouraged her creative side, and enabled her to pursue her dreams.
Not a good student, Feinstein said she “never knew what was going on in school.”
She was that kid whose hair was always wet.
“And it would drip down my back,” she told the Chronicle, speaking from Lake Tahoe, where she was performing at a casino. “There was always a puddle on my back. I was a wet-back, which my mother thought was a racial slur.”
Because academics were not her thing, she began creating characters and voices, and making people laugh.
So, she went to New York to try her hand at comedy professionally. After spending about two years sitting in the back of a comedy club, she eventually got the nerve to take the stage herself and she hasn’t looked back.
She now has a long list of credits that includes being featured on “Russell Simmons’ Presents,” “Live at the El Ray,” TBS’s “Just For Laughs” series and “Comics Unleashed.” She has her own half-hour special, “Comedy Central Presents Rachel Feinstein,” and has written for The Onion and Heeb.
“I get my humor from my dad’s side,” she said. “They have this dark, weird sense of humor.”
Although her act doesn’t dwell on her Jewish upbringing, she has gleaned a lot of material from her family.
Take her mother, Karen, who Feinstein describes as very “Waspy looking.”
“My mother is a convert and she is very proud to pronounce her last name,” Feinstein said. “She can’t wait for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to come. ‘I’m Karen Feinstein,’ she’ll tell them. But she still has trouble with the language. She’ll say, ‘This is a messhugana as she points to the mezuzah on the door.”
Then there’s her grandmother, upon whom she “loosely” based the character Ice Cold Rhoda, an old Jewish woman who reviews hip-hop records based on the Star of David Rating System.
Although, like most contemporary comedians, Feinstein does not shy away from the topic of sex in her act, her parents love to come to her shows, and to bring along members of their congregation, she said.
“But I think my father hand picks the right ones to bring,” she said.
While it can be “vaguely traumatizing” to look out into the audience during the off-color parts of her act and see her parents, they are always sitting there “beaming,” Feinstein said.
“My parents are super liberal,” she said. “My mom would love it if I married a Nigerian lesbian.”
Still, there are “certain things you don’t want to say in front of your parents,” she said.
“But I do.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)