Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Charlie Sheen/"Chaim Levine" explained

One of the top stories in the US over the past couple of weeks has been the bizarre behavior of comic actor Charlie Sheen - possibly the highest paid TV star in the world - and the resultant stoppage of the popular TV show Two and a Half Men.

One of Sheen's rants has been towards the creator of the show, Chuck Lorre. He has been referring to Lorre in interviews as "Chaim Levine."

So where did that come from?

Entertainment Weekly finds the answer. It came from Lorre himself.

At the end of every one of his shows, Chuck Lorre flashes a dense screenful of text for about a half second, requiring people who want to read it to pause their DVDs. These "vanity cards" are often quite funny, as one can expect from the creator of two very funny shows (he is also the co-creator of The Big Bang Theory.)

On February 7th, Lorre's vanity card gave what was actually mostly a very nice and funny mini-essay about Israel and Jewish identity:

I'm writing this vanity card in Israel. I like it here. Not for the geography, or architecture, or even the history. No, I like it because for the first time in my life I'm surrounded with DNA much like my own. Until I got here, until I wandered around Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I didn't realize how much my double helix yearned to be around similar strands. Now that's not to say that I don't occasionally have that very same genetic experience in Beverly Hills (particularly in Chinese restaurants on Sunday night). But the sheer homogeneity of Israel overwhelms any over-priced kung pao gathering at Mr. Chow's. The cop, the cab driver, the hotel concierge, the pilot, the waiter, the shoe salesman, the beautiful girl looking right through me as if I didn't exist -- all Jewish! If I had to sum it up, I'd say the sensation is like being at a B'nai B'rith summer camp that is surrounded by millions of crazy bastards who hate the sound of kids playing tetherball, and all the poor little camp has going for it is pluckiness and nukes. Anyway, I have to believe my visceral and very pleasant reaction is some sort of evolutionary, tribal thing. Some sort of survival gene that makes human beings want to stay with their birth group. Which raises the question, why have I spent a lifetime moving away from that group? How did Chaim become Chuck? How did Levine become Lorre? The only answer I come up with is this: When I was a little boy in Hebrew school the rabbis regularly told us that we were the chosen people. That we were God's favorites. Which is all well and good except that I went home, observed my family and, despite my tender age, thought to myself, "bull$#*!."

This is where Charlie Sheen, obsessively reading Lorre's vanity cards to find any insults to his star, found out Lorre's Hebrew name. Whether his use of that name is borderline anti-semitic is a topic for debate.

As for me, I like Chuck Lorre even more than I did before. (The humor on Two and a Half Men crosses the line a bit too often for my tastes - this season there doesn't even seem to be an attempt at subtlety in the myriad sex jokes - but The Big Bang Theory is brilliant. Of course, I'm a geek.)