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Talented or Inappropriate?

Friday, June 27, 2014
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It's very rare that America's Got Talent gets me thinking philosophically about parenting.

But that happened this week.

Our family settled in to watch a recording of this week's episode on Wednesday night. I was the only one who knew about the controversial audition of Josh Orlian, the 12-year-old Jewish boy who told off-color jokes in his stand-up routine, because I'd seen the clip and the subsequent outcry of shonda on Twitter. 

The Internets, his Orthodox day school and Andrew Dice Clay were of the opinion that you shouldn't tell penis jokes to millions of people while wearing your yarmulke. I was more of the opinion that you shouldn't tell penis jokes — or jokes about your parent's sex life — to millions of people when you are 12.

So, without preface, we assumed our positions on the sofa. Orlian's first joke alluded to the size of his penis in relation to the length of the wait to register for the show, which his father didn’t expect to be so long. Punch line: "The last time I heard that I was at the doctor's office!"

My sons, particularly 10-year-old Maxon, lost their kacken.

"Oh my God!" shouted Ezra, 7.

"So inappropriate," my husband said, laughing.

Maxon didn't speak. Because the mouth won’t form words when it can’t close.

The act was short, just a few more penis jokes. The judges were surprised but not aghast. In the audience and backstage, his parents were cracking up. The judges, especially comedians Howard Stern and Howie Mandell, loved his material. He got four yes votes to advance to the next round. 

"Well," said Heidi Klum, "If your dad is O.K. with it."

And that is the point. Orlian's dad was O.K. with it. Would I be O.K. with Maxon or Ezra standing up on the America's Got Talent stage and saying those jokes?

No.

Perhaps it's like how my girlfriend isn't comfortable showing her kids the X-Men or Lord of the Rings movies, which our boys have seen. There may be plenty of parents who think I am polluting my sons' innocence with fantasy violence. Or perhaps it's like when I'm in a movie theater and a mom brings her 4-year-old to The Hunger Games, and I get all Judge Jenny on her tuchus. 

Because we all have different thresholds of comfort when it comes to what is appropriate for our kids to see, do, hear and say. 

Jewish or not, Orthodox or Reform, kippah or no kippah, Josh Orlian just spoke out loud what every 12-year-old boy thinks on the regular. The jokes themselves weren't that clever or creative, and I will be surprised if he makes it far in the competition. But even if he told the most artfully crafted penis jokes ever written, to me they still would sound creepy coming out of the mouth of a 12-year-old boy. 

But not to his parents, who seemed as proud as I am when Ezra hits a home run or when Maxon rocks out "Little Black Submarines" on the guitar.

And not to my kids, who were begging for a rewind.

"We have to see it again. Can we see it again?" asks Maxon.

"Why did you like it?" asked my husband, Michael.

"Because he was funny and young."

"Time for bed," Michael said.

"You killed the vibe!" 

In bed, I asked Maxon if he thought Orlian's jokes were appropriate.

"Mom, that's what boys talk about all the time!" 

When I tucked Ezra into bed, I asked him why he liked Orlian.

"Because he was funny."

"Did you understand his jokes?"

"No," he said. "Maxon! Tell me what the jokes mean!"

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