NEW YORK (JTA) – Josh Orlian cracked up the judges on “America’s Got Talent,” but his Orthodox day school wasn’t laughing.
The 12-year-old kippah-wearing comic made his national television debut with a raunchy routine packed with sexual innuendo. The show’s celebrity judges and studio audience seemed both stunned and entertained by the pre-bar-mitzvah-age cut-up’s dirty jokes.
While the sixth-grader’s shtick garnered the approval of the four judges – they unanimously advanced him to the competition’s next round – it drew a reproach from his suburban New York yeshiva, Westchester Day School.
“The message conveyed by such a performance was entirely contrary to the Modern Orthodox values taught and lived at WDS,” the school’s head, Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, wrote in an email sent last week to parents that was obtained by JTA. “The student and the family have committed to never repeating this kind of comic performance in the future.”
School officials declined to comment on the matter to JTA.
Orlian’s performance, which aired June 17 on NBC, consisted of exactly three jokes, all either about oral sex or the young comic’s anatomy.
For his final gag, Orlian recalled going to circus camp and telling his mother that next he wanted to learn sword swallowing, an idea to which she strenuously objected. Orlian then recounted relaying this to his father, who supposedly replied, “I’m not surprised, your mother hasn’t been interested in sword swallowing since we got engaged.”
As the audience responded with a mix of laughter and stunned looks, Orlian deadpanned, “I didn’t know my mom was in the circus.”
The judges ate it up.
Comedian Howie Mandel joked that Orlian’s performance would go over well at his bar mitzvah party.
“If nothing else, you’ve got a great piece of tape for the reception,” Mandel said.
Mel B. of Spice Girls fame pronounced Orlian “naughty, naughty but nice.” Shock jock Howard Stern said Orlian had to work on his stage confidence but added, “You got good material.”
Josh’s father, Joseph, boasted in a Facebook post, “Great reaction from literally across America to the audition of my son.”
It wasn’t the first time that a kippah-clad kid had made a splash on “America’s Got Talent.”
In 2012, then 14-year-old Edon Pinchot reached the semifinals with his singing and piano skills. His success was a source of pride for many Orthodox Jews, though some also criticized him for singing secular songs on national TV.
Unsurprisingly, Orlian’s performance was considerably more controversial. Online commenters described the performance as a “chilul Hashem” – a desecration of God’s name.
Daniel Rothner, the director of Areyvut, a New Jersey-based nonprofit that connects Jewish youths with volunteer opportunities, told JTA that he was concerned the performance reflected poorly on the community.
“There’s a difference between conversing at camp with friends and doing it on national TV,” said Rothner, who noted that he had met Orlian several years ago when the boy participated in a “mitzvah clowning” event organized by his group. Orlian, Rothner recalled, rode a unicycle to cheer up the elderly.