For David Javerbaum, it was moving from one demanding boss to another. First it was serving as the long-time head writer and executive producer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But after working for four more years than Jacob did for Laban, he decided to see what else was out there.
“It was the best-paying job I’ll ever have,” Javerbaum told NJ Jewish News in a Nov. 28 phone interview from a book tour stop in Austin, Tex. “But I knew if I didn’t leave I would never have the chance to see what I could do on my own, so I just took the plunge.”
Javerbaum — who grew up in Maplewood and now lives in New York City — already had a few books to his credit, including the best-selling Earth and America (both printed under the Daily Show brand) and What to Expect When You’re Expected: A Fetus’s Guide to the First Three Trimesters. It was during a promotional tour a couple of years ago that the idea for The Last Testament: A Memoir (Simon and Schuster) came to him, as he put it, “in a moment of divine inspiration.”
“I had just left The Daily Show…and He came to me in the form of a burning couch and He asked me if I was interested in working on the project,” said Javerbaum. “I was flattered but I told Him there was a protocol to follow. He went to His agent, but it turns out we have the same agent.
“I worked with Jon Stewart for over a decade and that was a terrific experience; working with God was much more difficult,” he said.
In preparation for The Last Testament, Javerbaum read “a fair amount” of “the Big Three”: the Old Testament, the New Testament (“for the first time”), and the Koran.
“I didn’t want to get too obscure because if I did, no one is going to get it,” he said. “Readers wouldn’t find it funny. So I just tried to basically write a book and use my artistic ability about things people knew, either from ancient history or pop culture and try to create something like a very complete book. If you look at the index, it’s a pretty long list of references from every aspect of life.”
Javerbaum, 40, attended Congregation Beth-El in South Orange when its religious leader was Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein, “the best rabbi ever.” But, he said, “I was never particularly religious, never particularly believing, and that has only continued as I’ve gotten older. Especially seeing the effects organized religion has had on society.”
The cynicism pokes through the lines of the book. “There’s a lot of sarcasm,” he admitted. “I believe [the book] does make a lot of points about religion in a way that I think is totally fair because I’m taking what religion itself, what the Bible itself says, and what people believe about God, and trying to turn it against itself.”
For example? “Moses was a cult leader of a group of people with an odd belief system who were ostracized by society. It’s all true. But the Jews won so they get to write the book.” Javerbaum reflected for a moment on the question: If God speaks to you, doesn’t that make you a prophet, too? “I hope so,” he said.
Writing the memoirs of the Supreme Being “seemed liked the richest vein in the world for comedy, and it’s not been in any way tapped in a book. You can’t have a topic that is more all-consuming both in terms of the amount of material you can approach and how important it is in the foundation of culture.”
Javerbaum was aware that some might find The Last Testament a bit disrespectful. “That didn’t seem like enough of a reason not to do it,” he said. “I’m just glad it was an available piece of low-hanging forbidden fruit for me.”
So far The Last Testament has received a positive response, including a favorable review in The New York Times. In fact, Javerbaum seemed a bit disappointed that there wasn’t more negative press, at least “not as much as I would like,” he said. “Once things are forbidden or considered dangerous, they sell like hotcakes.”
In that case, on the bright side, there was that conservative Christian columnist who condemned the book. And Walmart or Costco refuse to sell it in their stores (although it is available through their respective websites). “That doesn’t really surprise me,” Javerbaum said, although he was bemused that Simon and Schuster’s British counterpart decided not to offer it locally. “They preemptively said, ‘We are not publishing the book explicitly because we don’t want to be attacked, because we are afraid.’”
Javerbaum is keeping busy, working on a TV pilot, another book, a screenplay, and a couple of award shows. He’s enjoying this new chapter of his professional life, which allows him to move from behind the scenes to “front and center.”
Before signing off, Javerbaum proudly pointed out he has already appeared in the pages of NJJN. “Pretty much any time I accomplish anything, my parents make sure that I get in.”