Julie Smith Yolles Special to the Jewish News
Ed Asner talks politics, prostates and philanthropy.
Seven-time Emmy Award-winning actor Ed Asner stars in Ed. Weinberger’s one-man comedy A Man and His Prostate at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at the historic Players Theatre at 3321 E. Jefferson in Detroit.
He recently sat down with the JN in advance of his performance for a fun and fact-filled interview.
JN: Because this interview is for the JN, let’s talk about Eddie (Yitzhak) Asner, the nice Jewish boy who was the son of Russian-born parents and raised Orthodox.
ASNER: I ceased being a nice Jewish boy a long time ago — so far back that it’s shrouded in the midst of time.
JN: So, you’re not Orthodox anymore?
ASNER: I triumphantly denied kashrut when I was a teenager.
JN: It’s been well-documented that you’re a major activist and staunch Democrat.
ASNER: If you’re not an activist, then you’re a nobody. The interesting thing that we now experience as Jews in America is the conflict that Israel creates for us in so many ways. There are two bodies of Jews — the Israelis and the Americans.
JN: What was it like growing up Jewish in Kansas City, Mo., where you were born?
ASNER: Kansas City was primarily Protestant, and I came to appreciate the value of being in a minority and of being discriminated against. I’m a Jew and I refuse to deny it.
JN: You are a champion for many causes including being on the Entertainment Board of Directors for the Survivors Mitzvah Project and an adviser to the Rosenberg Fund for Children as well as Autism Speaks. In May, you received the Community Impact Award from Matan at its Gala in New York City. Why is autism advocacy so important to you?
ASNER: My youngest son and my grandson are autistic, and we have many friends who have kids with autism. It’s an enormous problem in this country, and it needs to have attention called to it. My oldest son, Matt, recently left his position as vice president of development for the Autism Society of America to head up a campaign with his wife to establish the Ed Asner Center in the San Fernando Valley. The Center is being created for those on the spectrum — any spectrum. It’s a much-needed center that should be operational by the end of December.
JN: Last year, at age 88, you became a first-time author of a book with the world’s longest title: The Grouchy Historian: An Old-Time Lefty Defends Our Constitution Against Right-Wing Hypocrites and Nutjobs. You co-wrote The Grouchy Historian with Ed. Weinberger, who you met when he was a screenwriter on The Mary Tyler Moore show with you. How did the book come about?
ASNER: The book was an outcry in general against the forces of conservatism. Ed. was the driving force on the book, and it was aimed at the right wing of our country who like to proclaim that the Constitution is theirs. We wanted to remind people that it belongs to all of us and that they’re sadly mistaken. In the proper hands, it should be properly wielded for all people, left and right.
JN: Are you really grouchy?
ASNER: It all depends on what kinds of victims I can find. I’m grouchy when I think I can get away with it. Otherwise, I’m sweet and amiable.
JN: When you both were working on The Grouchy Historian last year, Ed. Weinberger came to you with his one-man comedy A Man and His Prostate that you are now starring in. How did he approach you about it?
ASNER: He called me — it’s the intrinsic society of Ed. I like to say that two Eds are better than one.
JN: Tell us about the plot.
ASNER: Many people think that this is my story, but it’s not. It’s Ed. Weinberger’s story about the cruise he took to Italy with his wife and how he was assaulted with an attack of prostatitis and what ensued after that. It’s very comedic and very funny but, at the same time, it gives reminders to all who see it of the importance to get examined, tested and treated. We disclose in the show that every 16 minutes in our country, a man dies of prostate cancer.
JN: How long is the show and, since you’re the sole character on stage, wasn’t it incredibly tough to learn all those lines?
ASNER: It’s about an hour-and-a-half with no intermission. I’ve got the script with me on stage, but most people don’t even know I’m reading it. With the success of plays like Love Letters, it’s easier to do a show like this. We’re hopping back and forth between me telling the story and slides of me as Ed. Weinberger in the hospital. It’s very humorous.
JN: What’s one of your favorite lines from the play?
ASNER: I became so expert at peeing, that once in New York, I peed a cockroach down the drain.
JN: Love it. What’s another?
ASNER: After a phone conversation with my business manager in the play, I make a comment, “Of all the business managers who are Jewish in L.A., I had to pick the one gentile.”
JN: Is your costume a hospital gown?
ASNER: In the play, I’m wearing the clothes that I underwent the attack in. But the slides show me in the gown at the hospital. I never reveal my ass — even though I’ve had many requests to do so — but I still resist.
Tickets are $60 general admission seating and VIP seating for $75/person, which includes a post-show meet-and-greet with Ed Asner, who will be signing copies of his book, The Grouchy Historian. VIP guests will be treated to light beverages and desserts at the afterglow. Tickets are available at papaweezeinc.org.
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