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Comedian Gary Gulman performs in New York City. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for Hilarity for Charity)

Metro Minute

An evening with Gary Gulman

A taping with a stand-up comedian becomes a celebration of surviving despair

A New York moment: 

In June I went to a comedy special taping in Brooklyn of one of my favorite stand-up comedians, Gary Gulman. As an aside, comedy and late night show tapings are some of the great free activities New York has to offer. 

That HBO special, The Great Depresh, just went live on the cable platform. It mixes his stand-up with a chronicle of his debilitating struggle with anxiety and depression—illnesses that have interrupted his career and probably explain why many Americans don’t know who he is. 

Gulman’s most famous bit is about how the state abbreviations came to be, a classic example of his obsession with words. How many comedians use the word ne’er-do-well? His humor is quirky, precise, and relatively clean. 

I can’t vouch for everything in the special (there is one expletive from a friend of his), but he avoids cursing, for example, because he thinks comedy is smarter when you don’t use an expletive as a punchline. He doesn’t hesitate to incorporate themes from his Jewish identity and makes Biblical references (in his new special, there’s one reference to Jesus rising from the dead). I’ve mentioned Gulman before in Metro Minute: He recently did a podcast episode where he offered a pastor advice on being funny.

At the taping he thanked everyone for showing up—“You came!”—and it was truly a joy, at a time of record suicide rates for young people, to see someone who had struggled with suicidal thoughts come and perform and be alive in front of us.

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Vija Celmins (screen grab from video)

Metro Minute

From Latvia to America

A Christian refugee agency earns a mention in a Met Breuer museum exhibit featuring acclaimed artist Vija Celmins

A New York moment: 

The Met Breuer (the contemporary arm of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) has a wonderful show now from artist Vija Celmins, who draws intricate pencil renderings of waves, paints the sky, and makes replicas of rocks. She also has drawn airplanes exploding, and painted a man running from a burning car, allusions to her war-torn childhood. 

Celmins was born in Latvia in 1938, and Soviets invaded soon after she was born. Her family had to flee when she was 5 years old, toward the end of World War II. They lived in various refugee camps in Germany until a Christian refugee organization, Church World Service, sponsored their resettlement in the United States. 

A Lutheran church group helped the family settle in Indianapolis. Celmins was 9 when she arrived in Indianapolis, where she eventually attended an art school. In the decades since, her star has ascended in the art world. New York press salivated over this new exhibit. 

What surprised me is that the Met exhibit has a section that credits the Christian organization that brought the Celmins family here and the Lutheran church that helped them settle. Now with refugee levels at a historic low under the Trump administration, Church World Service has had to close many of its long-running offices around the country.

Worth your time:  

The Museum of Modern Art has rare footage of New York in 1911, when the streets were still filled with horse-drawn carriages and newsies.

This week I learned: 

New science suggests you should wait until a little later in the season to get the flu shot, because the shot loses some of its effectiveness over time. 

Court cases you might not know about: 

Johnson & Johnson is swamped with litigation over everything from opioids to baby powder to hip implants. 

Culture I am consuming: 

October baseball. It is pure delight to read The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell, whose childhood as a Washington Senators fan and then career as a baseball writer has led to this moment. It’s the Nationals first trip to the World Series since 1933. 

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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NYPD officers investigate the scene of an attack in Manhattan. (Jeenah Moon/AP Photo)

Metro Minute

Dangerous streets

Four brutal murders of homeless men show the importance of Christian ministry to the homeless and drug addicted 

A New York moment: 

We’re all reeling from the brutal murders of four homeless men, including 83-year-old Cheun Kok, over the weekend. The suspect is 24-year-old homeless man with a history of violence. The murders highlight not only the vulnerability of people living on the street, but also the record levels of homelessness in the city even as Mayor Bill de Blasio has almost tripled spending on the problem. 

The New York Times interviewed one pizza store owner who was sobbing over the deaths. That’s because Hakki Akdeniz was homeless in the city about 20 years ago. He found help and shelter at the Bowery Mission, a longtime Christian organization in the city serving the homeless, and Akdeniz now volunteers there. The city has seen record numbers in its shelter system, although the Times reports a slight decrease in the number of street homeless. 

The Bowery Mission’s downtown shelter is close to where the crimes occurred. The organization said it is “shaken by this heartbreaking tragedy—and also renewed in our resolve for the work. We know that addiction, mental illness and homelessness do not need to lead to violence and death. Instead, we hold on to the hope of a renewed life.” Bowery announced it would hold a memorial service for the men on Thursday in its chapel.

The organization shared public transit directions to its shelters, including information about showers and mealtimes. For the last decade, churches in New York have banded together to walk every block in Manhattan each winter, offering help to the homeless. Bowery helps organize the event, called Don’t Walk By. In past outreaches I’ve attended, people living on the streets were often more interested in receiving help once they heard Bowery is a private shelter, because city shelters have a reputation for violence. 

“You don’t have to worry about getting beat up here,” a longtime Bowery staffer told me in 2013.

Worth your time:  

Atheism is the country’s fastest growing “religion,” and The Atlantic’s Derek Thompson analyzes this trend with input from the University of Notre Dame’s Christian Smith. WORLD recently published an excerpt from Smith’s book Atheist Overreach

Thompson, who says he himself has “largely rejected” religion, comes to an interesting dilemma for the religionless: “Making friends as an adult without a weekly congregation is hard. Establishing a weekend routine to soothe Sunday-afternoon nerves is hard. Reconciling the overwhelming sense of life’s importance with the universe’s ostensible indifference to human suffering is hard.”

This week I learned: 

You’re supposed to eat ramen really fast, because the noodles are only good for a few minutes. This chef encourages slurping.

A court case you might not know about: 

I missed this fascinating, complicated case from earlier this summer, when a jury hit Oberlin College with a $44 million defamation ruling over its involvement in publicly shaming a local bakery as racist. Gibson’s bakery had allegedly detained an African American student caught shoplifting from the store, sparking student protests. Among other things, the school temporarily suspended its contract for baked goods with the store. The case is still going through appeals, so we could see more twists in the story.

Culture I am consuming: 

I’ve been listening to an indie Korean singer who uses the name Rad Museum and whose album cover art paraphrases Romans 8:18: “I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times.”

Email me with tips, story ideas, and feedback at ebelz@wng.org 

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