Eight Nights of Hanukkah, Eight Nights of Movies: Night #5

Wet Hot American Summer

Every summer, hundreds of thousands of Jewish children from the Northeast (mainly Long Island, Westchester County, New Jersey, and Southwestern Connecticut) are taken from their homes. The food is poor, and the conditions are less than sanitary. They are isolated far away from society, with barely a cell tower in sight. They are forced to leave their friends, families, and even their iPhones behind. God forbid they must go without Words with Friends for eight weeks.

I am talking about summer camp, of course.

I can say this is all true firsthand as I am a Jewish summer camp survivor. I am a veteran of five summers at Camp Island Lake. I can’t quite pinpoint what draws Jews in particular to summer camps. Perhaps it is the need to be around Jews, congregate with them, breed with them, and eventually create future generations of nice Jewish doctors and lawyers who will marry your daughter.

But I digress. “Wet Hot American Summer” best captures the summer camp experience. Usually, a movie that I believe perfectly captures something I have experienced in my life does so because it is totally realistic. In this case, “Wet Hot” brings back this previous part of my life because it is utterly ridiculous. It takes place at the fictional Camp Firewood in the 80s, but it was filmed at Camp Towanda, which is basically down the road from my old summertime stomping grounds.

“Wet Hot American Summer” came from the comedy group behind MTV’s “The State,” who would also later go on to make Comedy Central’s eccentrically brilliant “Stella.” “Wet Hot” was largely panned and ignored at the time of its release. Ten years later, it has become an unlikely cult classic. The humor of “Wet Hot” is as bizarre as anything you’d expect from the minds of Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain. Some of the major comedy set pieces include a raft that doesn’t move down raging rapids, a falling satellite, and a talking can of vegetables. All of these scenes made me feel nostalgic for a decade I didn’t even grow up in.

The ensemble is just as funny as the absurdist situations, and many actors in this movie went on to become superstars (a young Bradley Cooper makes one of the boldest moves of his career here). There is also a scene where a few of the characters go into town for the day, become drug addicts, and then return back to campus totally fine. This is funny not just because the transformation occurs over such a short period of time, but these seem like the kind of people that this would happen to. I also always wondered what my counselors would do when they went into town for the day. They might as well have been doing this every single day.

“Wet Hot” might not go over too well with your older relatives (they will probably use words like “stupid” and whatever the opposite of “clever” is), but it is close to the modern day equivalent of the Marx Brothers, the other Jewish absurdist comedians. More on them tomorrow night.