Comedian Daniel Lobell stands by an old staircase in the Spanish town of Girona, where a thriving Jewish community lived before the Inquisition. He laments, “When I see how beautiful this city is, it makes me even madder that all the Jews got kicked out,” he says. “They had such nice real estate.”
This is one of the opening scenes of Lobell’s new comedy special and documentary, “Reconquistador!” The hour-long film chronicles his atypical honeymoon, in which he and new wife, Kylie Ora Lobell, tour the Spanish cities from which his ancestors were expelled more than half a millennium ago, all while performing comedy shows and mingling with the natives.
Lobell’s hilarious documentary brings humor to an otherwise poignant visit to a place where so much culture and history have been lost. We revel in the irony that, “this is what happens you get rid of all your Jews – you need to pay them to come back to make you laugh,” like Lobell says in the film. Indeed, Jewish culture and life, which was once so abundant in Spain, seems to survive mainly in fossilized relics, like the old Jewish quarter or the Jewish museum.
But Lobell has no wish to return to the past. Given the option to take a time machine back in time, he assures us that he wouldn’t because “there’s no safer time and place to be a Jew than now… which is not saying much.”
Lobell, who is observant and lives in Los Angeles, makes us laugh at what he calls the Jewish survival mentality. He explains that he tried to date girls with family outside the Jewish community, so when the next Nazis arrive in town, he’ll “have somewhere to hide.” However, he needs somewhere larger than a tiny attic because, as he says, “I’m not an easily storable Jew.” And he has his audience on the floor with his on-target sketch, playing an old Nazi who lost his social security benefits “all because of one lousy summer job in a camp.”
Throughout the film, Lobell manages to lament the loss of the Jewish population of Spain while exulting in his own return. Though, as he points out, “there seems to be this thing in humanity that likes to turn Jews into museums.” Jamon (pig hind-quarters) hang in storefronts like Jew-repelling garlic (Lobell suggests that we search for all the pigs in wheelchairs leftover after preparing the delicacy), there are still pockets of the country where a Jew can enjoy kosher chorizo while toasting l’chaim with a lantzman at another table.
Interspersed with Lobell’s tour of the country are snippets of his standup, which introduces us to his lost tortoise, his lost war with obesity, his brief spate with alcoholism in order to date a girl in AA, and his choice to offer samples at Costco to other customers, despite being only a customer himself. This sketch, incidentally, is the inspiration for the title of his comedy album, “The Nicest Boy in Barcelona,” which was released on Stand Up! Records in 2019.
One of Lobell’s bits, featuring an interaction with a Black mother and her children in a government benefits line, showcases Danny’s phenomenal voice trumpet abilities. He confides that voice trumpeting is his instinctive response to sad or difficult situations. Indeed, his compelling kazz renditions, which he belts out from the balcony of Barceona hotel, are the perfect way to unite the unique vocal talent and artistry that Lobell brings to this tour with the reflective and slightly mournful tone of his encounter with a past home.
On the bright side, the documentary closes with things looking up for Jews in Spain. Following the offer of citizenship to Sephardic Jews of Spanish descent in 2015, 132,000 Jews have applied. This is nearly the number that were expelled—160,000—in 1492. Among those who have returned? Some of Lobell’s cousins, who relocated from Turkey to Spain and are now living in Barcelona and Madrid.
If you haven’t yet seen “Reconquistador!,” you should. For the laughs, for the voice trumpet, for a great way to spend a honeymoon, celebrating the beginnings of a new family and new generation by connecting to roots of the previous ones.
View the trailer for Stand Up! Records’ “Reconquistador!”
Want to learn more about “Reconquistador!” or host a screening? Visit ReconquistadorMovie.com.