Bruria Lindenberg Cooperman

author  •  sculptor  •  peripatetic  • rebel bubbie

For This
I Survived?


Bruria Lindenberg Cooperman

author  •  sculptor  •  peripatetic  • rebel bubbie

For This
I Survived?


76-year-old Rebel Bubbie finds humour in being “out of sync”

By: Ilana Lucas

Jul. 02, 2024 

It might be this year’s oldest Fringe Festival debut.

Performing at the Toronto Fringe Festival (July 3-14) at the Alumnae Theatre, 76-year-old Bruria Cooperman has finally decided to do a Fringe show. She’s lived in Walter Matthau’s apartment, gotten a PhD, been on the 1960s FBI watchlist, written a controversial book about Holocaust humour, and drag raced. She’s REBEL BUBBIE, INC. What’s next?

BroadwayWorld spoke to Cooperman about her life of rebellion, her role in Adam Sandler’s You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, and why she finds humour in even the greatest tragedy.

BWW: Tell us a little bit about the story behind REBEL BUBBIE. What are your goals for the show?

COOPERMAN: You know, the Fringe asked me, what are your goals? I said, you know, at 76, my goal is to stay healthy and keep going. But basically, I’m being silly because I make fun of everything. I just love to do stuff. It’s a trajectory that started from the day I was born. I’m sort of a late bloomer on everything. I think it’s because when I came to this country, I was always a year behind, you know. Everyone else was in Grade 2 and I had to go to Grade 1. And then when I went to university I also was behind. Because I had Grade 13, everybody had had first year university in the States and I went straight into second year university. It was like I was never in sync and nothing I’ve done has ever been in sync.

This is probably what I should have done maybe 30, 40 years ago. Supervisors and teachers in school were always telling me go to drama school in Montreal. But I thought, oh, I’m an immigrant. Immigrants don’t go to drama school. We become a lawyer or an accountant or something like that. So I didn’t, but I always was funny and doing drama.

I’ve done all sorts of things. I lived in Japan. I lived in New York. I lived here and there. I went to NYU because I gravitated to Greenwich Village. I chose it because was working illegally at NBC at the time, and you could do full time graduate work at night. I worked during the day and I got my master’s in a year. I lived in an 11-room apartment belonging to Walter Matthau.

All the artists were there. I remember going into the NBC commissary, and because I’ve got a lot of nerve, I sat down next to a wonderful theater critic. And I said, how do I get your job? He gave me some advice, but it was funny, the irony that I’m actually asking him, I’d like to have your job. But I didn’t say it quite like that.

At the age of 46 I thought, oh, maybe I should get married. So I got married. And then I’m in Ottawa and I have nothing to do and I’m thinking, well, maybe I should get a PhD. So I got a PhD. I did that and then came back to Toronto and got back together with my friends and thought I should do something with the PhD. I should write a book. And just before COVID, I finally wrote the book. I wrote a book called For This I Survived? It’s about humor in the Holocaust. A very divisive topic. The PhD was about children of Holocaust survivors living in a small town. When I came here, I thought, you know, my friends are funny. We’re all making fun. We all kind of made fun of our parents, and even our parents made jokes. People reacted differently to the Holocaust, but the people I knew made jokes, we all made jokes.

So then I thought, the book was finished. What’s next? I connected with an Emmy-nominated writer in LA, Eva Almos, who suggested we work on a comedy. It was an organic thing.

BWW: It seems like you’ve had a lot of adventures in your life. Would you consider this to be an autobiographical show?

COOPERMAN: Yes, absolutely. And it’s so off the wall. Even I think it’s off the wall. Somebody asked me the other day, how much of it is true? And I said, 99.9%. It really is. I just was always getting into trouble. Always looking for advantages. Always talking my way out of it. Smile, make a joke, you can get away with anything. Don’t get angry. Don’t start yelling. Although I started screaming today in Metro, because they never put enough cashiers on. So yeah, it is autobiographical.

Over the years I’ve written about my experiences and memories, for the newspaper and for myself. Memories of my piano teacher. Memories of growing up in a small town, living in Tokyo, or buying a brisket at Passover, which was an adventure. I put it all together on my website. Then Eva, my co-director, co-writer, and co-producer, looked at it and said, let’s start from there. Part of the comedy was my dating life. I was single until I was 46. Can you imagine what you get then? I talk about how I met my husband and how I inherited three children from him. And now I have eight grandchildren. He’s very old now, and I make jokes about enlarged prostates and things like that.

I can be gross, I can be too honest and totally politically incorrect. Eva reins me in. My PhD thesis advisor said to me one day, “I don’t want to see the garbage.” I said, no, you’re gonna get the garbage. The garbage has to come out. And then I edit it and that’s what we love. Eva says, we’re not arguing. It’s a process. So we go back and forth, back and forth. It’s been quite an education because I’m so used to being on my own.

BWW: I know this is your first time at Toronto Fringe. Have you gone to the Fringe as an audience member before this?

COOPERMAN: Never! I’ve been out of the country for many years and also out of the city. But our daughter goes every year. She’s gone for years. They love to go to the Fringe. She’s the one who suggested I apply. I’m looking forward to it because it’s a little bit different. It’s not your typical, standard theater, which is what I’m used to because I have a master’s in drama from NYU.

BWW: I know that you were recently in an Adam Sandler movie, You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah. What it was like being in that film? How did that come about for you?

COOPERMAN: Jessica, my daughter, called me up and said we’re going to apply as an extra for the Adam Sandler film. And I’m going, no, I’m not, because I’m not an extra. But Jessica said, fill out the application. Anyway, so I did. I was so cheeky on that application form. I got a telephone call from the Beverly Hills casting agent, which said, “Why aren’t you answering your phone?” I said, who are you? There was no name there. It just said Beverly Hills. I thought it was a scam because of course I’m old and I totally forgot I had made out this application. They had also asked me to send in a tape or some sort of audio and I had done this funny casual “Cooking with Bubbie” video. We never showed it because I’ve got a bit of a potty mouth.

The casting agent said, you know what, before we hire you, Netflix has to approve. So my kids said, that’s the end of that. That’s the end of my career before it started. Because I was on an FBI list in the States in the ’60s.

I actually was. My boyfriend, a lawyer out of Yale, it was the Vietnam War, defended three Marines who had bombed and sabotaged a submarine. And he got them off because he was so brilliant. So he went on the FBI list as being a subversive. And because we were connected with each other, our phones were tapped. Click, click.

But I guess checking up on who’s coming on your film doesn’t go that far back. So I got in.

The agent said, do you want a speaking role? And I said, well, yeah, of course. It was a very small part, but the trailer got close to 5 million views. Because I do this [she sticks up her middle fingers]. I’m a grandmother. And everybody says, she was the best part of the movie, she should get an Oscar. And I didn’t even know about it.

I also did wheelies in a wheelchair. That was lots of fun. I had a stunt double. Can you imagine, this little grandmother got a stunt double? But I said, no, I want to do that. The insurance said, no, you can’t. Then, the director comes up and said, “you wanna do it?” I got into the chair. Then they strapped me in with like 20 straps and covered it up, and we did wheelies across the parking lot.

I love stunts. I drag race. I’m a horseback rider. Anything with speed. I’m a speed junkie, but I’m not allowed to do a lot of stuff now because I have a pacemaker. It’s gonna explode. I still want to do the [Canada’s Wonderland roller coaster] Yukon Striker but they won’t let me. My cardiologist says, what are you? But after the show, my daughter-in-law and I are going drag racing.

BWW: Sounds like it was a lot of fun.

COOPERMAN: It was, but filming is also a lot of sitting around. If you’re a thinker, take a book with you or something. I hate sitting still.

This marriage is the longest I’ve ever been in any project. I’ve never been at anything that long. I’m like the Communists, you know, the 5 year plan. That seems to be my limit.

BWW: What’s the next 5 year plan?

COOPERMAN: I’m 76. You know, my mother, who did yoga for 40, 45 years, she was a survivor of Auschwitz. And a death march. From Auschwitz to Czechoslovakia, maybe a hundred miles. 13 women survived, out of maybe 2,000. If you met her, you would understand how she did it. I always called her my frenemy. She was something. She was in the greatest shape, even though she had stuff from the camps, you know, they all had bad stomachs and some of them had terrible breathing problems. She said to me one day, the seventies are okay. In your eighties, it really gets tough.

I’ve told my kids, the world is not ready for my book to be a movie or a TV series. But it will be in the next generation. In my generation, there are many people who still are very, very precious about you know, making a joke. But I said to the kids, run with it, get it out there. So you have my permission. There’s a documentary called The Last Laugh. It’s like, is it too soon? You know, that kind of thing. And Mel Brooks is in it. Sarah Silverman and Gilbert Gottfried. They talk about Holocaust humor, you know, The Producers.

I’m going tell you about what Holocaust humour is quickly. In synagogue, after the Sabbath service everybody rushes for the food. We’re always eating. We’re waiting in line. But if it’s cholent, there’s a bigger line. So we’re standing in line for the cholent and I see a scrapyard colleague of my father’s. I knew him through my father. So Jack is standing there, typical survivor. And we’re standing there and he introduces me to his friend. We’re waiting and waiting, and suddenly he says, “What’s taking so long? The lines in the camps were faster!” I said to him, did you say what I thought you said? He just said, yeah, that’s Holocaust humor.

We’re not making fun of the Holocaust. It’s our reaction. It’s sometimes hard for other people to understand how somebody could find humor in this most devastating of things, but you know, people are people, and if we don’t laugh about something we lose ourselves to tears. This is what we had. You have to have humor in order to survive.

BWW: You have to laugh in order not to cry


BWW: Is there anything that I didn’t ask you about your show that you want to tell people?

COOPERMAN: I just want people to enjoy themselves. I want them to have a good laugh. Maybe see a little bit of themselves in it. Or see their parents in it or see their husbands and wives in it.

I make fun of myself too; I always make fun of myself. That is the key. We’ve also got a different kind of construct. I’m not standing up and just spewing. Eva is going to be in the audience and she’s going to actually say she is my director. We’re doing the thing together. So she sometimes asks me questions, like she’s interviewing me.

And, speaking of interviews, thank you for agreeing to interview me!

BWW: Absolutely. I hope that you really enjoy your time at the Fringe