Who was the Jon Stewart of the Lower East Side in the 1920s and 30s? It just may have been Modicut, a satirical, leftist Yiddish puppet theater troupe (the only one of its kind) created by Zuni Maud and Yosl Cutler. While Yiddish theater on the LES was everywhere, puppet theater was something of a novelty. Through two core hand puppets, as well as a rotating cast that included Mohandas Gandhi and Herbert Hoover, the pair absorbed and skewered everything from contemporary politics to Jewish life.
In New York, Maud and Cutler had fast become friends and creative partners, collaborating on theater sets, cartoons, and of course, Modicut. Puppets, although not traditionally Jewish, suddenly seemed equally at home in purim-shpils and productions of The Dybbuk. The “pair pre-arranged in heaven,” as one Yiddish poet called them, soon blew up, touring the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
Like many puppeteers, they saw their wood-and-cloth familiars nearly become extensions of themselves — in one case, the puppets even argued (successfully) against their creators’ eviction. Eventually, the pair broke up, as even the best acts do. But it’s no stretch to imagine their better halves on late-night TV, trash-talking Congress and Gwyneth Paltrow.