Ben Kassoy's Words Do The Talking

Writer, Author, Two-Arm Hugger

The Open Bar

Went to a wedding with an open bar and ordered a Shirley Temple.

"Don’t skimp on the grenadine!" I told the bartender as he made the drink. "I didn’t come here to drink a freaking SPRITE!"

The Exchange Student

My senior year of high school I befriended Gene, an exchange student from Romania. At prom, I approached him.

“Hey Gene, how’s the night going?”

Drunk and beaming, he told me, “Awesome. I hooked up with freshman, sophomore, junior, black chick.”

The Dunk

Mr. Herman was my algebra teacher. He was gangly, soft-spoken, and generally represented the quintessence of a docile nerd by wearing short-sleeved dress shirts and teaching high-school algebra. In the winter, Mr. Herman was named freshman girls’ basketball coach, which we thought was bizarre since the position didn’t seem to require expert knowledge of a TI-85 graphing calculator.

The girls’ basketball season kicked off with a scrimmage between the varsity team and its coaches, the novelty of which drew a decent crowd, including me. Herman took the floor for the coaches’ squad looking especially pale and out of place. I think he was still wearing his watch and, potentially, a short-sleeved dress shirt tucked into athletic shorts.

The girls’ team controlled the tip. The point guard brought the ball up the floor and threw what should have been a simple pass, except—wait, what?—it was intercepted by Herman, who zoomed the other way with surprising speed and alarming coordination.

He stopped just inside the free throw line, palmed the ball, leapt off one foot, and threw down a thunderous jam. The crowd fell silent as the rim, now unhinged from its backboard, crashed onto the hardwood. That year he gave me a C-minus, my worst grade of high school. Mr. Herman was the fucking man.

Technically every mom is a 3-D printer.

The Bull Rider

Throughout his career, a young bull rider broke dozens of bones and had surgeries to replace both hips and both knees.

Decades later, hobbling and ailing through his 50s, he started yoga. His goal: to bend down and tie his shoes.

After two years, at the end of a class, the bull rider stood on one foot, reached down, tied his left shoe, and started to cry.

A version of this story was told to me in Sundance, Utah.

A Midsummer Day’s Dream

It’s August and I’m riding in the car somewhere 
between awake and asleep, and the sun is shining, softly permeating my eyelids along the unremitting reel of highway Mundania, 
and I have the time and permission and lack of anything else 
to succumb to a daydream, 
to let myself fabricate the brief what’s-been and the boundless what-could-be 
with a person I’ve met but don’t really know, 
a person I’ve kissed but whose face I can’t really remember, 
because after two brief liquor-dizzy rendezvous 
my mind’s image of her is distorted as if on the bottom of a pool, 
and my recollection of her isn’t a continuous narrative or comprehensive picture 
but instead a series of seemingly insignificant but evidently memorable moments and gestures, 
mere mental GIFs whose motion remains the same but whose meaning is ever evolving and intensifying, 
the same snippets that played last weekend on a plane, when I’m thinking of her, 
not with the longing of a serious relationship or the emptiness of one lost 
but instead with whimsical anticipation, a feeling that’s at once safe and exhilarating, both juvenile and profound, like a character in a Wes Anderson movie, and I try once again to recall her face, 
which feels like digging up a time capsule,
dusting it off, 
spinning in circles a dozen times, 
examining it for two seconds, 
describing aloud what I see, 
then putting it in a blender and seeing if it tastes like what I remember, 
which I know doesn’t really make sense, but neither does the fact that her face, the one I know is beautiful but elusive and shrouded in my mind, appears somewhere between “seatbacks” and “tray tables” and, like Mufasa in the clouds or Jesus on a potato chip, emerges in my diluted Sprite, 
and suddenly her lips feel permanently branded on mine, 
so I’m thinking to myself, if this plane crashed, 
I’d go down thinking about her, 
not because I love her but because maybe I could have and wouldn’t that be convenient?

“The Funkiest Jew Alive” Part 2: The Man

In an art form where originality is its chief virtue, “biting”—that is, performing another dancer’s original move—is b-boying’s cardinal sin.

At a battle last summer, b-boy Pickup, an Israeli, throws down a hot set, much to the delight of an ooh-ing crowd. His opponent, Robin, a Russian, meanwhile, frantically and repeatedly clamps his forearms together like a giant mouth, the international symbol for biting. “That’s Kid David!” he exclaims, demonstrating the maneuver Pickup had allegedly plagiarized.


photo by Lil Shaq

This says something about the proliferation and globalization of YouTube in b-boy culture, that every b-boy in the world can view and analyze and therefore recognize and study and potentially bite every other b-boy’s moves. It says more, though, about Kid David’s individuality and originality, his style that’s so unique and conspicuous it’s immediately recognizable worldwide.

Everyone in the community knows Kid and his moves. The slides, the glides, the impossible freezes, the precise and seemingly fast-forward footwork. His body-mind-soul connection to the music is so intimate and irrevocable that each set and every freestyle are profoundly unique and deeply personal. His dancing is organic. His dancing, maybe beyond all else, is completely honest. When he’s dancing, everyone knows Kid, and Kid knows himself, wholly and truly is himself.

 But what about when the music stops?imageKid recently launched himself into the most intense training regimen of his career, preparing for December’s annual Red Bull BC One, which welcomes 16 top b-boys to Brazil for the world’s most widely watched one-on-one competition. He competed in BC One for the first and only time in 2008, where he was ousted from the first round in a contentious decision. He’s training like never before and yet seems somewhat ambivalent towards the competition notorious for perverting b-boying’s urban roots into a big-stage, bright-lights spectacle of an underground art form gone, at least in that setting, commercial.

“I can’t just go out there and be Kid David,” he explains, obviously frustrated with the event whose sprawling stage and arena seating inherently emphasizes acrobatics and showmanship over b-boying’s foundational pillars of individuality and innovation. “It’s not even a battle; it’s who can put on the best show for everyone.”

It feels oddly significant that the event, the opportunity to existentially vindicate himself both as a person and a professional, to prove his coming-of-age transition from uncultivated teen to savvy veteran on the world’s biggest stage in the biggest moment of his dance career, falls on December 8, his 24th birthday. It also feels oddly significant that he approaches the moment with tangible consternation.

“I like competing, and I like breaking with my crew because it has brought out some of the best moments for me,” he says. “But I really enjoy teaching workshops to kids that want to learn from me, and I can really be like, ‘Yo, this is who I am, this is how I break. You don’t have to try and understand who I am through 30 seconds on YouTube.’”

While many of his peers are transitioning from college to adulthood and toiling through thankless first jobs, Kid’s been a fulltime pro for the better part of a decade, winning and judging around the world, performing onstage, online, on TV, on video games, on the silver screen, and on the big screen, too. He recently donned what he calls a “70s porn ‘stache” for a Kid Rock music video.

And now, back to BC One, ostensibly to prove himself. Although, maybe what he really wants is to find himself. He’s traveling more and practicing harder than ever, yet seems restless, eager for distraction, for change. Lately he’s surfing every morning and taking 30-mile bike rides and editing Betwn The Brks, the b-boy culture magazine he cofounded. His newfound affinity for literature is more than just a diversion.


photo by Nika Kramer

“I’m seriously ready to go to school again, for sure,” he says, having never attended college. “I come from a family where I was always around exciting intellectual things, and I’m not right now, which is tough for me. So I’m always trying to read as much as I can and keep my brain thinking about shit besides who’s hating on me on YouTube.”

At present he’s enthralled with The Believing Brain, religious skeptic Michael Shermer’s cognitive psychology text on “how we construct beliefs and reinforce them as truths.” Despite Kid’s apparent spiritual uncertainty, he identifies positively and strongly with his Jewish identity, especially how it shaped him early on. He has fond memories of his dad’s High Holidays services and studying for his bar mitzvah, which, despite his initial reluctance, he ultimately “killed.”

“I think raising kids with religion does a lot of good, just because of the culture and the commitment and that feeling of being a part of something,” Kid says. “I feel like Judaism accomplishes a lot of that. It gives you that mentality like, ‘Oh, I’m different.’”

Kid wants kids of his own, not soon, but maybe sooner than later, as his serious girlfriend, Kelli (not Jewish), is going on 30. For now, the two are content raising their 70-pound pit bull, Sway, while Kid gears up for BC One and his life not between, but instead beyond the breaks.

“I want to continue to inspire people. But I want to go to school, and I want to be able to make money not only from dancing,” he says. “I want to be able to say no if I don’t want to have a mustache in some Republican’s video.”

In the meantime, he’ll continue defending his title as the funkiest Jew alive. That’s what he is for sure. Who he is? For this killer, the jury’s still out.

Written December 6, 2012

Check out "The Funkiest Jew Alive" Part 1.

Read more by Ben Kassoy here.

“The Funkiest Jew Alive” Part 1: The Kid

The svelte, prominent-nosed, black-curly-haired, five-o’clock-shadowed rabbi’s son, who resembles the lovechild of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and the president of your college Hillel, is apparently incognito.

“People always think I’m Italian or half-Mexican or something,” David Shreibman says. “They can’t believe I’m just a white Jewish kid.”


White and Jewish, yes. But he’s not just anything. The 23-year-old Bay Area native better known as Kid David is an international star in the first dance of hip-hop. He’s a world-class breaker and the self-proclaimed “funkiest Jew alive.” Though he says it with a laugh, he’s not joking. And I’m not arguing.

 (Note: For those in the know, “breaking” or “b-boying” is what those not in the know call “breakdancing.” Same goes for “breaker” or “b-boy/b-girl” versus “breakdancer.”)

Searching his name on YouTube yields these results:  BBOY KID DAVID KILLS THE BEAT AT FSS14.  Bboy Kid David Killing the beat 13 times - Squadron Disciples at Claws out III.” “Kid David Kill the beat in morocco Redbull bc one Demo judge.”

 Maybe that’s why he’s incognito. The rabbi’s son is a killer.

The bio on his Twitter handle (@KIDDAVIDrr), too, has something to hide. It reads simply, “I love music.”

It doesn’t say anything about how he’s won over two-dozen international battles and judged competitions on six continents. It doesn’t say how he’s performed at the Oscars, So You Think You Can Dance?, and Dancing With The Stars or that he’s appeared in numerous TV commercials, Step Up Revolution, the Footloose remake, and the forthcoming dance flick, Battle of the Year: The Dream Team alongside Chris Brown. It doesn’t even begin to say anything about his globally renowned repertoire of signature moves or legions of wanna-b-boys that admire and emulate him from San Francisco to Tokyo to Rio.

And yet, maybe “I love music” says it all.

“My parents put [music] in my blood,” Kid recalls with a smile. “My living room was all instruments. We had bongos, congas, we had a drum set, guitar, bass, trumpet, piano. Those were our toys growing up.”

 When his mom, Barbara, would crank Michael Jackson, young Kid and big brother, Jesse, would don their top hats, gliding and kicking and thrusting around the living room. The Shreibmans didn’t take many vacations. Instead, they took their boys live shows.

 “I remember the first concert I ever went to was James Taylor.” Kid says, “I was so small, I was crying because the bass hurt my stomach.”



This, mind you, was before he attended his first of several consecutive Warped Tours—as a five-year-old. As elementary schoolers, the boys watched Eminem, Limp Bizkit, and Sublime. But TV? Absolutely not.

Barbara hosted a weekly Shabbat dinner, Henry built an annual sukkah, and the two maintained a strictly kosher household, and yet were decidedly different from other Jewish parents. Henry was a rabbi and professor yes, but also studied under Marcel Marceau (also a Jew, for the record) and performed as a professional mime. Barbara taught dance at a local studio and bought Kid his first set of turntables.

“I had to go to sleep listening to music every night,” he says, “and I remember going through Walkman after Walkman after Walkman. Like, I went through so many of those things.”

Kid wanted to be a drummer. Problem was, Jesse had claimed the instrument by age four. Henry and Barbara, fearing competition between their sons, encouraged Kid to try another instrument. He did—all of them, and duly lost interest in each one. So, Jesse became and would forever remain the drummer. (He’s now a professional living in Seattle.) For 11-year-old Kid, an alternative emerged.

Whether it was those years of watching Beat Street and Breakin’, some kind of psycho-rhythmic osmosis that occurred while doing homework in his mom’s studio, or envying budding b-boys from a rival middle school, Kid insisted Barbara enroll him in a half-popping, half-breaking class.

He excelled. Maybe it was because he “always felt supported as a dancer, like it was something OK to do.” Maybe it was because Barbara allowed him to attend class in lieu of some Shabbat dinners. Maybe it was because, his seventh grade year, he broke it down at every single one of his Jewish day school classmates’ bar and bat mitzvah parties. Or maybe it was because he finally united with the instrument that had for so long captivated and forever eluded him.


 “I’m in love with the drums, really,” he admits. “Especially when I break; I’m really just drumming with my body. A heavy drum beat, and that’s when I kill it.”

 It’s oversimplified and reductive but true enough: the real difference between b-boying and gymnastics is music. That is, b-boying is a dance. Dance and music are inseparable, inherently.

 Many b-boys gain recognition through YouTube compilation videos, a series of clips showcasing a breaker or crew’s standout moments in battles or practice. The innate problem is many of these videos choose not to include the clips with their original audio and instead play a different track overtop of all the clips. Many a-b-boy touts his audio-dubbed compilation like a trophy. Not Kid.

To watch him without original music is to watch Michael Jordan dribble and dunk and fade away without defense; the artist-athlete’s actions lose their profound sense difficulty and grace. Poetry in motion is reduced to mere motion. When the beat starts, he’s indeed just drumming with his body; Kid and music are inseparable, inherently.

 “A lot of times, I don’t really know what’s going on when I’m dancing, because at that point it’s my body and the music. It’s not really a conscious decision,” he explained at the 2010 TED Talk that featured the cast of the online dance/superhero series, LXD: The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers. “It’s kind of like this other level where you can’t make choices any more and it’s just your body reacting to certain sounds.”

So yeah, maybe “I love music” says it all.

Written December 6, 2012

Stay tuned for “The Funkiest Jew Alive” Part 2: The Man