Josh Kornbluth Combines Comedy, Genius, & Caring
by Barry David Horwitz
What a show! What a Genius! “Citizen Brain” is a one man show by the extraordinary Josh Kornbluth, who knows his way around storytelling. Now he’s a UCSF Brain Fellow, as well as comedian and caretaker.
Josh exudes empathy: he’s loyal, trusty, and true. Listening to his amazing story, I nearly fall over with laughter. He tells us about his stepfather Frank Rosen, an electrician and celebrated union organizer, who suddenly comes down with dementia.
When Josh talks about his mom Bunny in Brooklyn and her coolness toward him, he turns it into a love story. With the onset of Frank’s Alzheimer’s, we get to see Josh’s caring and love. Rather than a sad story, Josh weaves in larger groups and how they adapt to dementia.
Josh, a determined soul, applies to be a Brain Fellow at UCSF, a total turnaround for a comic storyteller. Yes, the story is miraculous, fitting, and hilarious. Kornbluth weaves self-examination and new ideas into irresistible comedy.
We all lean forward to catch the next twist in his gripping brain studies—its neurons and its blockages. We sit with Josh at the high-powered classes full of scientists and Josh, who barely passed science in school—and it all makes brilliant sense.
For his project at the Brain Institute, Josh comes up with a way to activate the Empathy Center in the brain, where Alzheimer’s forms. Turns out that empathy is the royal road to cognitive curing. If we train ourselves to be empathetic to people who offend us, then we are fighting Alzheimer’s in ourselves!
This great discovery makes it worthwhile being cool and empathetic, especially to those who make us angry. There’s a special formula to putting the Empathy zones into action but Josh makes it funny and fun. It’s like mental exercise—do it now or suffer later.
He begins to see the individual empathy blockages as symptoms of a wider lack of fellow feeling in our country. We need a new Citizen based on the power of Empathy—which also cleans up our neurons. Imagine–thinking of others makes us stronger and healthier–who knew?!
Well, Josh Kornbluth teaches us the modest technique to avoiding dementia—how’s that for a worthwhile theater ticket? And there’s more—he applies his new mental exercise to the world at large.
He puts forth the idea of a Citizen Brain, where we extend our empathy to people afflicted by poverty, racism, and misogyny—to cure our collective cold-heartedness.
Josh asks, “If it works for one, why not for all?”
But one day in Chicago, at a wake at the elderly Survivor’s Home, a Black woman MD and researcher, speaks up and opposes Josh’s idea for the Citizen Brain in our diseased culture. Something more is needed . . .
When have you ever been at a solo comedy show that discovers the source of dementia and then applies that discovery to the whole country? As Dr. Bruce Miller, Josh’s mentor at the UCSF Brain Institute keeps saying, “Go Bigger, Josh! Go BIGGER!”
We can all continue our empathy journey at Korbluth’s “Citizen Brain.” It’s the only way. Highest recommendation!
“Citizen Brain” by Josh Kornbluth, with Aaron Loeb & Casey Stangl, directed by Casey Stangl, at The Marsh, Berkeley, California. Info: TheMarsh.org – to July 29, 2023.
Cast: Josh Kornbluth
Banner photo: Josh Kornbluth. Photo: Chris Hardy