Sex and City player amuses Emanu-El with discourse on Judaism, body hair

“So, is that your real back hair?”

Complete strangers don’t often break the ice in such a manner, but it’s no big deal for Evan Handler. In fact, it rolls right off his back like water off a duck’s because it isn’t his real hair.

The query originates from Handler’s highly visible role on “Sex and the City” as Harry Goldenblatt, the sweaty, swarthy, crass Jewish boyfriend of WASP queen Charlotte York.

Handler, 43, revealed to a packed crowd of more than 300 at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanu-El on Wednesday, Dec. 7, that, in fact, it was a three-layer back wig that was waxed off on the show, not his actual hair.

As one very forward audience member noted during the Q&A session, she, too, had wondered if the back hair in question was authentic. But her question was answered after seeing him in person and noting the lack of chest hair sprouting from his stylishly unbuttoned chocolate-brown dress shirt.

The New York-born Jewish actor and author delivered an uproariously funny, meandering monologue, touching on his Judaism (or lack thereof), showbiz gossip and his bout with supposedly “incurable” leukemia — as well as his Italian in-laws’ shock that the bidet isn’t commonly accessible in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Handler is instantly recognizable to even non-viewers of “Sex and the City” because of his billiard-bald, Lex Luthor pate. His role on the HBO show quickly became the subject strangers brought up with him, supplanting his near death to disease and the bizarre instance in 1991 when he quit a Broadway production of “I Hate Hamlet” mid-performance after temperamental co-star Nicol Williamson struck him with a sword.

When Handler discovered that “Sex” stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon thought he was the perfect fit to play Goldenblatt, he was thrilled. And then, he wasn’t.

“Harry Goldenblatt was being described as ‘boorish, overbearing and unattractive,'” he deadpanned to the crowd.

Despite that, he wanted to prove he could outperform any other potential actor. But, still, “Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon thought I was a suitable choice to play the ugly guy.”

While his likeness was beamed into millions of American households, it wasn’t exactly a likeness he was thrilled to be associated with.

“Once I was hired, there were storylines about Harry’s looks, table manners, hairy back and the resultant rash from agreeing to have it waxed off. All of this was given prominent screen exposure and that was before my naked ass was given prominent exposure in the episode about Harry’s tendency to sit on white furniture without any clothes.”

If there was a silver lining to the dark cloud of being associated in viewers’ minds with the shlub he played onscreen, it was Harry’s redeeming quality of being a bedroom dynamo.

Handler estimates that three quarters of all the male viewers who saw fit to approach him in person were Jewish. And they were happy.

“Thank you! Thank you for what you’re doing on that show!” was their common refrain.

What Harry was “doing” on that show was amber-haired goddess Charlotte York.

“On more than one occasion I was told,” he said, lowering his voice to a gravelly bass rumble for the punchline, “You give it to her good.”

That’s one of the cleanest anecdotes that can be reported in this newspaper, since Handler utilized language befitting an Eddie Murphy stage show circa 1983. But the audience couldn’t have loved him more.

Handler’s monologue was titled “On Being Jewish,” which, he revealed, brought his parents to hilarity. The family was raised with only a semblance of religion, and his mother questioned what Handler would be able to tell a temple crowd about Judaism.

But, he explained, he wasn’t talking about the rituals of Judaism. Rather, the topic was “being Jewish.” He’s been Jewish “for a long time,” he said, and he even played a Jew on TV.

The actor grew serious when recalling his four-year bout with leukemia starting at age 24. (Which, incidentally, did not make him a more spiritual person. When asked how he stayed positive during dark hours, he replied “I didn’t,” and noted that using one’s anger and rage to fuel a revenge-based recovery to good health is a viable method.)

When Handler’s health dropped precipitously, the New York hospital’s Jewish chaplains would sometimes drop by. Normally he spurned attempts to attend services, but he did find one ritual “so sweet” he agreed to it on the spot.

In order to deceive the Angel of Death, a deathly ill man or woman can be given a new birth certificate and name, he learned.

“The Angel of Death is fooled. Fooled by the cunning of a rabbi from Long Island,” he said to a huge laugh.

“I became ‘Chaim,’ and it was worth the price. But how many times can you pull that trick before the Angel of Death catches on? Or are there multiple Angels of Death and are some smarter than the others?”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.