He was born Allan Stewart Konigsberg, a Jewish son of Nettie and Martin, and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
As a child, he sparred with his tough-minded mother, who worked in a delicatessen at the same time his father toiled away as an accountant. There was always tension in the family, a functional dysfunction. His parents didn’t get along, and they stumbled through a rocky marriage.
As a young boy, Allan attended Hebrew school for eight years, spoke Yiddish and found his niche making people laugh, most likely out of self-preservation and as a way to make sense of the senseless. Isn’t that a trend? Those who come from broken and unhappy homes are often inclined towards comedy. They channel their pain by finding humor in the absurd.
He was picked on as a kid and bullied on a regular basis. In fact, Allan used to joke that he was sent to “inter-faith” summer camps. There he “was savagely beaten by children of all races and creeds.”
At the age of 15, he began to write jokes and one liners for money, selling them to newspapers through an agent in the city. He gained confidence, made a few dollars and began to get noticed. His rise was slow but steady and sure, next writing short stories and scripts for both Broadway and film.
In the 1960s, Mr. Konigsberg had an interesting encounter. As part of his work he was granted an interview with Dr. Billy Graham. At the time, Dr. Graham’s exposure was the highest it would ever be, so it was a big deal for this Jewish kid from New York City to sit down with arguably the world’s most famed evangelist.
He said he did it for the material; Dr. Graham did it hoping to win a convert.
At the time the writer was beginning to solidify his atheism but was very much interested and intrigued by Dr. Graham, differences notwithstanding. Years later, reflecting on that time together, here is what Mr. Konigsberg remembers.
“Years ago I was on television with Billy Graham,” he said, “and I was taking this position, this bleak outlook position and Billy Graham was saying to me that even if I was right and he was wrong, and there was no meaning to life and it was a bleak experience and there was no God and no afterlife or no hope or anything, he would still have a better life than me, because he believed differently and even if he was 100 percent wrong, our lives would both be completed and I would have had a miserable life wallowing in a bleak outlook and he would have had a wonderful life, confident that there was more.”
He remained unconvinced. Once asked about his religious faith, he quipped, “To you, I’m an atheist; to God, I’m the Loyal Opposition.”
You might not think you’re familiar with Allan Konigsberg, but you are. He later changed his name to Heywood Allen and now goes by the moniker we all recognize: Woody Allen.
I’m not overly familiar with Mr. Allen or his work, in fact, I’ve probably just told you more than I really know, but he strikes me as a complicated fellow with some very curious and, in my estimation, mistaken, views.
In a recent interview, Woody Allen said something that seems to have come out of his time with Dr. Graham. He was being interviewed about yet another movie of his, one that touches on the mystery of faith.
“This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going,” he said. “And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can’t…To me, there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful.”
I, of course, vehemently disagree with Mr. Allen’s cynicism and disbelief. To, in essence, equate our faith in Jesus Christ to a stick of paper in a fortune cookie is just plain silly.
But I have a question for you…if you had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Allan and share with him about Jesus, how would you do it?
What would you say?
Bringing it down to a very practical level, might there be a friend or neighbor within your sphere of influence who does not yet know the Lord?
Perhaps it’s time for you to tell them about Jesus. Don’t worry or fret about your choice of words or think it’s about “selling” them or closing the deal. Just talk.
I’d encourage you to step out and have a conversation about the greatest story ever told.
Trust me. You will not regret it.