Kosher comedy – even for a JAP

Comedian Cory Kahaney, here for Comedy for Koby tour feels "it’s time I came to Israel to see for myself what all the hype is about."

By GIL STERN STERN HOFFMAN
May 30, 2012 22:24
Comedians

Comedians. (photo credit: Courtesy/PR)

During the 11 years that Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman has been bringing American comics to Israel, some of the funniest moments have occurred when the comedians have interacted with haredi (ultra-Orthodox) audience members.

Liberman, himself a religious Jew, has a classic routine called “10 things you will never hear on Mea She’arim.”

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And he has built up a rapport with “Ephraim” and other ultra-Orthodox Jews who seem to be in the audience every time the Comedy For Koby tour comes to Jerusalem twice a year.

The shows benefit the Koby Mandell Foundation, which works on behalf of individuals and families struck by terror.

The foundation is named after a 13-year-old boy who was murdered by terrorists near his home in Tekoa in May 2001.

Comedienne Cory Kahaney, who is part of the line-up for the tour that begins Thursday night in Modi’in, is willing to try something even more unorthodox to reach out to the ultra-Orthodox men in the crowd.

“Every person of observance will be comfortable,” she promised in a phone interview.

“I already don’t swear and I don’t wear a low-cut blouse. If there are a lot of really ultra-Orthodox people in the audience, I will even do the show with my back turned away from the crowd – or even from backstage, using Jackie Mason’s voice.”

That’s how far Kahaney is willing to go to please in her first visit to Israel. She knows the irony that a Jew with Kohanic lineage like her is the only first-time visitor on the tour while non-Jewish comics Ron Pearson and Kivi Rogers have both come before.

“I’ve been performing at JCCs and synagogues for 20 years,” she said. “It’s time I came to Israel to see for myself what all the hype is about.”

Kahaney is bringing along her husband and seven-year-old son, who she said would be pilgrims like her on their visit to the Holy Land.

Her shows tend to be autobiographical, focusing on her family, dreams, hopes – and her weight.

“Anyone can relate to my act, unless they don’t have a rudimentary grasp of English,” she said.

Kahaney was called “the funniest female comedian working today” by talk-show host Craig Ferguson, and was voted best comedian in New York City by Backstage magazine and best female comedian by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets.

Her off-Broadway hit The JAP Show ran for six months in New York City and continues to tour the country, renamed The Princesses of Comedy because its original name upset too many people.

The show celebrates the pioneers of Jewish women in comedy and explores whether there is something inherent in Jewish women that makes them funny. But the Hadassah women’s organization did not think the name of the show was funny, and neither did Japanese veterans of World War II internment camps.

“I wanted to take back the name JAP and own it,” she said. “We do expect more from our children than other women do. We expect our husband to wear a clean shirt.

And we expect people to write thank-you notes. The people who came to the show got it.”

A resident of New York’s Upper West Side, Kahaney decided to come to Israel at the insistence of her fellow comedienne Judy Gold, who came on the Comedy for Koby tour last fall. Kahaney reconnected with Liberman, whom she has known for years, and she was on her way.

LIBERMAN’S RECOLLECTION of how Pearson ended up on the tour was less pleasant.

“Ron grabbed me by the collar a few years ago and said ‘you must take me on this tour,’” the diminutive Liberman recalled. “He’s a tall guy. It’s hard to say no to someone like that.”

Pearson is a comedian, actor, game-show host and world-record-holding juggler. He starred on the sitcom Malcolm and Eddie from 1998 to 2000 and makes an appearance in an upcoming film called Burt Wonderstone starring Steve Carell and Jim Carrey.

In an interview between shows in Las Vegas, Pearson said he was excited about coming back to Israel, where he honeymooned with his wife for nine days 14 years ago. Now they have two children, a son named Tex and a daughter Reagan, named after the former president.

“There is something amazing about the Old City and I am anxious to see how it has changed,” Pearson said. “It’s such a great premise to be a Christian in Israel among Jews. There is a lot you can get away with.”

Pearson is working on a show with a Jewish and a Muslim comic that he wants to take throughout the Middle East. But meanwhile he says in all seriousness that he has an important mission when he visits the forest in the Jerusalem hills: to find the tree he and his wife planted there in 1998.

Rogers has come to Israel three times, the last time a few years ago to do shows in Haifa for the US Navy. Reached as he was about to board a cruise ship to the Bahamas, he said he was glad it worked out to come on Liberman’s tour, which he said he had tried to get on for years.

“I have always been a fan of the Israeli people, who have overcome so much adversity,” Rogers said. “I love the country, its oldness, and seeing its nostalgia. It’s been a while so I am glad to come back and see it again.”

Rogers said his first name, Kivi, means “rock” in Finnish and he was unaware that young ultra-Orthodox boys named Akiva use it as a nickname.

Among his claims to fame is that he taught Liberman how to ski.

“I wish people could see a black man teaching a Jewish guy how to ski,” Rogers said at the time about the Dallas-born Liberman. “If God wanted Texans to ski, he would have made bullshit white.”

Liberman said he believes the mix of four comedians with such different backgrounds will be a big success.

“We have a nice eclectic mix,” he said. “That formula makes it a good show.”

For tickets and more info on the show, call (077) 955- 5225 or visit www.comedyforkoby.com


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