The four comedians set to entertain audiences on the Comedy for Koby tour of Israel that starts Tuesday night have an advantage over every group that Avi Liberman has brought to Israel over the past 15 years. Not only are they possibly the most experienced group of comics Liberman has ever brought here, they also are the first since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, which has provided plenty of fodder for American comedians.
In interviews with The Jerusalem Post over the past week, Liberman, Elayne Boosler, Allen Havey and Tom Cotter all said they would try to stay away from American politics.
But then they all admitted they might let a Trump joke or two slip by.
“The US election was and continues to be such a full-out melee, so I have to come to the Middle East for some peace and quiet,” said Boosler, who is known for her liberal stances on American politics.
Havey said he might tell one Trump joke, but did not want to use the American election as a crutch.
“I don’t want to get up there and complain and whine,” he said.
“Donald Trump is just too easy to make fun of. He’s giving comedians plenty of work. I prefer a challenge.”
Cotter said he saw it as a “badge of honor” that he was coming to Israel before Trump has visited the Jewish state. But he said his politics were “right down the middle.”
“Trump is a gift of God for comedians,” he said. “I don’t take a side. I make fun of the process, but I don’t shove my politics down everyone’s throat. I know that it’s the big elephant in the room that I should be ignoring.”
Cotter contrasted Trump with his predecessor, outgoing US President Barack Obama, whom comedians had to be careful of insulting in the US over the past eight years, due to an expectation of political correctness with regard to the first African-American president.
“You can’t make fun of Obama if you’re white,” he said. “Obama was almost untouchable, unlike previous presidents.”
Reached in Dublin after a performance there, Liberman said he tended to bring comedians to Israel who leave politics out of their acts. He said he had “some stuff on Trump” but that he makes a point of “not choosing sides either way.”
Liberman said that besides politics, the reason this particular tour was special was the character and likability of the personalities of the three comedians he is hosting.
“This is the first tour that not only will audiences love but so would other comics,” he said. “No one would say anything against them. They are all real mensches.”
As in about half the tours Liberman has organized, none of the comedians have been to Israel before, including Boosler, a Jew from Brooklyn. Liberman told Boosler about his tours years ago, when they both performed with other Jewish comics at a Christmas eve event in San Francisco.
“She was interested in it, but she’s so busy, so it’s hard to get her,” he said.
Boosler, 64, is best known for her thoughtful and feisty socially conscious humor, and her love of baseball and animals, all sharing a big part of her act. A pioneering comedienne, in 1986 she became the first woman to get her own one-hour comedy special on cable.
For more than 40 years, she has written and starred in five Showtime standup comedy specials, written and directed two movies for Cinemax, has appeared on seemingly every talk show ever on TV, on HBO’s Comic Relief, on Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher more than 30 times, and has hosted countless specials, series and events.
“I am so happy to be coming to Israel to perform,” she said, adding: “Since it’s for such a noble charity, my show will be only lighthearted fun; no politics, issues, or divisions. So I guess I’ll be doing only four minutes a night.”
She said that everyone in the US who heard she was going to Israel asked: “Isn’t it dangerous?” She replied “Well, 33,000 Americans are shot in the US every year, so I don’t think Israel is dangerous.”
Already an expert on the Jewish state, she said: “I can’t wait to get to Israel. It’s like Brooklyn, but less humid.”
The other two comedians on the tour are not Jewish but live and work among them and expressed affection for the Jewish people.
Liberman said Havey “always has great presence, commands the stage, and has a lot of respect among comedians.”
Havey is also an accomplished actor, recently starring in eleven episodes of the highly acclaimed television show Mad Men
. His other television credits include 10 performances on Late Night with David Letterman, as well as appearances on Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Up All Night, The Sara Silverman Program, Men of a Certain Age
, and The Office
In a phone interview from a Los Angeles freeway, Havey said he grew up Catholic in the 1960s, hearing stories from the old and new testaments, and was looking forward to seeing Israel’s culture and architecture.
“I see Israel as an exotic land of diverse people, and it will be exciting to see where civilization started,” he said. “I love the Jewish people. I grew up in Miami and then went to New York and show business, so I’m always fascinated by their traditions, which I envy. The Hebrews invented show business, and I want to pay them back.”
Havey, 62, said he heard the audiences for the Comedy for Koby tour are great, and he was not at all concerned about coming to Israel.
“There’s conflict everywhere, so it’s not something to be afraid of,” he said. “If you understand conflict and know there’s no way to resolve it, it takes away the fear. When I go on stage, the fear is gone. Conflict is not something to be feared; it is something to be understood. As you get older you get more perspective on life and time.”
Havey said he met Boosler in the early 1980s and then did a show together with her two years ago.
“She still has it,” Havey said. “She is fresh and funny. I am looking forward to spending time with her.”
Havey said he did not know Cotter well, but “Avi, I know, believe me. Avi’s great.” He said he had been on Liberman’s case for years to get on his tour.
“This has been a personal goal of mine for 15 years, coming right before Christmas and Hanukka, so it should be fun,” Havey said. “I love that it’s benefiting children. If people come out, they’re going to see a really good show. I can’t say that for myself but they’ll love Elayne and Tom.”
Liberman called Cotter “one of the nicest guys I have ever dealt with.” He said he told him about the tour years ago, but it became much harder to get him to come after 2012, when he finished second in the TV contest America’s Got Talent
. He was the first comedian ever to be a finalist on the show.
Cotter was beaten by the Olate Dogs, a troupe of 22 dogs, 10 of whom perform in each show. Their act features tricks like dogs jumping rope, going down slides, riding scooters, a doggy conga line, and a pooch that does back flips.
“Tom broke the rule in show business: you never follow kids or pets,” Liberman said. “We knew how funny he was before he went on the show.”
Cotter takes pride in finishing first among the humans in the contest.
He was interested to hear that Israel had a surplus of stray cats, but he said he did not believe he could bring the Olate Dogs to conga into Israel and solve the problem.
His other numerous television and radio credits include The Tonight Show, Last Comic Standing, The Howard Stern Show, Comics Unleashed
, multiple appearance on CBS’s The Late Late Show
, celebrity host of Gotham Comedy Live
and his very own Comedy Central Presents...Tom Cotter
Cotter, 53, was raised in the East Side enclave of Providence, Rhode Island as the youngest of six children.
He is married to Kerri Louise, who is also a stand-up comedian.
They live in heavily Jewish Rockland County, New York, where he calls himself “one of the token goyim in the Friars Club.” He said he also loves New York’s Catskills Mountains and South Florida, so he thinks he will feel right at home in Israel.
“Comedy is a dream job, if you dream of poverty and rejection,” he said. “The fact that I’m getting paid to go to a place I’ve always wanted to go to, with comedians I respect was not a hard sell.”
Cotter has performed in England, China and Hong Kong. He said he would “feel out” his crowds in Israel to see what material to use.
“You have to feel the audience,” he said. “It will be trial and error the first couple of times. But I heard the crowds are savvy.”
He admitted he did not know too much about anywhere in Israel other than Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
He said he was looking forward to “taking in as much as I can without annoying Avi too much.”
“I am thrilled to be hanging out with Elayne and Allen,” he said.
“I’m a little giddy to work with comics I hold in such high regard. We will guarantee laughter, even if we have to follow them home and tickle them. We’re going to blow the roof off the place.”
Bringing some of the best in American stand up comedy, Comedy for Koby’s twice annual stand up comedy fundraising tour has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for bereaved children and families.
Over the years, tens of thousands audience members in cities all around Israel have been introduced to some of the best and brightest in the comedy world today.
Through the generous support of sponsors and donors, all proceeds from ticket sales go to supporting the programs of the foundation and its work with bereaved children and families.
The shows are Tuesday in Beit Shemesh, Wednesday in Gush Etzion, two shows Thursday in Jerusalem, Saturday in Ra’anana, Sunday in Modi’in and next Monday in Tel Aviv. Tickets can be purchased at comedyforkoby.com and at the door.