World-renowned comedians have descended upon Israel once again to engage audiences in laughs, fun and fundraising for a good cause. “Comedy for Koby,” headed by Los Angeles-based comic Avi Liberman, has attracted comedians to Israel since 2002.
“The comedy tour originated when the second intifada started, and it started as a way to brighten the mood. We decided to give people a safe, fun night out,” said Liberman. “Then when, thank God, the violence died down we decided, well, let’s just try and see if we can make this a benefit for something.”
The biannual comedy showcase raises funds for the Koby Mandell Foundation.
Sherri and Rabbi Seth Mandell founded the organization to benefit people affected by terrorism after their son, Koby, was killed by terrorists near their home in Tekoa in May 2001.
This year’s line-up includes Kevin Meaney (see sidebox), Bobby Slayton and Gina Yashere performing with Liberman to help the fundraising effort. When asked about how he assembles the touring group, Liberman said he tries to choose veterans and fresh faces.
“I know a lot of these guys, we’ve worked together. So over the years I try to gauge who would do well in that environment,” said Liberman. “A lot of it is word of mouth because the perception of Israel as being a violent place or a place that isn’t safe can sometime be hard to overcome. The comedians who have gone have come back as great emissaries for Israel, telling other comedians that this is a great place to go and a great place to perform.”
One such new face to Comedy for Koby is British comedian Gina Yashere. For Yashere, this will not only be her first time doing stand-up in Israel, but her first visit to the country, period.
“I’ve never been [to Israel] before, so this will be a new experience. I’m always up to new experiences; I’m looking forward to seeing it. I have other comedian friends who have done it and they’ve told me great things,” said Yashere. Although she has performed all over the world and has been featured on such shows as The Tonight Show and Mock the Week, Yashere says she’ll be mostly aiming to perform new material for the Israeli audience, based on what she observes on her first trip to the country.
“I have no idea what [my set] will be until I get there. What I tend to do is get there, have a wander around, and whatever I observe a day or two before the show goes into my set,” she said.
Liberman said making new material especially for the Comedy for Koby show has become a necessity. Where he would ordinarily reuse some material, he notes that Israeli audiences pay very close attention and sometimes call attention to it when he repeats a joke in one of his sets.
“It’s fun for me, it’s a nice challenge because they expect me to have a new 20 minutes every six months. They say the standard for a comic is you come up with a really good five minutes per year. I need 20 minutes every six months,” said Liberman.
After one review noted his repeated use of a joke he became determined to avoid the folly a second time.
“I get off stage, I’m proud of myself for doing the entire show with new material, and some ladies come up to me after the show and go, ‘Why didn’t you do the joke about the holidays? We like that one.’ So it’s like, guess you can’t win,” he said with a laugh. “But the audiences are great. What I do is I try to write as many new things as I can.”Comedy for Koby will be held from June 8 through June 12 in Ra’anana, Beit Shemesh, Modi’in, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. To purchase tickets, visit comedyforkoby.com or call 052- 798-5200, though a few of the dates are close to sold out already. All the better for a night of fun that gives to a great cause.