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(photo credit: Courtesy)
What does one of the top American comedians do when he takes a well-deserved family vacation in Israel over the Pessah/Easter holiday? If he’s Jim Gaffigan, he agrees to perform two hastily arranged, intimate nightclub shows – just for the fun of it.
One of the most high-profile comics working today, the Irish-Catholic ‘King Baby’ Gaffigan certainly doesn’t need the work. With over 30 appearances on the David Letterman and Conan O’Brien shows, his own Comedy Central specials and DVDs including the career-defining Beyond the Pale, roles in films and TV shows – including Sex and the City, Law & Order and That ’70s Show – high-profile TV commercials, and of course, a wildly successful stand-up act consisting of his “clean” observations on everything from Catholicism to eating habits, the 43-year-old native of Indiana is not lacking work.
His shows last Friday at the Arab-Hebrew Theater in Jaffa and this Saturday night at the tiny Off the Wall Comedy Club in Jerusalem are more like nods of camaraderie to the burgeoning English-language comedy scene in Israel.
“I’m really here on a religious pilgrimage; we’re Catholic and we decided to spend the holy week in Jerusalem,” said Gaffigan on his cell phone as he was taking his three children, aged 5, 4 and 10 months to Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo on Erev Pessah.
“ I was doing a show in London, and this week coincided with the kids’ spring break, so my wife decided on short notice to bring everyone for the week. I sort of mentioned it to a few friends, and they started connecting me with people here, and before I knew it I was performing in Tel Aviv last week and in Jerusalem this week.”
One of the friends Gaffigan told about his trip to Israel was Los Angeles-based comic Avi Liberman, whom Israeli audiences know from his many Comedy for Koby tours, to which he has brought notable US comics for stand up shows around the country to raise funds for the Koby Mandell Foundation.
LIBERMAN MADE a shidduh between Gaffigan and local comic Benji Lovitt, and Off the Wall proprietor David Kilimnik, who, along with others, mobilized to organize the shows.
“I was in Eilat and Benji sent me an email saying they had pulled a show together in Tel Aviv and should he close it? I told him to go for it,” said Gaffigan. “It was really fun, Benji was great as the opener – it was one of those last minute things that worked out perfectly.
Lovitt, who made aliya from Texas and has been working the English-language comedy circuit here for over three years, called opening for Gaffigan “a blast.”
“Be it Paul McCartney or whomever, it’s always great to see such high-level entertainment in this country, and this was no different, especially in such a small, intimate environment,” he said. “Those who have tickets for Saturday night will get their money’s worth and then some.”
Gaffigan’s routine can generally translate into any environment, but the comic said that he was intent on incorporating some new material based on his observations while in Israel.
“I could do my ‘bacon’ routine, but you kind of pick and choose which material to use when you’re not performing for a home audience. But since I’m an observational comic, there’s not much that I need to do too differently. Plus there were a lot of Americans at the Tel Aviv show, so it didn’t really matter,” he said, revealing one joke that he had garnered since his arrival.
“The English breakfast is like the opposite of the Israeli breakfast.
And the American breakfast is like the Israeli breakfast and the
English breakfast on a bun covered in gravy.”
Another local comedian, Charley Warady, will be opening for Gaffigan at
the Jerusalem show. While Gaffigan’s All-American, fair-haired look has
established him in a world dominated by Jewish comics, he feels a
strong bond with his Semitic colleagues. And unlike the dentist
character in a classic episode of Seinfeld who felt compelled to
convert to Judaism for the material, he feels free to ingratiate
himself from the outside.
“I feel a Jewish attachment, because I know a lot of Yiddish, and I
know and like so many Jewish comedians,” said Gaffigan. “Anyway,
Catholics are only very liberal Jews.”