Not riding the latest wave

Top US comedians on the current Comedy for Koby tour avoid poking fun at the Gaza flotilla incident.

June 3, 2010 03:12
4 minute read.
Wayne Cotler

311_Wayne Cotler. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Two Jews, a Hispanic, and an old white guy walk into a country facing a firing squad.

It sounds like a bad joke, or perhaps the next Israeli reality show. But it’s the reality facing Avi Liberman, Wayne Cotter, Johnny Sanchez and Bob Zany, who came to Israel this week for the Comedy for Koby Stand Up for Israel Tour.

They have already played to rave reviews on Tuesday and Wednesday in Haifa and Beit Shemesh. They will be in Modi’in Saturday night, Jerusalem Sunday, Ra’anana for two shows on Monday, Tel Aviv Tuesday and Gush Etzion Wednesday.

Proceeds from the shows go to the Koby Mandell Foundation, which works on behalf of families of terror victims and was founded by the parents of Koby Mandell, a 13-year-old boy who was killed by terrorists outside Tekoa in May 2001. The foundation’s mission is to “work to bridge the isolation that bereaved children and adults are struck with after the loss of a loved one.”

Liberman, who brings comedians to Israel twice a year, has experience touring here in times when the country was facing difficult headlines around the world. The group of comedians arrived in Israel on Monday, at the height of reports about the raid on the Gaza flotilla.

“It’s been hilarious here lately,” Liberman said sarcastically when asked how the reports were affecting the group.

Liberman started his routine in Haifa with a flotilla-related joke in order to show that he was not disconnected from reality. But he and the other comedians made a strategic choice to stay away from the Gaza controversy for the rest of the night.

“The show helps people get away from the news,” Liberman said. “I mentioned the boat and I got a nice laugh, but we want to give people a nice escape for a night.”

Liberman said the news had not affected the three other comedians, who were all making their first trips to Israel. He said they were finding it interesting to see how the incident was being portrayed differently in Israel and the US and how the real Israel differed greatly from the image they got from the media back home.

“The media has a tendency to focus on the negative,” Sanchez said as he boarded his flight from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv. “I did my own research to see what everyday life is like in Israel and about the night life in Tel Aviv, and I liked what I saw.”

SANCHEZ, ONE of America’s premier comedians, has performed in top comedy clubs and made a lot of TV appearances. Along with parts on sit-coms and films, he lent his voice for the Oscar-winning animated film Happy Feet – as Lombardo – alongside Robin Williams and Elijah Wood. He recently spent three weeks in Sydney, Australia working on Happy Feet 2.

Asked if he felt any concern coming to the Middle East, Sanchez said: “I’m Mexican. I’ll be alright. I’ve been in east LA.”

When informed about singer Elvis Costello’s recent decision to cancel his show in Israel, Sanchez said he felt no such pressure from his comedic colleagues. “They were, like, How do I get that gig?”

The most well-known comedian on the trip is Zany, whose resume bursts with close to 1,000 national television stints, including Roseanne, The Drew Carey Show, and The Tonight Show. His film credits include co-starring roles in Matt Damon’s recent hit The Informant and in the David Spade comedy Joe Dirt. After three decades on the comedy circuit and three American Comedy Award nominations, he is still described as “the best ad-lib comic working today.”

The only Jew that Liberman brought along on this trip is Cotter, who hosted the Fox series Comic Strip Live for many years and is a favorite guest of Leno, David Letterman, and Bill Maher.

Cotter has been nominated for Best Standup Comedian in the American Comedy Awards. He appears in the film The Aristocrats and has also served as host of the Discovery Channel’s Amazing America, a light-hearted look at weird and wacky subcultures throughout the US.

When reached on the plane, Cotter said he was inspired to visit Israel by his son’s bar mitzva three months ago. Asked why it had taken him so long to come to the Jewish state, he said: “Because I’m lazy, irresponsible, and slow.”

Liberman, whose own impressive resume includes Dave’s World, Boston Common, and the Late Late Show, said he selected the three comedians “because they are all hilarious.”

While Liberman makes an effort to do as much new material as possible for audiences that have seen him perform multiple times, sometimes crowd members complain that he didn’t do routines they were expecting. The Gaza flotilla gives him an opportunity to poke fun at something new.

“I’ll incorporate topical bits and what people want to hear,” he said. “Who knows? Maybe the news will be all different by the time we perform in Jerusalem, and no one will remember the flotilla by then.”

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