So there’s this guy called Norman who’s foolish enough to take a seat front and
center at this season’s Comedy for Koby show in Jerusalem.
part because this is stand-up, and comedians invariably pick out various
unfortunates from the audience for fleeting abuse, and their gaze naturally
tends to the folks sitting front and center.
Foolish especially because
Norman, the Orthodox father of five children, is, for whatever doubtless
excellent reason, not here with his wife – as we all learn in the mildly
embarrassing (for him) course of host Avi Liberman’s opening act.
never discover the true identity of the lady seated to his left to whom, at
least according to Liberman, Norman turns for confirmation when asked to detail
the names and ages of his children. But we do, from the rows behind him, see
Norman squirm just a little in his seat as Ari cheerfully misrepresents her as
his mistress and chirpily undermines his religious bona fides as well.
truth, Liberman’s comedic assault on the hapless Norman was emphatically of the
gentle and good-natured, rather than the pointed and nasty variety. The same can
be said, indeed, of the entire evening – a seriously funny comedic showcase,
held for the most elevated of reasons: to raise funds for the Koby Mandell
Foundation, set up by Sherri and Rabbi Seth Mandell in memory of their
13-year-old son, who was murdered with his friend Yosef Ish Ran by Palestinian
terrorists near their Tekoa home in May 2001.
Seth and Sherri began the
evening by detailing some of the foundation’s recent activities, primarily
devoted to programs helping families of terror victims, and by telling a few
jokes beloved by Koby. It was his love of humor, after all, that inspired this
unique choice of a comedy series in his memory.
Texas-raised, Los Angeles-based Liberman has emerged as the true star of these
shows. He chooses the changing line up of three US-based comics who make the
trips with him, and finds the funds to bring them here, so that all monies
raised by the shows themselves can be used solely for philanthropic purposes.
And, by virtue of his Jewishness, his Israel expertise and his growing
familiarity with this particular audience of good-humored and compassionate
Israeli English-speakers, Liberman has developed into the perfect
On Sunday night in the expanded confines of the Jerusalem
Theater, Liberman’s was the act that seemed too short. He was the comic,
unsurprisingly, who most fluently merged his American-targeted material with
gags of strictly local interest.
He riffed on the absurd names of some of
the Old City’s gates – Damascus and Dung, for goodness sake? How did we come up
with those? He offered a novel approach to “apologizing” to the Turks over the
flotilla affair, suggesting we proffer an utterly un-heartfelt mea culpa – the
kind of “I’m sorry you feel that way” brush-off that a woman delivers to a man
with whom things just haven’t worked out too well. And he made some much-needed
merriment of the Egyptians’ risible notion that the Mossad had dispatched a
shark “with a yarmulke” to terrify the bathers of Sharm e-
LIBERMAN WAS followed on stage by the evening’s other big hit,
Long Island-born Gregg Rogell, who began with a terrific routine about the
letter he’d written to Santa Claus as a kid – in the course of which he revealed
that he was a) Jewish, b) possessed of fine supply of sardonic wit and c)
considered to be a pain in the butt by his own father.
The audience loved
his El Al routine. He mused about the unique Israeli national airline imperative
to disclose his religion; no, they don’t say, “Welcome to Delta. Are you
Jewish?” He played up the security officer’s horrified outrage that he’d never
had a bar mitzvah. And he sketched a lovely scene that had him imploring a
thoroughly disinterested Israeli guard to, please, let him take off his shoes,
like the other airlines do, just in case he was a terrorist, and being ordered
irritably to “just get on the plane.”
Brooklyn’s Dwayne Perkins, the most
physical of the comedians, was also warmly received, with a meandering routine
that introduced new twists to old clichés about the white man’s inability to
dance, produced much empathetic nodding of heads with a section on his
obsessively clean former roommate, and veered happily into comic absurdity when
he argued in favor of not eating that last piece of pizza on your plate. How, he
wondered with a certain undeniable logic, could it possibly benefit starving
children in Africa if we all finished all the food we were served, as our
parents so relentlessly demand? Surely, the only faint hope of helping those
poor kids would be if we left some food uneaten, and it fell into a shopping
bag, and somehow got transported… Well, it was funny when he did it.
night’s final act, John Caponera, was more of an old-school comic; in fact his
opening joke was hoarier than the dumb blonde jokes from Koby’s computer that
Sherri and Seth read out at the start of the evening. But Caponera’s heart was
plainly in the right place, too, and during the Q and A session that followed
the comedy routines, he had the quick wits to drag out a familiar gag about the
inability even of supernatural forces to solve the Israeli-Palestinian
The evening was not without its snarls. The Q and A session
produced one highly ill-considered remark, and Caponera’s routine focused a
little too much on death for an event held against this particular
But these are comedy evenings that will not be derailed. They
are gatherings with what is surely a unique character – performers and audience
meeting for the noblest of causes, determined to enjoy themselves, in full
cognizance of the appalling event that brings them together.
Mandell’s parents, and all who assist them in this humorous, holy endeavor, are
to be respected, applauded, and, on these remarkable nights, laughed along with.