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At first glance, stand-up comedy may seem like an odd response to atrocity, but at the height of the Second Intifada, Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman founded "Stand Up for Israel," a project whose purpose was to raise the morale of communities throughout Israel through laughter and comedy.
What initially began as a small-scale "experiment" aimed at bringing Israelis a little joy has turned into a large, bi-annual fundraising project to benefit Israeli non-profit organizations. To date, Avi has been successful in bringing some of the comedy world's most recognizable stars to Israel including names like Jeffrey Ross, Harland Williams and Craig Robinson of the NBC hit show, The Office.
For the third season in a row, Stand Up for Israel, together with DJW productions has partnered with the Koby Mandell Foundation, founded by the Mandell family in memory of their son Koby, who in 2001 at the age of 13 was killed near their home in Tekoa. Production costs are offset through the generosity of donors.
"When the Second Intifada started, I came to visit Israel to show my support and the mood was terrible. It was depressing. I asked my friends, 'What do you people do at night? What if I could organize a safe fun night out for people?'" says Liberman. "We put together a night of stand-up where people would come out and laugh for a while. It built up from that. It was a giant experiment and it snowballed," he explains.
The Koby Mandell Foundation works on behalf of individuals and families struck by terror, providing a number of services and programs to victims and their families. Proceeds from the December tour will go to the foundation's projects, some of which include healing groups, camps and a Big Brother/Big Sister program.
The "Comedy for Koby" tour team comprises three comedians handpicked by Liberman: Mark Schiff, Steve White and Butch Bradley, who Liberman describes as an "eclectic mix" chosen for their wide appeal and ability to get any crowd, regardless of its demographic, to enjoy itself. Schiff is a regular on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Night with David Letterman; White has acted in numerous feature films, including more than five Spike Lee movies, and Bradley is a Comedy Central favorite and a regular on the Late Late Show. Liberman and Bradley met during a comedy tour for US troops in Afghanistan.
"Avi told me about Israel two years ago when we were in Afghanistan and I have been packing [for Israel] for two years," Bradley jokes. "I am extremely excited to be coming to Israel and even more excited to be going with a great bunch of comics and for such a great, amazing cause."
Bradley explains that although he is not Jewish, a lot of his material has Jewish content, given that he grew up in a Jewish neighbourhood. "I am from New Jersey. I have always lived in Jewish neighbourhoods. I went to Jewish day-care and now I live in a Hassidic neighborhood in Beverly Hills," he explains.
Asked what audiences can expect from the tour, Liberman explains that each show will be different and will evolve based on the comedians' experiences in IsraeI. "The comedians end up writing a lot about their experience in Israel. It's fun to see the progression of their acts during the tour," says Liberman.
Comedy for Koby runs from December 2-9, passing through Ra'anana, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Modi'in, Haifa and Beit Shemesh. For more information visit: comedyforKoby.com