It's the best medicine

Comedy for Koby tour goes retro with ‘greatest hits’ show

Avi Liberman 311 (photo credit: Yissachar Ruas)
Avi Liberman 311
(photo credit: Yissachar Ruas)
Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman has tried a lot of gimmicks during the decade he has been bringing top American comics to Israel. He has brought comedians of seemingly every religion, race, creed, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation and mixed them together to create the most diverse line-ups possible for his four-comedian shows. But on his latest Comedy for Koby tour, which kicks off Tuesday in Ra’anana, Liberman has tried something different: For the first time, he’s bringing all retreads.
Comedians John Mulrooney, Saleem Muhammad, and Maryellen Hooper have all accompanied Liberman to Israel on his comedy tours in the past. And they are all back, because Liberman – and audiences – consider them among the funniest people who have graced an Israeli stage.
“These are three of my favorites and the people’s favorites over the years,” Liberman said.
“Audiences asked for them to come back. Last tour none of the three had been to Israel before, so it will be interesting to do a tour like this. It’s a different angle.”
The four comedians will follow up their Ra’anana show by performing Wednesday night in Beit Shemesh, Saturday night in Modi’in, two shows Sunday in Jerusalem, and one show each next Monday in Tel Aviv and Tuesday in Gush Etzion.
The shows benefit the Koby Mandell Foundation, which works on behalf of individuals and families struck by terror. The foundation is named after a 13-year-old boy who was murdered by terrorists near his home in Tekoa in May 2001.
In between the shows, the comedians tour the country and see the sites, a tradition that will be different than in the past because of their return trip and due to the fact that none of the comedians Liberman brought this time are Jewish. He said he has received flak for not bringing any members of the tribe.
“How’s your Judenrein Israel tour going?” someone cynically asked him.
Muhammad, who is Muslim, came on the tour in June 2006. He fondly recalls visiting all the quarters of the Old City and didn’t seem to mind the extra security checks he was put through.
“Everyone was very welcoming and wonderful to me,” he said. “Coming to Jerusalem is a religious experience, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting to the city.”
Muhammad called himself a “storyteller” and said he thought the Jewish tradition of storytelling made him especially appreciated in Israel. A native of Ohio, Muhammad has performed on the Tonight Show, with music greats like the Temptations, and for American troops in Iraq.
Mulrooney has not only performed for American security forces, he is one. When times got tough after he lost his job on morning radio, he went to the Police Academy and became a New York City cop.
“Having a sense of humor lends itself to police work,” Mulrooney said. “I’m a real cop. I pull people over, conduct investigations, and everything else. I make people laugh even if I have to write them a ticket.”
The humor involved in being a cop by day and comedian by night has led to a reality show starring Mulrooney that is in the works. The producers were hoping to get footage in Israel, but it didn’t work out.
“I didn’t want to say ‘shoot me’ in Israel,” he said.
The last time he came to Israel, on the December 2007 Comedy for Koby tour, terrorists in Gaza did just that. A rocket landed in Sderot on the same block the comedians visited in a show of solidarity with residents.
“We brought donations to the people there and distributed them by buying a pack of gum and giving the man behind the counter $300,” he recalled.
Mulrooney said he really enjoyed his last trip and he was surprised by how well his act went over with Israelis.
“I didn’t know whether my stuff could translate,” he confessed. “I’ve performed all over the world, but the Middle East is a different situation and I thought – Jesus, I don’t want to piss anyone off over there.”
Mulrooney said he makes a point of staying away from politics, religion and other divisive issues in his act. When asked about the relatively calm security situation in Israel, he said “boring isn’t necessarily bad,” but that his mother was worried regardless.
While Mulrooney is concerned about his mother, Hooper said she’s coming to Israel to get away from her kids. The last time she came along with Liberman and Muhammad in 2006, she brought along her first child, who was under two years old at the time.
Now that her two kids are seven and four, Hooper is leaving them with her husband in Florida and taking a welldeserved “mommy break,” her longest time away from her children since they were born. She said she was looking forward to the flight because she expected to get a rare eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
“When I came last time, my son thought the Jews putting on prayer shawls on the plane were ghosts,” Hooper recalled. “Am I worried about other children crying on the plane? No, that actually soothes me, because they’re not mine. It’s sick and twisted, but ha ha!”
Reached during a mad rush to complete her holiday shopping ahead of her flight, Hooper said she was excited about “sightseeing things that children would be bored with” as well as taking a shower longer than 10 minutes and “shaving parts of my body that haven’t seen a razor in seven years.”
She said she was not concerned about her security, because, “I’m too self-centered to think that anything would happen to me and too vain to think I’d be harmed.”
Asked why she thought Liberman was bringing her in a second time, she said, “We were well received last time. I don’t know why. I guess he thinks that I am hysterical.”