When Israeli-born, Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman started bringing comics to Israel to raise money for charity more than two decades ago, they responded by asking him whether it was safe to come here.
Since then, Liberman has brought comedians before and after rockets and missiles flew into Israel, and the IDF and Mossad conducted operations near and far. The comics keep asking that question 27 Comedy for Koby tours later.
However, from when the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago, the comedians Liberman recruited start responding differently.
They still asked him if it was safe to come, but it had nothing to do with terrorism.
Their concerns shifted from violence to viruses and vaccines.
When the comedians set to arrive next week were asked if they were worried about coming, they automatically responded with fears of someone coughing next to them on a plane, not with someone blowing them up in a café.
“Nowadays, people who turn down my invitation never do it because of safety, just due to COVID,” Liberman said. “Even people on the fence about Israel say they want to see it for themselves.”
Surprisingly, politics never come up anymore. It’s only bureaucracy that scares people away.
Liberman must navigate between Israel’s ever-changing rules and regulations. He made sure to bring comics who were fully vaccinated and tested for the shows that will be taking place Tuesday in Tel Aviv, Wednesday in Beit Shemesh, two Thursday in Jerusalem, Saturday night in Gush Etzion, next Sunday in Modiin and Monday in Ra’anana.
For the first show to go on, the comics will have to go through a 24-hour quarantine, while they wait for their results.
Liberman, who arrived early to promote the tour, said one of his guests testing positive is obviously in the back of his mind. He fondly recalled when his main worry was where to take his comics between shows as tourists to enjoy the country.
The Comedy for Koby tour is a biannual event, benefiting the Koby Mandell Foundation, which helps family members of terror victims and others who have suffered a loss in their family.
Asked if he would mock the current cell phone hacking scandal, Liberman said “Let’s just say no one is surprised about anything governments would try anymore.”
None of Liberman’s three guests have been to Israel before. Amir K is Persian and Ian Bagg has performed in Dubai and Qatar. Gina Brillon has barely left the US.
Brillon was born and raised in the Bronx, New York. The Puerto Rican actress, comedian, writer and mom has been a stand-up comic since she was 17 years old. She’s made appearances on The View, Late Night with Seth Meyers and Jimmy Kimmel Live, and was the first Latina comedian to be a finalist in America’s Got Talent.
Reached by phone in New York, Brillon could not contain her excitement about coming. She hasn’t met Liberman, but she was well aware of his tours from her comic friends.
“He called me and said he was looking for a clean female comic,” she recalled. “I had always wanted to come on his tour, but I had to play it cool when he called me. In my mind I was like ‘I’m going to Israel!’ I wanted to jump up and down. I’m inwardly doing somersaults. They’ll have to strap me down on the plane.”
She said she was looking forward to having a life-changing experience, enjoying the beauty of Israel and learning about its culture. Her Catholic parents, who are regular church goers, are especially happy that she is coming to the Holy Land to see the Jesus stuff.
“I don’t know what to look at, what to do first,” she said. “I’m the kind of person who wants to be an obvious tourist – to see the big things.”
The hard part for Brillon will be leaving behind Jaden, her one-and-a-half-year-old son, who she called her little partner in crime with her husband, who is a musician. Much of her routine is about becoming a Mom during COVID-19.
“I love being a mom, but parenting sucks,” she said. “I have this understanding that being a mom is not for everybody. It’s hard. I’m now my son’s personal assistant. That’s frustrating.”
Brillon said she was looking forward to good audiences, what she called the killer lineup, and coming back with stories and new comedy routines about visiting Israel that are sure to be well received by audiences with the many Jews where she lives in Queens.
“Laughter is healing and therapeutic for me,” she said. “I hope it will be for them, too. Come out and laugh with us. Leave a little lighter.”
While Brillon has hardly been abroad, Bagg has performed recently in Bangladesh, Australia, Europe and China. He fondly recalled watching burka-clad women in Dubai go down water slides and end up revealing plenty, despite being so fully clothed from head to toe.
Bagg once tried to perform for American troops in Afghanistan, but the plane never made it. It’s the third time he has tried to come to Israel for Comedy for Koby, after COVID-19 canceled his first tour and Operation Guardian of the Walls the second.
Asked why he wanted to come, he said, “Why not? It’s where everything started. Might as well go check it out.”
Reached in LA, he said he was expecting audiences that are “Jewish... and open-minded and want to laugh and escape the real world for a while.”
Bagg has been doing comedy for 24 years and has known Liberman for much of that time. He said that since the COVID-19 era began, it has been part of his routine.
“You can’t avoid it, but you can have fun with it,” he said. “Audiences don’t want you to veer away from it, but to help them escape from it for an hour by letting them laugh at it.”
Liberman concurred, saying “it’s all about taking a negative into a positive.