Comedy for Koby paves way for Seinfeld

Four US comedians, led by Avi Liberman, spread laughter at seven venues across the country.

Avi Liberman (photo credit: Courtesy)
Avi Liberman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Jewish comedian Israeli audiences have come to adore will be on his way to Israel soon to put on a few shows.
That could obviously describe superstar comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who has four sold-out shows in Tel Aviv on December 19 and 20, but Comedy for Koby founder Avi Liberman also fits the bill.
Liberman has been bringing three comedians along with him to Israel twice a year for several years, raising money for the Koby Mandell Foundation, which provides therapeutic healing programs for family members of terrorism victims. He decided to advance this year’s winter tour in order to keep a healthy distance between his shows and those of that other Jewish funnyman.
The Comedy for Koby tour kicked off Saturday night in Beersheba and will be followed by shows Sunday in Modi’in, Monday in Ra’anana, Wednesday in Beit Shemesh, Thursday in Jerusalem, Saturday night in Gush Etzion and Sunday in Tel Aviv.
In a phone interview conducted when he was driving from Las Vegas to his home in Los Angeles, Liberman said he was happy that Seinfeld was gracing the Jewish state with his presence and that he decided against competing with him for crowds.
“It’s a great thing that he’s coming,” Liberman said.
“The more comedy in Israel the better. We didn’t want to overlap him by doing our tour at the same time. There’d be two people at our show: My mom and her friend.”
While the cheapest tickets to Seinfeld’s shows were NIS 500, the Comedy for Koby tour costs NIS 110 when ordered in advance, 120 at the door and only NIS 80 for soldiers and young women doing national service.
“I know there are plenty of singles and other people in Israel who don’t have money,” he said. “We charge what people can afford while making sure the charity makes money. We want to keep a balance.”
Another reason Liberman’s shows have the upper hand over Seinfeld’s is that while Jerry has one funny opening act in Los Angeles funnyman Mark Schiff, those who buy tickets for the Comedy for Koby tour get four comedians for their money.
The biggest name on the line-up is veteran comedian Bob Zany, who has been on The Tonight Show, hosted the Jerry Lewis Telathon for 17 years and has performed in all of America’s 50 states. He left Israelis laughing when he came on the Comedy for Koby tour five years ago.
“Bob works a ton and has a crazy schedule, but he was interested in coming back, and he said he’s available and that he’d love to do it,” Liberman said.
Zany, who lives in California’s San Fernando Valley, recalled that when he came to Israel last time, he thought he was in Los Angeles half the time, “because of the beautiful Tel Aviv beaches, the atmosphere, and the Jews.” He said he had a great time, and he couldn’t wait to come back.
He said he was undaunted by both the challenge from Seinfeld and the current wave of Arab violence on the streets of Israel. Defiantly, he added that even though there were also terrorist attacks around the last time he came, he believes Israel is safer than Los Angeles.
Zany, 54, has been doing stand-up comedy since he was 15, which has given him plenty of time to upset Americans from coast to coast.
“I am sure I’ve pissed off three-fourths of the country,” he said. “You hit an age where you don’t care if people like you anymore. It’s better that they respect you because if they like you, they’ll ask you for money, but if they respect you they’ll leave you alone.”
It surprises people when they hear that Seinfeld is 61 years old. Zany thought the former sitcom star was significantly younger than him, perhaps because of the contrast in how they’ve aged.
“I feel bad about taking away a lot of Jerry’s audience, but he has the money so it’s OK,” Zany said.
“He’s like 12 years younger than I am. I look like an insurance salesman who hasn’t sold a policy in five years but who they keep around for the white guy quota.”
Zany said he had worked with another comedian on the Comedy for Koby docket, Seattle-based Kermet Apio. Reached on the phone at home, Apio said he was excited about coming to Israel for the first time and getting the country ready for Seinfeld.
“I am a huge fan, and he has had a big influence on me,” Apio said. “I could never make the case to see me instead of Seinfeld. If you can, go see both. We will have a nice line-up, and it will be a fun night out.”
Apio adds another advantage for those who go to Comedy for Koby: “They get to see a Hawaiian in Israel,” something he is told the Jewish state lacks.
He was born and raised in Honolulu, where his family has lived for generations.
A past winner of both the Great American Comedy Festival Competition, Apio said he had never been anywhere close to Israel. He did not sound overly concerned about the spate of recent terrorist attacks.
“It’s something you think about, but I’ve had friends go [to Israel] who said they felt very safe, protected and welcome, and that’s enough for me,” he said. “I’ll take whatever protection Avi says I should.
I don’t know any martial arts. I am the least prepared person. I’ll just show up and look at the positive side of things.”
Apio does have experience with Jewish audiences.
He was recruited once to open for another comic at a Seattle synagogue by a friend who had trouble finding a comedian who knew how to be clean enough for such a conservative crowd.
“There aren’t too many Jewish comedians in Seattle, and they’re dirty,” he said.
Liberman said Kermet was highly recommended by Brad Upton and other Seattle comedians who have come on Comedy for Koby. The final comic on the tour, Erin Jackson, was recommended to Liberman by a regular on The Daily Show, who said he should check her out.
Reached on tour in New Jersey, Jackson said she was coming because she wanted to see Israel and likes to travel and to raise money for charity.
“I think it’s a great cause,” she said. “Don’t tell Avi, but I’d probably come for free.”
Jackson worked in online marketing for a newspaper before taking the leap into stand-up 12 years ago.
A graduate of Howard University in Washington, DC, and a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, she made a name for herself in east coast clubs and campuses.
The Washington Post predicted she would be next in line after a number of successful comics who have come out of the nation’s capital, including Martin Lawrence and Wanda Sykes. In her routine, she talks about universal issues like friends and family, which she believes will work well with Israeli audiences.
“I’m going to keep it clean and relatable,” she said.
“I have several friends who have done the tour. They said how beautiful it is and how gracious the crowds were. It’s a really nice mix of comics, so it will be a nicely rounded show. I get to be the lady on the tour.
Being a lady in comedy makes you pretty adaptable.”
Liberman said that mix of male and female, east and west coast, Jewish and gentile, and black and white comedians is the key to the success of the Comedy for Koby tour.
“All three are funny in their own unique way,” he said. “You want to mix up the show so there’s something different for everyone.”
Liberman will go straight from Israel to London, where he will be performing over Hanukka. A successful actor who has performed stand-up comedy on CBS’s Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, he recently appeared on a satirical talk show on Fox called Red Eye. But he is most identified as the comedian who brings other comics to Israel.
“Who doesn’t know Avi?” Zany said. “I think it’s a great thing. To be a better performer you need to challenge yourself with different audiences and make them laugh. The bottom line is that people want to laugh.”
For more info and tickets visit www.ComedyForKoby.
com or (052) 798-5200.