Laughing matters

LA-based comic Avi Liberman once again brings over a bunch of his funny friends to Israel for a good cause.

Kira Soltanovich (photo credit: PR)
Kira Soltanovich
(photo credit: PR)
The last time Vinnie Favorito was in Israel, he was stationed in Haifa in the US Navy in 1982. Now he is coming back as a successful stand-up comedian with more than 20 years experience who has a nightly show at the Flamingo Hotel Casino. Favorito is one of four comedians who came for the bi-annual Comedy for Koby tour that begins today in Beit Shemesh. The tour will take them Tuesday to Ra’anana, Thursday to Gush Etzion, Saturday night to a sold-out show in Modi’in, Sunday to Jerusalem for two shows, and will wrap up Monday in Tel Aviv. Proceeds from ticket sales support The Koby Mandell Foundation working on behalf of families of victims of terrorism and those who have tragically suffered the loss of a loved one.
“I’m leaving a show on the Las Vegas Strip to come close to the Gaza Strip,” Favorito quipped. “I need a new agent.”
He will be joined on the tour by California comedienne Kira Soltanovich, Seattle funnyman Brad Upton, and Stand Up for Israel head Avi Liberman, who has been bringing top American comedians to the Jewish state for more than a decade.
Liberman said he bumped into Favorito playing poker at the Mirage casino, and was grateful he was willing to leave Las Vegas and come to Israel.
“It’s a great cause, and I’m always on board to help children,” Favorito said in a phone interview from Las Vegas. “The most beautiful women in the world are in Israel, and there is no better time to come than Christmas.”
A Boston native, Favorito is known nationwide for his abilities as an infamous “roaster” at the Friars Club roasts, where he has taken on Tom Arnold, Larry King, Jerry Springer, Magic Johnson and others. He has won the San Francisco International Comedy Competition, which was a stepping stone for the likes of Robin Williams, Dana Carvey and Ellen DeGeneres. He launched his own show on the FOX Family network in 2001, Favor & Family.
Favorito admitted that people have told him he is crazy to come to Israel after the recent spate of terrorist attacks. But he said he never considered not coming.
“What can happen there that can’t happen here?” he said. “I think Israel’s one of the safer places. They don’t mess around. Israel’s not going to let in anybody who has Ebola. I’d rather walk down a street in Israel at night than in New York.”
Liberman said the terror attacks reinforced the need for him and the other comedians to come. He said he expected phone calls from his three guests with hesitations but not one of them called.
“I was waiting by my phone,” Liberman said. “But they were fine with it and said canceling never entered their minds. I have to give credit to their families. All three are married with kids. Usually married comedians get flak from their spouse or their kids, but not this time.”
Liberman said he tried for a long time to bring Soltanovich to Israel. She is the only one of the three guests who is Jewish, and she has a large family in Israel that includes a distant relative in Jerusalem: stand-up comedian Jeremy Saltan. Her father comes to Israel regularly to volunteer for the Israeli army, but this is her first visit.
At one point, she planned a trip with her dad, but when she got to the airport, she saw that her passport had expired and stayed home. In a phone interview, she said she dreaded the long flight from Los Angeles.
“I am leaving December 6, and arriving in February,” she kvetched.
When asked about her Jewish connections, she first said, “I work in Hollywood – that makes you Jewish.”
But then she reveals that she went to the Hebrew Academy day school, where “the rabbis were always on my case.”
As is evident from a name like Soltanovich, her parents were Soviet Jews, who were prevented from practicing their religion. Since then, she and her family have struggled to figure out their Jewish identity.
Her adviser on all things Jewish is none other than Liberman, who she calls her “vice president of Judaism.” She sees the trip as an older version of the Birthright Israel program, which she hopes will help her feel young.
When informed that there was an election going on in Israel, she got excited, asking, “Do I get to vote?” Soltanovich said one of her goals on the trip was to eat a lot, after relatives who visited her in Los Angeles told her: “You think this is Humus? This is not humus.”
She said she liked to focus on positive news from Israel and how it helps the world, and not the security situation.
“If I was going to Ferguson, Missouri, I’d be more worried,” she said.
Her biography says she began her comedy career in 1998, after her parents confessed, “It’s not like you’re smart enough to be a doctor.” Kira took that as their blessing to pursue her dream to become a stand-up comedian, and she’s never looked back. She was a regular on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for eight years and also appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Last Call with Carson Daly, Last Comic Standing, and The World Stands Up on Comedy Central.
Soltanovich has written for Joan Rivers, Scott Baio, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber. Her three-year-old son inspired her podcast, On The Kira Soltanovich Show, where she interviews fellow comedians who have kids and they discuss all things comedy and colic related.
In working with Joan Rivers, Soltanovich has something in common with Upton, who served as the opening act for Rivers for several years. Speaking from Seattle Airport, Upton said he loved working together with Rivers, and that the feeling was mutual.
“Joan was just a sweetheart,” he said. “She was always so nice to me. She didn’t care what other people’s opinions were. She would say anything. She pulled no punches.”
Upton said Rivers liked him because his shows are very clean. He performed successfully in Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau, so he has proven his routine appeals to international audiences.
“Brad Upton has mastered the nearly impossible task of appealing to people from the ages of 18 to 80,” The Seattle Times wrote about him. The Tucson Weekly said, “Brad Upton should be on everyone’s comedian bucket list.”
He said he had begged Liberman for years to come.
Liberman said when he head Upton perform, he could not stop laughing.
“Laughter is healing,” Upton said. “It’s good for you. Comedy for Koby is more than just telling jokes. It’s doing some good. Come out and laugh and help a wonderful cause.” Liberman said that besides being funny, all three comedians are nice people who travel well. He said he felt lucky that the tour all fell into place.
“All three are extremely strong acts, very funny, and very different from each other,” he summarized.
“With these three the quality of the show will be there. If people don’t show up, I will feel bad because they are so funny. It will be their loss.”
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