If you’re looking for an evening of rip-roaring entertainment in English, then the Shablul club in Tel Aviv could be just the place for you on Monday evening. That is when Iris Bahr takes the stage to unfurl her motley mix of high-octane humor seasoned by some quality jazz sounds, with a tête-à-tête spot thrown in for good measure.
Bahr, an avid jazz fan, hails from the US but has done her time here, including her army service, whereafter she scooted abroad every which way, taking in adventurous trips to the Far East and South America.
Betwixt and between she had extended stays in New York and Los Angeles feeding off some of that rich accrued life experience to fuel her standup comic routines as well as several tomes, including a couple of travelogue-style publications. Add to that regular appearances in long-running American sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, starring in her own cable comedy series Svetlana, and her solo comic spot Dai – which translates as “Enough” – which she got to perform at the UN in New York.
There’s more, with a popular weekly fun podcast called X-RAE in there too, while her new comedic play, The Olive Tree, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is due to open in New York this spring.
Just perusing her bio left me a little breathless and I wondered whether there’s much left for her to get to, across the expanses of the show biz field of play.
“I have always inhabited alter egos,” Bahr notes. “I was living in New York and LA, working as a writer and an actor, and a kind of a public-speaking coach. I have done all these one-woman shows, doing 12 to 13 different people.”
Those disciplinary gymnastics may have been fueled by her peripatetic genetic backdrop. “My first shows in America revolved around the immigrant experience. My parents are Bulgarian Jews who were in Israel but then moved to New York. My dad was on shlichut,” she explains. “So I wrote this show about these kinds of experiences.”
That particular project was summarily cut off at the pass by a cataclysmic event. The show was scheduled to open in New York on September 11, 2001.
NOT TO be deterred, Bahr simply plowed on, feeding off topical seams that dug deep into the human psyche, and also into the darker shades of comic delivery.
“In my second show, Dai, I play a bunch of characters in a café just before a suicide bomber walks in,” she says. Clearly, Bahr manages to find a laugh or two, even in the grimmest of scenarios. “Everyone dies in the café but there is a lot of humor in the show because I encapsulated different people in Israeli society and how they embrace life.”
That sounds like the quintessential portrayal of the zeitgeist in these here parts. Bahr even manages to circumnavigate the seemingly unavoidable political minefield that, surely, comes with that sort of exploratory territory.
“I kind of ran the gamut of opinions in Dai. It wasn’t like a didactic political piece at all. It was more a social anthropological piece.”
The work struck a chord, across a panoply of cultures and mindsets. “The show did very well. I performed it all over the world. I did it at the UN. That was unbelievable.”
Encouraged by the response, Bahr was all set to roll out Dai to New York culture consumers, on a regular basis, in March 2020. However, the blessed fates conspired to stymie that venture too, when COVID struck.
Bahr was not going to let a little thing like a global pandemic get in her way and she went online with Dai, and got in on the live streaming act from her home.
FOLLOWING Bahr’s meandering potholed timeline, it is not too difficult to see where she gets her spicy comic style, and the material for her roles. Yet another unfortunate event is providing the substratum for a new project.
“Now I am writing a show about my mom,” she explains. “My mom had a stroke, which is why I moved back to Israel last March. I came back to take care of her, and it has been a very emotional and grueling journey.”
She says she has learned to roll with the punches. “I came back here with my 9-year-old. It was an overnight move. We came at the height of COVID. We couldn’t get in. I had to apply to the Exceptions Committee. It was a nightmare.”
Nothing appears to faze the woman, in life or in her art which, after all, makes for a symbiotic commixture. She cites a veritable comic rogues’ gallery, including Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, Lucille Ball and Peter Sellers, among her sources of inspiration, none of whom would win too many Brownie points for toeing the conservative societal line.
As far as Bahr is concerned, almost anything goes. “I run the gamut,” she states. “There’s dark humor and dirty humor too. You get a mix. I had a guy with a yarmulke in my last show, but he was a trooper. I bare it all, not literally,” she laughs. “We talk about life, sex, Israel.”
Unsurprisingly, the latter comes up quite a lot in the Bahr routine. “I have an ex-pat Israeli living in New York. She gets stuck in Israel after her husband decides to take a boat back to New York.” Sounds like the perfect cultural-comic contretemps that offers expansive domains for entertaining maneuver.
So, is nothing off-limits? Are there no red lines she won’t cross? “I’m never mean to people,” she says, “even if I put people on the spot. I don’t mind making myself the butt of the joke, but I never make fun of someone’s appearance, unless they are really good looking. That’s fair game,” she laughs.
Monday’s rollout promises to provide all-comers with some good old belly laughs, some captivating grooves – courtesy of a jazz quartet – with, no doubt, some added spice on offer in her interview spot with acclaimed actress, writer and comic Noa Koller.
It may have been a rough ride for Bahr to get where she is today, but here she is, ready to sprint out onto the Shablul stage with all guns blazing. Hang on to your hats.
For tickets and more information: https://shablul.smarticket.co.il/Iris_Bahr___Comedy___Jazz/?id=2340, www.irisbahr.com and Instagram: @iris.bahr
Doors open 7 p.m., show starts 8:30 p.m.