This Israeli comedian is a stand-up comedy hit in English

Yohay Sponder, alongside Shahar Hason, are responsible for building the market of standup comedy in Israel performed in English. His shows at Bar Giyora are usually sold out.

 TEL AVIV resident Yohay Sponder drew many laughs at the Chosen Comedy Festival in Brooklyn last month.  (photo credit: PERRY BINDELGLASS)
TEL AVIV resident Yohay Sponder drew many laughs at the Chosen Comedy Festival in Brooklyn last month.
(photo credit: PERRY BINDELGLASS)

When a man brought his date to see a set by Israeli comedian Yohay Sponder, the joke was on him. Proving that Jewish women appreciate a guy with a sense of humor, she and Sponder married in October.

“They ended things first,” Sponder, who lives in Tel Aviv, told the Magazine. “Then we started texting, and it was clear pretty quickly that we were good for each other.”

Sponder, 39, said he and his friend and colleague Shahar Hason are responsible for building the market of standup comedy in Israel performed in English. He said that the Funny Monday shows, which he produced and can be seen on YouTube, are something he’s extremely proud of and that the shows at Bar Giyora are almost always sold out.

"There’s been a big expansion, and more Israeli comedians are performing in English to supply the demand. There are Israeli comedians performing in English, native English speakers who moved here. And it’s a bonus for comedians to know they can visit Israel and have a place to perform in English; and for people who come on vacation, there’s a place to laugh."

Yohay Sponder

“It’s partly from Americans making aliyah and partly from tourists, but Israel now has a bigger English comedy scene than Amsterdam, Madrid and other European cities,” Sponder said. There’s been a big expansion, and more Israeli comedians are performing in English to supply the demand. There are Israeli comedians performing in English, native English speakers who moved here. And it’s a bonus for comedians to know they can visit Israel and have a place to perform in English; and for people who come on vacation, there’s a place to laugh.”

Sponder expanded his own repertoire about 10 years ago by doing comedy in English. He said while some comedians worry that their English is not strong enough, the bigger concern is that it takes a lot of effort and travel.

Israeli comedians Yohay Sponder (L) and Shahar Hasson (R) read 'The Jerusalem Post' (credit: YOCHEVED LAUFER)Israeli comedians Yohay Sponder (L) and Shahar Hasson (R) read 'The Jerusalem Post' (credit: YOCHEVED LAUFER)

“It’s a lot of air miles,” Sponder said. “I’ve gone to America about 10 times. You have to keep doing it. Israeli comedians that don’t do it are really missing out on a big opportunity.”

Sponder was one of only two Israeli comedians (the other was Ofer Shechter) selected to perform at the Chosen Comedy Festival on August 16, and it was a sold-out crowd of 4,000 fans in Coney Island. Performers included Elon Gold, Modi Rosenfeld, Dave Atell and Jeff Ross.

“It was a great experience,” Sponder said. “Elon and Modi were like big brothers showing me the ropes, and it was really nice of them. To be with people like Jeff Ross and Dave Attell, who I saw on TV growing up, was unbelievable.”

Gold, who played a Hulu executive on the most recent season of HBO Max’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, will perform in Herzliya, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem on October 11, 12 and 13 as part of Comedy for Koby. The Koby Mandell Foundation was established in 2001 by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell after their 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef Ishran were murdered by terrorists. The foundation is a leading organization providing assistance to Israelis who have been impacted by terror or tragedy.

Gold told the Magazine that he was impressed by Sponder’s show that he produces, as well as his performance at the Brooklyn festival.

“Yohay is a natural and a super-funny talented guy!” Gold enthused. “I always love watching him and doing his Funny Monday English-language show in Tel Aviv. I was so glad we were able to introduce him to our audience at Chosen and can’t wait to do more shows together!”

In his set at the festival, Sponder told the audience that Israelis are not appreciated around the world.

“We try to be sexy as much as possible,” he said. “It’s not helping.”

He said that he was in a hotel eating breakfast when he was accosted by a British woman who asked if he was from Israel.

“Now, it’s very offensive that someone recognizes your accent, without you even saying anything,” he said, drawing laughs.

He said she claimed she knew he was Israeli because he put so much food on his plate.

“She said, ‘You guys are disgusting!’ I said, ‘Why, why, why? First of all, you’re gorgeous.’”

HE SAID the British woman called Israel occupiers, and he asked about how English got to one country.

“You know, people in India, they didn’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden say, ‘I think I’m gonna try a new language today.’ Someone screwed them over really good. You know who? English-speaking people.”

“You know, people in India, they didn’t wake up one morning and all of a sudden say, ‘I think I’m gonna try a new language today.’ Someone screwed them over really good. You know who? English-speaking people.”

Yohay Sponder

He also told the audience that the Iron Dome was the cutest weapon in the world, a rocket that meets a rocket in the sky and no one gets hurt.

Could comedy bridge the gap between Israelis and Palestinians?

“I would like to do performances because after all, we are cousins,” Sponder said. But it’s hard from their side because if a comedian wants to do a show with us in Israel, people might be suspicious of them. But I hope it can happen. And I know it doesn’t look like it now, but I hope sometime in the future, with new leadership, there can be peace.”

Born in the Golan Heights to a family of farmers, Sponder knows how to milk a cow, but he did not try out jokes on them. He said after seeing how the animals are treated, he became vegan.

“We are told meat and milk are good for you,” he said. “It’s a lie. I wanted to see if I could be vegan and still feel good and not feel I’m missing anything, and I feel good.”

He said when he was young, he had fears he could lose his home.

“When I was a little kid, I heard people saying maybe the Golan would be given (to Syria), and it’s scary when you think maybe you will lose your home. But then there were bumper stickers and the movement of Ha Am Im Hagolan (The Nation with the Golan). Then I felt more secure.”

Sponder said the Funny Monday shows helped him become versatile. A key, he said, is knowing and respecting your audience and tailoring your material to what they’d most appreciate.

The audience laughed numerous times for Sponder.

Dani Zoldan, co-owner of Stand Up NY, who produced the Chosen Comedy Festival, said he plans to bring the event to Israel in 2023 but hasn’t yet chosen the city. He also praised Sponder.

“I got amazing feedback from the audience,” Zoldan said. “The only complaint was that he couldn’t perform longer. The lineup was already on the long side, so we had time constraints.”

Sponder said he’s happy to see more Israeli comedians performing in English because it gives them the ability to perform all over the world.

Is there a difference between Israeli and American audiences when it comes to performing in English?

“Israeli crowds are tougher to get a first laugh because of the tension and stress in their lives,” Sponder said. “But once you get them, they can laugh with a full heart and be really passionate. American crowds are ready to laugh and are relaxed, although there is the issue of being politically correct. Sponder, who also performed at comedy clubs in New York and has performed in various countries, said he is very happy with the work he is doing.

Sponder said while serving in the army, it was serious business and he couldn’t crack jokes. But he’s got plenty of time to do it now, all over the world.

“I will never get tired of making people laugh,” he said. 