Laughing rights

Who says leftists and feminists haven't got a sense of humor?

standup baro 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
standup baro 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ot popularly known for their sense of humor, a crowd of more than 1,000 Jerusalemites sat on the bleachers in the Old Train Station yard last week and laughed for over two hours. The evening, "Stand Up for Your Rights," was sponsored by the New Israel Fund, with support from Kol Ha'ir, DataSafe, Cellcom, Radio 101 and the Jerusalem Municipality. Billed as a Hyde Park, the evening was not an open-mike, but rather a well-organized evening of comedy. Performers included the "Mah Kashur" Trio; Yisrael Campbell - "It's Not in Heaven" (in English); Norman Issa performing sketches from his play, Dancing Arabs; Shmuel Baro - From the play An Ethiopian's Word; a Drag Show with Galina Por-de-Bra, Skinny Shuki & Dancin' Danny; and Russian comedian Ilia Axelrod with his performance, "Darting Forward as you Oleh." Said Eliezer Ya'ari, director of the Israel offices of the New Israel Fund, "We are here to laugh and to have the opportunity to give voice to the 'other,' whose voice isn't usually heard." "Oooh, you're cute. You were a pilot, weren't you?" cooed a comedienne from the Jerusalem Incubator, a local comedy group, who MCd the evening - sort of. Retorted a member of the Incubator, "Who's the 'other' around here? I'm not Russian, I'm not Ethiopian, I'm not gay and I'm not haredi. I'm just plain ol' Polish, so I'm the only 'other' here." With a crowd made up mostly of social activists, the stand-upists felt safe to disregard PC, polite constraints and social sensibilities. Which they did - with self-mocking aplomb. As they came onstage, the Incubator quartet sang in perfectly arranged polyphonic harmony, "It's not nice to die in a pigua [terror attack] and not terribly pleasant to find yourself in Marj Ayoun." The Left, Arabs, ageism, conversion, Israeli drivers, the Right, the IDF, Arkady Gaydamak, the war, haredim, death, "arsim" (greasers), Georgians, Shlomo Artzi and even Reform Judaism, the religious flavor preferred by many in the audience - everything and everyone were fair game for the roast - especially if they were roasting themselves. "Do I look like an Arab?" Sammy Issa asked. "Yes," the audience answered without hesitation. "Any Ethiopians in the audience?" asked Shmuel Baro, peering out from the stage. "I can't see you in the dark." Turning to the "others" in the audience, he quipped, "Don't open your wallets, I had a full meal today." Stereotypes were fair game, too. "My girlfriend is a 'Franjie,'" Baro continued. "Her parents helped me feel right at home - they gave me a broom and a mop as soon as I walked into their house." And the Incubator's parody of the sacred, over-scripted torch-lighting ceremonies on Mount Herzl to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day and Memorial Day were achingly funny. The usually demure Jerusalemite audience was loud, rowdy and bawdy and didn't hesitate to jeer when they thought something wasn't funny - and to laugh heartily when the comedians jeered back. "Israelis have to take 27 driving lessons to get a license," Yisrael Campbell roared. "Whatever for??" He then continued to spoof haredim, circumcision, conversion and just about any other topic that he happened upon. The appearance by the "Mah Kashur Trio" was the hit of the evening, with its solemnly sung, "Why not Uganda," wildly funny skits, and counterculture satire, "[I Sing] from the Heart." And when a slapstick segment almost went wrong, the trio seemed to enjoy itself at least as much as the audience did. Sure, it was one of those times where you had to have been there. Those who were there on a hot Jerusalem night last week, had a cathartic, rebellious, subversive - and very funny - time.