Video made the comedy star

Don't underestimate the power of the Web or the desire to do a good deed and help your fellow man. They all played a part in Dr. Tzahi Ben-Zion's suddenly finding himself booked through next spring as a stand-up comic. His alternate career continues to take off, and he is playing about four shows a month to audiences of around 400, who pay NIS 150 to see his act. It was Clalit Health Services that launched Ben-Zion on his path, explained Lior Wolff, the health fund's Internet Project Manager at its Marketing and Medical Informatics Department. Looking for a way to reach 18- to 34-year-olds "who think they'll live forever," it launched Magazine 20 Plus on the Internet three years ago, focusing on various topics that interest that age group, including sports, diet, travel "and of course sex," says Wolff. Aware of the lectures on sexuality Ben-Zion was already doing voluntarily for Ben-Gurion University students - something the comedian does elsewhere, including Gaza envelope communities like Sderot, but doesn't like to talk about - Wolff saw "a serious guy, but also a showman. He's got these stand-up qualities, and anyone who ever met him or attended his lectures recognized this." He filmed one of Ben-Zion's appearances before students in 2006. "What's important in these videos, and if you see them you can understand it yourself, is that beyond the jokes, beyond the enjoyment, the fun, there's real content - you go home with something that you can use in your daily life, or it makes you think or you seek help. And you understand that you're just like everybody else," he says of Ben-Zion's act. Clalit turned the lectures into two "seasons," with two sets of films, and was literally overwhelmed by their popularity. "We started in September 2006, and we saw an exponential increase, from day to day. Every day it doubled, and after five days, Clalit's server crashed," recalls Wolff. The two sets of films, viewable at, have gotten about 1.6 million unique viewers since they were launched. "In the Israel of 2008, the public discussion of sex is very different from what existed even 10 years ago," he says. "We're less embarrassed, more open - we also want to learn how to enrich our lives as a couple and where we stand compared to others. Maybe I'm OK and I don't know. And it meets a real need of the audience... the message is being received." Ben-Zion was suddenly a Web star, but it was an appearance before a seemingly tough audience that convinced promoter Ze'ev Eizik that the rotund doctor with the glasses could be a hit as a stand-up comic. It was July 2007, and Ben-Zion was performing at the staff restaurant for surgeons at Hadassah-University Medical Center, Ein Kerem. "It was the most impossible place you'd ever expect anyone to have a chance of pulling off a stand-up set," recalls Eizik. "There were surgeons in their operating gowns and nurses wearing wigs. And he cracked everyone up." Eizik asked Ben-Zion to perform at a Make a Wish Foundation benefit, although Eizik's colleagues thought the show wouldn't draw a crowd. But when the show was a huge success, recalls Eizik, "I said to him: 'Let's keep on going, for the general public.' People looked at me like I was crazy again; they thought maybe it would be OK for one show, two at best." The first was in November 2007, then two in December. "By January it was already a few, and since then it's been nonstop. I think we've done about 60-70 shows. We fight about dates because he's not always available. After all, he's the assistant director of a hospital." So what drives Ben-Zion, who could easily make a fine living without schlepping all over the country doing stand-up? "A while ago, before a show, a man came up to me and said that he had been at one of my shows, where I talked about homosexuality, and that afterward was the first time he had ever spoken about the matter with his homosexual son... and he came specially before the show to meet me, and waited for us to thank us," he recalls. "For me, it's like giving patients a chance; people who have problems who do not go to speak about it to a professional. I give them a chance to know it's a common problem and a treatable one."