“I’m coming to Israel to find a Jewish husband,” joked Erica Rhodes from a Dallas hotel room at the beginning of the week.
The half-Jewish-on-her-father’s-side American comedian had just finished two standup shows earlier that night, and was flying back to her home in Los Angeles, before embarking the next day on her first visit to Israel as part of this month’s team of comics in Comedy for Koby.
“I’m ready for all those Jewish mothers to try and fix me up,” the 40-year-old Massachusetts native added, after being told that her light features would make her stand out in the olive-complexion Mediterranean landscape.
A staple on the American standup scene, Rhodes has been involved in entertainment since age 10, when she began voicing the conscience of legendary humorist and writer, Garrison Keillor on NPR’s A Prairie Home Companion.
Her high-pitched voice, wholesome looks and quirky self-deprecating humor have fueled a long slew of TV and film credits, as well as a number of her own comedy specials. But it’s on the stage that Rhodes said she feels most at home, where her confessional form of humor incorporates non-motivational quotes, emoji etiquette, bad grammar, narcissistic exes, and the absurdity of life.
Despite doing one of the most frightening things a human can undertake – going out there and making an audience laugh for a whole evening – Rhodes said she thrives onstage.
“It’s not scary for me, I must be wired differently than normal people,” she said. “To me, there are scarier things, like going to the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles)… or going to a party. For me, socializing is scarier than performing. Going onstage can be escape from the pressures of real life.”
Adding to the high-wire aspect of her act, Rhodes often focuses on herself and her life, including musings on the dating world. But instead of simply going for the easy laugh, she prods beneath the surface.
“I’m always trying to uncover more layers. I ask myself, ‘is it raw enough’ and ‘is it real enough’?” she said. “I’m always trying to get to another level of vulnerability, because if I talk about things that scare me, they probably also scare someone else, and it can help take away some of those fears. My goal is to come up with a moment of truth.”
AT THE height of the COVID pandemic in 2021, Rhodes made history by appearing at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena to an audience sitting in their cars, à la a drive-in theater. The performance subsequently turned into an hour-long special on Amazon Prime called La Vie en Rhodes.
“It was a really big event in the moment, sort of like capturing a moment in history. I don’t know if viewers can feel the excitement of the crowd, who were glad to be out anywhere being entertained. People were desperate for any diversion at that moment. It sort of had a rock star feel,” she said with a laugh.
Although she’s far from the over-the-top comedy of Nikki Glaser, who performed last week in Tel Aviv, Rhodes’ routines can get edgy. She’s still deliberating how far to take it with Israeli audiences.
Comedy for Koby to make its return
As usual, longtime Comedy For Koby organizer and host Avi Liberman cautioned the performers coming this week to clean up their act somewhat for the more traditional Anglo crowd that flocks to the shows.
“When I first started working in comedy, I wrote squeaky-clean material, but I’ve gotten edgier. I have some dark subject matter, and I have some death jokes. It must be my half-Jewish side. I love talking about death,” she said.
Joining Rhodes and Liberman will be comics Dan Ahdoot and Bob Zany, with shows slated for Wednesday, May 31, in Beit Shemesh, June 1 in Jerusalem, June 3 in Gush Etzion, June 4 in Tel Aviv, Monday June 5 in Ra’anana and June 6 in Modi’in. Comedy for Koby was launched in 2008 by the Koby Mandell Foundation, founded following the terrorist murder of 13-year-old Koby Mandell in 2002.
“I’ve known Avi for quite a while, from when I was first starting out in standup. I’d heard about Comedy for Koby and was delighted when he invited me to come. I’ve heard that the audiences in Israel are really great,” said Rhodes, adding that she’s prepared to attract some attention for her blonde locks.
“I went to Japan when I was 14 with my mother who was a violinist in the Boston Pops. Everyone wanted to take our photo because we were blonde,” she said. “It was such an odd phenomenon. So I’m ready for that. And bring on those Jewish men!”
Tickets to the shows are available at www.comedyforkoby.com