Jewish Journal


June 19, 2003

Comedian Provides Laughs to Israel


Avi Liberman likes to keep his jobs separate. A Sinai Akiba Academy teacher's assistant by day and a stand-up comedian by night, Liberman doesn't do arts and crafts on stage and doesn't tell jokes at school. Which is why, after class, scores of second-graders chase Liberman down the stairs at school, begging him to tell them some jokes.

But these students will probably have to wait until they're older to get into The Comedy Store or The Laugh Factory and hear Liberman's rapid-fire observational humor and riffs on everything from weird poker games -- where your buddies make up rules as they go along -- to the joy of being Jewish in the Luxor Las Vegas ("Because nothing makes a Jew more comfortable than walking into a pyramid"). Liberman's style is fast and smart, and he embellishes his jokes with quirky voice inflections, expansive physical comedy and wide-eyed expressions that contort his fresh face into a droll collection of visages.

This month, the 31-year-old Liberman will take a break from his Los Angeles and Vegas gigs and head to Israel in a bid to make the beleaguered residents of the Jewish State crack a smile or two. The show "Stand Up and Laugh, The Best of America's Young Comedians," will feature Liberman and three seasoned comedians: Los Angeles' Wayne Federman and Gary Gulman and New York's Dan Naderman, who all have appeared on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "The Late Show With David Letterman."

"I was there last summer and I was thinking of ways I could help besides just visiting and supporting pro-Israel causes," Liberman said. "My Hebrew is not good enough to do a show there, but I thought, 'There are tons of Americans who live there,' and I realized that the majority of the people who were suffering were the younger generation -- so I thought I could contribute by doing some English shows there." His agent got in touch with Zev Isaacs, the Israeli promoter who brought Madonna to Israel, and they went full-throttle to get the group there.

For Isaacs, the comedians represented a welcome respite from the drought of overseas artists performing in Israel. Before the second intifada started in September 2000, Isaacs routinely had 10 major acts booked for any given year -- like Elton John, Peter Gabriel and Eric Clapton. Once the violence erupted, artists started canceling their tours -- sometimes only two weeks before the scheduled date, leaving Isaacs with dry years in 2001 and 2002.

"Very few artists are coming here at the moment, and it's great to see that someone is prepared to come over and make us laugh a little bit," said the promoter on the phone from Israel.

The comedians are scheduled to appear in Israel's Anglo enclaves like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ra'anana. They will receive a small stipend and their plane tickets, but most of the proceeds from the shows will be going to charities like Magen David Adom and the Jewish National Fund. As for the jokes they will tell -- Liberman said they will be "the funny kind."

Thinking of ways to help Israel is nothing new to Liberman. He was born there, but raised in Texas, where he attended yeshiva day school and participated in the Young Judea youth movement. Since then, he has become more conservative, both in his personal practice (he is now Orthodox and will turn down acting auditions if they fall on Shabbat, and tends not to perform on Friday nights unless the venue is within walking distance) and in his views on Israel.

"Look at Israel today -- would Golda Meir and [David] Ben-Gurion have put up with this crap? The answer is no. My father said he was raised with the principles, 'Buy the land, farm it, settle it,' and that is what I was taught. But for some reason, [today's] Labor Zionists have totally abandoned those principals."

Liberman has a duel agenda for his time in Israel.

"I really want the guys I am bringing to have a good time because they have never been to Israel before. And I really want the shows to go well and for the Israelis to laugh and have fun and forget about their problems."

Avi Liberman will be featured this August on Comedy Central's "Premium Blend." For more information, visit them on the Web at www.comedycentral.com .

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