Israel’s Alt-Comedy Scene Gains Traction

Finding Humor in Bureaucracy, Occupation and Stereotypes

Stand-Up: Idan Mor is among a new wave of alternative Israeli comedians.
Courtesy of Idan Mor
Stand-Up: Idan Mor is among a new wave of alternative Israeli comedians.

By Joel Chasnoff

Published November 13, 2011, issue of November 18, 2011.
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In his black T-shirt and first-day-of-basic-training haircut, with weathered skin that betrays his Iranian roots, Idan Mor looks like a typical post-army Israeli. The soft-spoken Mor, however, is anything but. The 32-year-old former paratrooper and Haifa native is making a name for himself as one of the smartest and most original comics on Israel’s alternative comedy scene.

“I used to be vulgar,” Mor told me, taking a drag on his Marlboro Red. “Racist even, because that’s all I saw. Then I let go of my ego and I wasn’t afraid to bomb. Now, I talk about what matters to me.”

We were at Sublime, on Salome Street in Florentine, the hip Tel Aviv neighborhood that’s home to auto body shops, dance clubs and tattooed Israelis. Sublime is primarily a music joint, but on Sundays at 11 p.m., the club hosts a showcase of Israel’s up-and-coming alternative comics.

The reason for my attendance materialized a week earlier. I was watching television in Bnei Brak, jetlagged out of my mind after a cross-continental flight, when I happened upon a stand-up showcase similar to Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend.” Mor was the first comic up:

“I went to renew my passport, but the woman tells me she can’t, because, according to Misrad Ha’pnim [Israel’s Ministry of the Interior], I’m out of the country.”

The studio audience laughed at this painfully familiar example of Israeli bureaucracy.

“So I say to her, ‘Really? Where am I?’ She says, ‘Egypt.’”

Mor could have ended the bit there, but he took the joke in a different direction.

“Egypt?” “How long have I been in Egypt? ‘Six years,’ she tells me. ‘Six years?’ I say. ‘I’m in Egypt six years, and no one in this godforsaken country came to look for me?’”

His material was fresh. Most Israeli comedians talk about the same thing: the various ethnic groups living in Israel, and their respective stereotypes: Persians are cheap, Russians are thieves, Moroccans beat their wives and so forth.

I found Mor on Facebook and sent a note. Next thing I knew, I was standing with him 15 minutes before he was due onstage. I took my seat and watched as the other comics started trickling out.


After the show, Erez Birenboim, the 27-year-old producer of Sublime’s comedy series, explained, “I was sick of comics doing the same tired stuff.” We were sitting in the Sublime green room. Ten comics had done 10 minutes each with no master of ceremonies, showcasing song parodies to the accompaniment of music, offering rants on army life and, in a few cases, reading jokes straight from notebooks.


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