Teens in trouble are nothing to laugh at. But comedians, by definition, should be. That, in a nutshell, was the theory behind a series of recent comedy shows in the Holy Land, which featured professional American comedians raising funds for an organization that provides support services for English-speaking teenagers.
Last month, Dwight Slade, Gary Gulman and Craig Robinson, residents of Portland, Ore.; New York, and Los Angeles, respectively, performed five shows that raised $10,000 for Crossroads Center in Jerusalem, a not-for-profit organization and the only intervention center for English-speaking teenagers. The funds raised from these shows will help run the center for a full month.
The Crossroads Comedy series, first created in 2005 by Israeli-born and L.A.-based comedian Avi Liberman in cooperation with his longtime friend, Crossroads director Caryn Green, has become an eagerly anticipated part of the summer’s Anglo entertainment scene in Israel.
“Teens aren’t known for their ability to talk about their issues,” Green said. “But we try to offer as much as we can to help them find a different avenue for communicating. When they’re ready to get their lives together, we’re here to help them do it.”
Although the center is physically based in Jerusalem, teens have flocked to the facility from all over, including the cities in which the shows were held: Ra’ananna, Tel Aviv, Modi’in, Efrat and Hashmonaim. Between shows, the comics toured Israel.
While the Dead Sea excursion was a big hit across the board, each comedian came at the experience from a different place. Because Gulman, the only other Jewish comic besides Liberman, had visited Israel before, his standup reflected his experiences with the Jewish state’s airport security. But this was Slade’s and Robinson’s first encounter with the Holy Land. Slade embraced the touring as a family affair; accompanied by his two children, he traipsed through Hezekiah’s water tunnels in the City of David and visited Jerusalem’s Old City on a Saturday, observing the Sabbath-time pulse of the city.
Robinson, hot off recent roles in the movie “Knocked Up” and the NBC comedy “The Office,” cited the Bible at various points, wandered the Arab shuk and noted that the names of the places they visited, particularly Ra’ananna and Hashmonaim, reminded him of the unusual names of his nieces and nephews. All three comedians learned little bits of Hebrew; Robinson’s most frequently used phrase was the gutturally innocuous “todah very much.”
So, will Israeli drivers, shawarma and Hebrew gradually make their way into mainstream American comedy? Insert punch line here.
Esther D. Kustanowitz is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor and consultant. She co-hosts The Bagel Report, a podcast about Jews and popular culture, and speaks about #TVGoneJewy, a term she invented to describe the increase of Jewish content on television. Follow her on Twitter @EstherK.