September 21, 2018

Remembering Shelley Berman

Danny Lobell and Shelley Berman

The music blared as friends and family gathered around to welcome my bride and me. As we walked from the yichud room to the social hall, someone joined my side: an old man. He was not my grandfather, as most of the guests thought. He was the legendary comedian Shelley Berman.

Although he was 90 years old, Berman was keeping up with everyone, dancing to the loud Israeli music with his cane up in the air, and smiling from ear to ear. He was the life of the party on the dance floor.

I first met Berman in 2014, when I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview him on my podcast. After the interview, Berman and his wife, Sarah,  invited my wife and me to look at Berman’s impressive knife collection and have some tea. We talked about how Sarah converted to Judaism, and how my wife, Kylie Ora Lobell, was in the process of doing the same. It turned out, in fact, that we all had a lot in common, and an instant friendship was born.

As a new couple in Los Angeles looking for another couple to hang out with, we had finally found our match. It just so happened that they were a few years older than we were.

They told us to stay in touch and we did. We drove up to Shelley and Sarah Berman’s house a few more times for lunch and became a fixture at their holiday party every Hanukkah. When Kylie and I got married in the summer of 2015, Sarah and Shelley Berman were there with their daughter, Rachel, celebrating with us.

The following Rosh Hashanah, Shelley Berman came to our festive meal along with his daughter and two grandsons. He had us all laughing throughout the holiday. He showed us how he ate pomegranates by first rolling them against the table to loosen the skin and then just biting into them. He said that nothing made him happier than a good pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah.

In fact, Rosh Hashanah was one of Shelley’s favorite days of the year, so much so that he had written a poem about the sounding of the shofar is his book “To Laughter With Questions: Poetry by Shelley Berman.”

The next time I was to hear this poem was sadly at Berman’s funeral; he died in Southern California on Sept. 1, 2017, at 92. The Chabad rabbi presiding over the funeral read it aloud, because it had been a gift to him from Berman, and Rosh Hashanah was only a few weeks away.

On Jan. 30, 2018, droves of people, including Kylie and me, went to the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach to celebrate Berman’s life and career with a memorial service. We heard from his contemporaries, friends and family, such as the host of the event, comedian Lewis Black, comedian George Carlin’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, producer and writer Alan Zweibel, and comedians Laraine Newman and Fred Willard, who brought down the house with a story about the two of them grand marshaling a Hollywood parade. In attendance were many of Berman’s co-stars, including actors Larry David and Cheryl Hines, and comedians who wanted to pay their respects. Sarah Berman closed the afternoon by talking about their loving 70-year relationship.

Most people will remember Shelley Berman for his work on the comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” on which he portrayed Larry David’s father, Nat David. Or perhaps the older generation will remember his many television performances and famous telephone routine. Maybe he will be remembered for being the first comedian to win a Grammy for a comedy album, his 1959 work “Inside Shelley Berman,” and for changing the face of stand-up comedy.

I will remember him for being a mensch and a great friend.


Danny Lobell is a stand-up comedian.

Moving & Shaking: Shelley Berman Celebrated, Spotlighting Mizrahi Jews

From left: Actor Cheryl Hines; writer and actor Larry David; Shelley Berman’s widow, Sarah; comedian David Steinberg; and Journey Gunderson, executive director of the National Comedy Center, celebrate the National Comedy Center’s acquisition of late comedian Shelley Berman’s archive of material. Photo by Mike Carano

Comedy stars Larry David, Cheryl Hines, David Steinberg, Lewis Black and Fred Willard gathered on Jan. 30 at the Comedy & Magic Club in Hermosa Beach to celebrate the National Comedy Center’s acquisition of the archive of late comedian Shelley Berman.

Additional attendees included radio broadcaster Dr. Demento (Barret Eugene “Barry” Hansen), comedian Laraine Newman, producer Alan Zweibel and National Comedy Center Executive Director Journey Gunderson.

Sarah Berman, Shelley’s wife of more than 70 years, also attended. She expressed appreciation to the National Comedy Center for preserving her late husband’s legacy.

“No longer the stepchild to the arts, comedy and those who make us laugh are about to have their own place in the world,” Sarah Berman said. “When I found myself surrounded by all of Shelley’s writings, I wondered what to do with all of it. Do I give it to some museum where they let it gather dust before they throw it away? Along came the National Comedy Center, driven by people who have the vision to know that this material and the material of other comedians has a value.”

Shelley Berman died in 2017 at the age of 92. His archive, which spans from the 1940s to the 2010s, includes photographs, contracts, scripts and rare footage chronicling his career in stand-up comedy, improv, television, comedy writing, film and theater.

The National Comedy Center is a nonprofit cultural institution and visitor experience dedicated to the art of comedy. A ribbon-cutting for the center, which is located in Lucille Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, N.Y., is scheduled for Aug. 1-4.

From left: Angel and Susan, two Iranian-Jewish participants of the 30 Years After Legacy Project, attend the launch event for the initiative. 30 Years After requested their last names be omitted for their safety. Photo courtesy of 30 Years After

About 300 people gathered at the Fine Arts Theater in Beverly Hills on Jan. 30 to celebrate the launch of 30 Years After’s new initiative, the Legacy Project, an archive of video testimonies of Persian Jews who fled Iran after the Iranian Revolution.

The Legacy Project aims to professionally record and collect testimonies as a way to link the second, third and future generations of Iranian-American Jews to their history.

During the event, Legacy Project Chair Megan Nemandoust, Iranian American Jewish Federation President Susan Azizzadeh, American Jewish Committee Assistant Director of Interreligious and Intercommunity Affairs Saba Soomekh, 30 Years After President Sam Yebri and 30 Years After community member Liora Simozar shared their reasons for supporting the project.

“With an eye to the future, it is imperative that an easily accessible, professional digital archive exists, capturing the stories and experiences of my family, your family and countless others,” Nemandoust said in her speech at the event. “We are the heirs to Iranian-Jewish history, and through the Legacy Project we’re committed to preserving it for generations to come.”

The Legacy Project is supported by individual donors and families, and 30 Years After is seeking sustained funding from, and partnerships with, institutions and foundations as well as broader community support.

The project also is seeking additional testimonies.

“This project not only preserves these powerful stories and memories for posterity and academia but uses them to connect new generations of Jews of Iranian descent to their rich heritage, traditions and values,” Yebri said. “As we learn from Pirkei Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”), no hurricane can uproot a tree with more roots than branches. It is imperative that our entire community join us in nurturing our roots in order for our community’s branches to flourish.”

The event began with a reception featuring nontraditional Iranian food, dessert and tea. The screening of the recently recorded interviews followed.

Since 30 Years After was founded in 2007, it has served to promote and engage Iranian-American Jews in American political, civic and Jewish life, as well as connect local community organizations with the large Los Angeles community of Persian Jews.

Esther D. Kustanowitz, Contributing Writer

Cantor Jack Mendelson (far right) is joined by Temple Judea Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Yonah Kliger in “The Cantors Couch,” Mendelson’s one-man show at Temple Judea in Tarzana. Photo courtesy of Temple Judea

Temple Judea in Tarzana held a journey through Cantor Jack Mendelson’s real-life stories based on growing up in 1950s Brooklyn in “The Cantor’s Couch,” which was staged at the synagogue on Jan. 21.

More than 400 people attended to listen to Mendelson paint a picture of a bygone day in Jewish America when Jews would flock to hear cantors at synagogues as if they were performing in a concert hall.

The one-man show wed a relatable story of childhood with joyous memories of music and celebration. Mendelson’s collaborator and accompanist, Cantor Jonathan Comisar, wrote original music for the production. Additional participants included Temple Judea Rabbi Cantor Alison Wissot and Cantor Yonah Kliger.

Proceeds benefited the music program at Temple Judea.

Los Angeles Jewish Home honorees Michael Heslov (left) and Dana Roberts. Photo courtesy of L.A. Jewish Home

The Los Angeles Jewish Home’s annual gala on Jan. 23, “Celebration of Life: Reflections 2018,” honored Michael Heslov, a member of the Jewish Home’s board of directors and co-partner at Soboroff Partners, and Dana Roberts, chief executive officer at C.W. Driver, a contracting company that has worked with the L.A. Jewish Home.

The event at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel kicked off with cocktails, followed by dinner and the awards program. Actor and director Mike Burstyn emceed. The Skye Michaels Orchestra performed.

Co-chairs were Lenore and Fred Kayne, Karl Kreutziger, Pam and Mark Rubin, and Steve Soboroff.

“This was a great opportunity for people from the Home and the community to come together and celebrate philanthropy and what they’ve accomplished,” said Kathy Gutstein, senior marketing associate for the L.A. Jewish Home. “We’re always looking toward the future.”

The L.A. Jewish Home is one of the leading senior health care systems in the U.S., serving 6,000 seniors a year.

Rabbi Naomi Levy presents her husband, former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman, with the Americans for Peace Now (APN) Press for Peace award at the APN gala. Photo courtesy of Americans for Peace Now

Americans for Peace Now (APN) honored former Jewish Journal Editor-in-Chief Rob Eshman and Israeli music icon and peace activist David Broza during its Jan. 29 Vision of Peace Celebration at Paper or Plastik Café/Mimoda Studio.

On behalf of the organization, event co-chair Rabbi Naomi Levy presented Eshman, her husband, with the APN Press for Peace Award. Also presenting Eshman with the award was APN founder Mark Rosenblum, who hired and worked with Eshman at APN, Eshman’s first job in the Jewish world.

In his acceptance remarks, Eshman said he was “very honored to receive this award from the organization where I started my journey in the community, and I still believe what I learned three decades ago: Sometimes dissent is more important than unity, and we must never, ever, ever lose hope.”

APN President and CEO Debra DeLee presented Broza with the Cine-Peace Award.

Following the awards program, Broza treated the audience — veteran and newer supporters of APN, members of the board of directors, executive staff and friends, and family and fans of the honorees — to a short musical performance, closing with “Yihiye Tov” (Things Will Get
Better), a song written in 1977 that became the anthem for the Israeli
peace movement.

APN, the sister organization of Shalom Achshav, was established in 1981 to mobilize support for the Israeli peace movement. It has since advocated for positions that include the evacuation of Israeli settlements and the creation of a Palestinian state.

From left: Odin Ozdil, Los Angeles program coordinator at JIMENA; Iraqi-Jewish activist Joe Samuels; CUFI National Outreach Coordinator Dumisani Washington; Journal contributing writer Karmel Melamed; and Mizrahi Project filmmaker Raj Nair. Photo courtesy of Karmel Melamed

More than 50 local Jewish and Christian pro-Israel activists gathered at the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles on Dec. 3 for a viewing of the “Mizrahi Project,” a film hosted by the San Antonio-based Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a nonprofit pro-Israel organization, and the nonprofit Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa (JIMENA).

The documentary is a collection of short, personal accounts from nearly a dozen Jews from Arab countries and Iran explaining the persecutions they faced in their home countries and their miraculous stories of escape.

“For almost 70 years, the stories of the nearly 850,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were forced out of the homes in the Middle East and North Africa after 1948 have been forgotten,” said Dumisani Washington, national outreach coordinator for CUFI. “With this film, we are hoping to educate pro-Israel Christian activists and others about these refugees who went on to become nearly 50 percent of Israel’s population and helped grow Israel into the thriving country it has become today.”

CUFI launched the “Mizrahi Project” in July 2016, recording video interviews of Jews living in the United States and Israel who left Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Turkey and Morocco.

Washington said CUFI has shown the film to large groups in St. Louis, Chicago and San Francisco, and will continue to have screenings across the country. Likewise, CUFI staff members involved with the project said they will continue to record more interviews with Mizrahi Jews in the coming year to aid the project’s growth and to help their organization’s Israel advocacy efforts. Individual interviews from the film are available on YouTube and have garnered thousands of views to date.

After the film’s screening, a panel of Mizrahi refugees featured in the film spoke to attendees. The panelists included Joe Samuels, a local Iraqi Jewish activist, and Karmel Melamed, a Jewish Journal contributing writer and local Iranian-Jewish activist.

“We do not see ourselves as refugees or a victim because remaining a victim is a miserable way to live life,” Samuels said. “We picked ourselves up after fleeing the Arab lands and rebuilt our new lives in Israel and America — and, thank God, we’re very successful.”

Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Shelley Berman, comedian, dies at 92

Shelley Berman and Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm"

Legendary comedian Shelley Berman died early Friday morning at his home in California from complications of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 92. Berman got his start in the Chicago comedy scene of the 1950s, alongside comics like Mort Sahl and Bob Newhart. He was known for his extended telephone monologues, performed while seated on a stool. In 2008, at the age of 83, Berman received his first and only Emmy nomination for playing Larry David’s father on HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Read more at nytimes.com.

 

Calendar Dec 14-20

SAT | DEC 14

“RE-EMERGING: THE JEWS OF NIGERIA”

Shmuel Tikvah, a young Nigerian, heard time and time again about the Igbo people, who claim descent from ancient Israelites. Research at an Internet cafe leads him on a quest to find this Nigerian Jewish community, which keeps kosher, lights Shabbat candles and prays in Hebrew. Director Jeff L. Lieberman documents the journey of ancestry, identity and the reshaping of life with a new kind of faith. Sat. Various times. Through Dec. 19. $11 (general), $8 (seniors, ages 11 and under, bargain matinee). Laemmle Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. (310) 478-3836. ” target=”_blank”>km-synagogue.org.


SUN | DEC 15

COMMUNITY SERVICE DAY

Embrace the spirit of giving with the The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Join Food Forward to pick fresh oranges off of trees to donate to Jewish Family Service, assemble care packages with Project M.O.T. for Jewish servicewomen and servicemen in the U.S. Armed Forces, throw an awesome “Senior Prom” for some of the older citizens in our community or prepare dinner for the homeless with Union Rescue Mission. Sun. Free. Times, locations vary. (323) 761-8000. ” target=”_blank”>theautry.org.

“BROADWAY SING-ALONG: A SPARKLING REFLECTION OF OUR AMERICAN LIFE”

This one’s for all you secret shower singers. American Jewish University invites you to belt your biggest notes during a celebration of Broadway’s best. Producer Ellie Mednick explores facets of American life while Karen Thomson Hall leads us in some of our favorites from Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Kander and Ebb, and the Gershwins. It’s a curtain-call opportunity for the whole family. Sun. 4 p.m. $25. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 476-9777. ” target=”_blank”>acsz.org/comedy.


TUE | DEC 17

LAEMMLE’S 75th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION

Your favorite theater chain is having a birthday! Laemmle Theatre’s Charitable Foundation hosts a special evening to commemorate its role in both civic and cultural life as well as the nonprofit work it supports. There will be drinks, hors d’oeuvres, a community presentation and a screening of a Laemmle classic. Your ticket also gets you a copy of the book “Not Afraid … 75 years of Film Exhibition in Los Angeles.” Tue. 6 p.m. $100. Laemmle’s Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 478-0401. ” target=”_blank”>vbs.org.


THUR | DEC 19

SHELLEY BERMAN

The comedian, actor and writer has a new book of poetry out! “To Laughter With Questions” is a collection of serious and not-so-serious verse, limericks, rhymes and an attempt at iambic pentameter. While you might know him best from his many film and TV appearances, here is an opportunity to get to know the man more intimately. His collection is full of personal experiences, and because he has taught in USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, you know it’s well written. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110.

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Picks and Clicks for September 5-11, 2009

SAT | SEPTEMBER 5

” title=”westsidejcc.org”>westsidejcc.org.

(COUNTY FAIR)
The L.A. County Fair opens on Labor Day weekend and takes advantage of the dwindling days of summer to pack in new exhibits and classic favorites for the entire family. Stand face-to-face with animated dinosaurs at Jurassic Planet, watch the Extreme Canine Stunt Dog Show in Bark Park, learn about rainforests and how to adopt an eco-friendly lifestyle in the Going Green: Making a World of Difference exhibit, sample fine wines and organic food, enjoy a concert, try your hand at milking a cow or a goat, and much more. Every Friday and Saturday night, a fireworks display will light up the sky. 10 a.m.-midnight. Wed.-Sun. Through Oct. 4. Weekends: $12 (children), $17 (adults); weekdays: $7 (children), $12 (adults). Fairplex, 1101 W. McKinley Ave., Pomona. ” title=”dignitymemorial.com”>dignitymemorial.com.

(MUSIC)
Extreme Klezmer Makeover, a quartet of local musicians who play traditional music from Eastern Europe and modern, progressive klezmer music infused with American folk, Middle Eastern and jazz rhythms, will provide the entertainment at a Labor Day Klezmer Brunch, hosted by Talking Stick in Venice. Enjoy two hours of energetic, exuberant klezmer tunes as you feast on salads, bagels, sandwiches and coffee from the restaurant’s menu. Sat. 11 a.m.-1 p.m. No cover and no minimum order. The Talking Stick, 1411 Lincoln Blvd., Venice. (310) 450-6052. ” title=”extremeklezmer.com”>extremeklezmer.com.

(OUTDOORS)
California Dreamin’, the 19th annual Mosaic International Event, hosted by the Mosaic Outdoor Clubs of America, is a four-day conference that involves a variety of outdoor activities from hiking to horseback riding to mountain biking, along with seminars like organic gardening, workshops on massage therapy, and social activities, such as Israeli dancing, campfires and a Shabbat celebration. Mosaic is a network of more than 25 nonprofit clubs in the United States, Canada and Israel dedicated to organizing outdoor and environmental activities for Jewish singles, couples and families. Sept. 4-7. $344 (members), $364 (general). Brandeis-Bardin Campus at American Jewish University, 1101 Peppertree Lane, Brandeis. (954) 435-3388. ” title=”mccabes.com”>mccabes.com. ” title=”mishkon.org”>mishkon.org.

TUE | SEPTEMBER 8

” title=”skirball.org”>skirball.org.

WED | SEPTEMBER 9

(LECTURE)
The American Israeli Medical Association is hosting an informative discussion on the topic, “Public Health in Israel vs. Private Medicine,” a particularly relevant subject as U.S. policy makers are debating the same options. Dr. Amnon Rofe, CEO of Bnai Zion Medical Center in Haifa, will conduct the lecture in English. Wed. 7:30 p.m. $30 (includes drinks, appetizers and dessert reception). Private residence in Encino. (888) 991-1212. {encode=”drben@a2zhealth.com” title=”drben@a2zhealth.com”}.

THU | SEPTEMBER 10

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Cookbook author and Jerusalem Post columnist Faye Levy will be the main dish at a luncheon featuring her nutritious kosher cuisine and a discussion during which Levy will introduce her new book, “Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.” Levy, who has published more than a dozen cookbooks and has written for numerous food magazines, will also suggest innovative menus for the Jewish holidays (just in time!), international ingredients to spice up traditional favorites and dishes that promote well-being. Thu. Noon. $28 (JCC members), $38 (general). Merage JCC, 1 Federation Way, Irvine. (949) 435-3400. ” title=”judaicworkshops.com”>judaicworkshops.com.

FRI | SEPTEMBER 11

(THEATER)
Charles Busch’s Tony-nominated comedy, “The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife,” is a classic Broadway hit about a middle-aged, upper-class wife of a doctor and her cushy-yet-restless life in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Plunged into a midlife crisis, the aspiring intellectual is saved by the unexpected arrival of a childhood friend. Produced by the Kentwood Players. Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m., Sun. at 2 p.m. Through Oct. 17. $18. Westchester Playhouse, 8301 Hindry Ave., Westchester. (310) 645-5156. ” title=”attictheatre.org”>attictheatre.org.

Inside Shelley Berman, Again

Shelley Berman is 80 years old and hot, hot, hot. When he cups his hand over the phone and yells to his wife: “Where am I this week, Sarah?” he’s not having a senior moment. Fresh from playing Larry David’s father on the HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” he’s got bookings in Las Vegas, feature film shoots and network television tapings on top of his regular slate of teaching classes at USC. Shelley’s current schedule would kill a person half his age, which is why, at 44, I’m functioning as his occasional producer, acolyte and coffee bringer (“Last time someone brought me hazelnut — can’t a person get an honest cup of coffee any more?”) at 24th Street Theatre, where we’re in the middle of a live Shelley Berman minifestival. (His next solo performance of classic monologues will be March 24.)

I’ve long been a fan of Shelley Berman. Although not a Jew myself, I’ve been granted cross-cultural permission to write a Shelley Berman report for The Jewish Journal, as we Asian Americans don’t have quite the comedic lineage of the Jews. But surely you can spare us a piece of your cultural history — for how many Christmases have you been eating our food? Ba-dump-bump.

That quasi-joke I just bumblingly attempted — that’s what Shelley calls: “In Yiddish, a shtick. Which means a hunk, or a piece.” He told me, “We don’t know what comedy is, we really don’t. I try to teach it to young people today, not how to be funny, but how to write it, how to think it, how to put it together. And it’s very hard. There’s that marvelous saying, ‘Dying is easy, comedy is hard.'”

Because of Shelley’s love of teaching, we decide that on his first evening at 24th Street he’ll give his lecture: “Comedy and Its Reflections in History.” Such is the appetite to see Shelley live that without publicity, on a rainy Friday night in downtown, our theater is packed beyond capacity — just how far beyond remains between us and the Fire Department. Whereas at some points in his career the comedian has been rumored to be “difficult,” “Shelley 2006” is the soul of wonderful manners, sartorial elegance and cheerful professionalism. (Although we don’t mess around with the coffee — we actually have it brought in.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean that once on stage Shelley won’t fashion the circumstances of the evening into, well, a shtick. After my slavishly fawning introduction, Shelley comes out to a standing O. He waves the audience back down in their seats, looking half-pleased, half-pained. “Thank you … what’s her name. Your introduction was … long. Thank you for inviting me to this… this….” He looks around the small theater helplessly. His voice trails off. Gloomily, he drops his head in his hands. The audience screams.

Further, while Shelley’s famously not a fan of ringing phones, in a cruel twist of fate (as a producer, the phrase “bowels turn to ice” comes to mind), during Shelley’s performance not one — but three — cellphones go off. Three! (Including one whose owner left the building 24 hours ago.) But even here he finds humor. Removing the cell phone from one young man, he says: “I’ll hold it for you. To get it back later, all you have to do is kiss me… ” Long cross back to stage… “Some place.”

Once again, screams.

His audience firmly in thrall, Shelley now embarks on a trip fantastic through Western history. Sometimes with erudition: “Comedy comes from the Greek ‘komos,’ to travel. In that particular period, you knew that comedians had to travel. They weren’t going to stay around in that town that night after what they had done!”

Sometimes with quick irreverence: “I’m very good at talking about the Renaissance because I know so little about it.”

Then sometimes the two together. At one point, when laughter swells into applause, Shelley begins to conduct us. Hands up — applause! Hands down — silence. Hands up — applause! Hands down — silence. He takes a beat, leans forward, confides: “Isn’t it frightening how easily a man can become a leader? Now all I have to do now is learn how to pronounce ‘nu-cu-lar.’ Don’t get me wrong. I’m very proud of our two political parties, the Democrats and the Christians.”

Ba-dump-bump!

The theme Shelley keeps returning to is how, time and time again, the best comedy illuminates the human condition at that particular historical time: “In the early 1920s, when there was serious hunger in this country, Charles Spencer Chaplin went to the Yukon. But for the hungry, Charles Chaplin ate a shoe. He cooked that shoe with love and anticipation. And when he ate it, he got all of the meat off the nails, as we do with chicken bones. He made a nation feel better. He made a nation laugh at his hunger.”

When Shelley, to his terror, was forced to enlist into the Army, it was Danny Kaye who lent comfort, finding outrageous humor in the indignity of Army medical exams. And there’ve been others, so many others; Shelley’s passion to speak the great names of comedy aloud becomes almost an aria: Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon, Fatty Arbuckle, Mabel Normand, Buster Keaton, Eddie Cantor, Fannie Brice, Milton Berle, Jackie Miles, Jack Benny, George and Gracie, Henny Youngman, Shecky Green, Lucille Ball, Phyllis Diller, Steve Allen, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, Carol Burnett, Jackie Mason, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce….

As a monologue writer myself, what struck me, particularly in Shelley’s descriptions of Jewish comedians, was the incredible precision of comedic rhythm. Consider Lou Holz –“a stand-up comedian, a raconteur, a storyteller, who wore a beautiful suit and carried a walking stick. Oh, he was natty as could be. The main character in all his jokes was a fellow by the name of Sam Lapides….”

You don’t have to be Jewish to tell this joke, but that DNA would help:

“So, Sam Lapides goes to the grocery. He says to the grocer, ‘Do you have salt?’ The grocer says: ‘Do I have salt? Do I have salt? Come here, take a look behind the counter here, see? Look at this. Bag salt. Box salt. See that salt? Over here? Canned salt…. Come on downstairs — I show you something….’ They go downstairs. He says: ‘Look. Look on these walls. Canned salt. Bagged salt. Good salt. Everywhere you look — salt.’ And Sam Lapides says, ‘I’m very impressed. But are you going to be able to sell all this salt?’ And the grocer says, ‘Me? I can’t sell salt. But the guy who sells me salt, oh can he sell…!'”

Here’s another joke with cadences so exact it’s akin to a minihaiku, or like one of those little Carl Sandburg epigraphs. You can almost diagram it. I’ve laid it out on the page for you to replicate the way Shelley told it:

Guy tells a doctor, “I can’t pee.”

The doctor says:

“How old are you?”

“I’m 87,” says the guy,

doctor says,

“You’ve peed enough.”

Shelley can also tell a killer Irish Catholic joke, if unprintable in a family newspaper. And of course ever the master artist, Shelley celebrates humor no matter from what tribe it emanates.

“There was a kid, I swear to God…. I saw the first movie, the first movie he ever did? He was so new, so fresh. A lot of Jews had dominated this field for a long time. And suddenly, there he was — the goyim! A non-Jew! Who’s funny! If you’ve never seen Red Skelton, you never saw funny! Oh my God, there was one wonderful thing he did — he did this routine where he’s cross-eyed, and he’s dunking doughnuts in the other guy’s coffee…!”

Bob Hope, though? Not so much.

“He never said anything cogent — never. ‘Road to Rio’?” Shelley opens his hands. “What was that?” None of us know. We are OK, this evening, leaving Mr. Hope — and all the world’s ringing cellphones — to fend for themselves.

It’s true that Shelley believes comedy today is in a fallow time. When the Vietnam War ended, he feels the comedic habit of anger and bad language remained, even as the underpinning of righteous indignation disappeared.

Says he: “There’s a lot of cruelty in our comedy today. We’ve got to find someone to give it to.”

One bright exception? “Larry David. A guy who has made himself the butt of every joke he’s ever done. Who is Harry Langdon? Who is Fatty Arbuckle? Who is Edgar Kennedy of old times? Larry David creates a character who is “Everyman’s Schmuck.” Every time we’re laughing we’re seeing ourselves in that guy. It’s the most therapeutic, wonderful humor I’ve ever seen.”

So as the evening ends “up” and, to a final standing O, Shelley admits: “I love to teach. I’d like to become everybody’s rabbi.”

Shelley Berman will perform a selection of his original comedic monologues on March 24 at 8 p.m. at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. $25 (general), $15 (teachers, students and seniors). For tickets, call (800) 838-3006.

Radio personality, author and monologist Sandra Tsing Loh’s solo show, “Mother on Fire,” runs through April 9, at 8 p.m. (Saturdays) and 3 p.m. (Sundays) at the 24th Street Theatre.