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Thursday, September 24, 2020

The Show — and Life Must Go On

“You get word before the show has started that your favorite uncle died at dawn. Top of that, your pa and ma have parted, you’re broken-hearted, but you go on.”

“There’s No Business Like Show Business”

On Dec. 10, there was a terrorist shooting rampage that ended at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, N.J. It left six dead, including the shooters. A Jewish school with 50 children was next door. Thank God the shooters didn’t get that far. 

On Dec. 14, 21 miles from there, I did a show at Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, N.J. Three hundred fifty people showed up for the night of laughter knowing damn well that each of them could have been a victim in a blink of an eye. I ended the show with “I hope we all had a good time tonight.” (Applause). “Thank you very much. But we need to remember what happened four days ago, 21 miles from here. There are some people that are not able to laugh tonight. Thank you very much and good night.”

On 9/11, I was on a ship off the coast of Alaska. My cabin phone rang and my friend, Dave, said to turn on the TV. That’s how I learned that planes had slammed into the twin towers. Some hours later, the captain made an announcement. “May I have your attention please. This is an important announcement.” You could have heard a pin drop. “I am sorry to announce this, but America is at war.” Click.

About an hour later, I asked the cruise director, “What do you want to do about my show tomorrow?” He said, “We do it.” “Really. You think they’ll be up for it?” And he said, “We will see.” I did the show and it was fine. I closed the show with, “Let’s keep the people in America in our prayers.”

I’ve been blessed to have known a few Holocaust survivors who also told me life goes on.

When I went to Israel with comedian Jerry Seinfeld several years ago, it was during a spate of stabbings that were taking place in the streets. Nevertheless, 17,000 people showed up for the show. We had security guards around the stage to prevent any lunatics from climbing on stage to injure us. And the show went on. 

Twenty minutes into a show I was doing in Arizona, someone died during my set. There was a 40-minute break so he could be removed, and then I finished the show. The show went on. 

I did a show for almost 1,000 people a few days after my father died. That was difficult because I talked about him in my act. At times, it was almost like the audience was making a shivah call on me. 

Besides a performer not being able to get to a show, the show must go on. Isn’t that also Shabbos? Besides life and death, no matter what, Shabbos must go on. My mother died on a Friday afternoon in Florida. I was home in Los Angeles. Everything was on hold until Saturday night when Shabbos was over. On Shabbos, I went to shul and ate meals with friends and family. After Shabbos, I called the Chevra Kadisha (Burial Society). 

The bottom line is: Life goes on. I’ve been blessed to have known a few Holocaust survivors who also told me life goes on. These are people who lost everything and had to start over — sometimes more than once. What choice is there but to carry on and live a good life? After you’ve been beaten to a pulp, isn’t the ultimate revenge to do well? Isn’t the best thing a Jew can do is to have a few children to counter what Hitler did? Life goes on.

My friend George lost his wife of 63 years, Sally. At the shivah, he asked me to get up and do 15 minutes in honor of Sally, who loved my comedy. George actually said to me, “The show must go on.” 

I know there is some pain that seems unbearable but, if you look hard enough, you’ll find someone, somewhere, somehow who has gotten through. The important thing is that life goes on.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

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