Even though the torrential rains caused a Flash Flood Warning in Los Angeles, over 300 people still braved the weather to attend a sold out benefitfor Israel at the Laugh Factory. It was a testament to the determination of people half a world away willing to show support for Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7th terror attacks.
The show, titled “Comedy Hug,” was a fundraiser for Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest hospital and for The Koby Mandell Foundation. The Foundation provides “emotional support services for the thousands of bereaved Israelis who have lost an immediate family member to terror or tragedy via multifaceted therapeutic programs.” It was founded by Rabbi Seth and Sherri Mandell in 2001 after their 13 year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef Ishran were murdered by terrorists in Israel.
Los Angeles-based comedian Avi Liberman founded “Comedy for Koby,” a bi-annual comedy tour in the U.S. and Israel dedicated to raising funds and awareness for the Koby Mandell Foundation. Liberman not only performed at and co-produced “Comedy Hug,” he also co-hosted it after host Kevin Nealon unexpectedly left during the latter half of the evening.
Still, Nealon set the tone for the “Comedy Hug,” especially as a non-Jew showing solidarity for the cause. His star power as a former “Saturday Night Live” performer and head writer was an added draw to sell tickets to see the stacked lineup.
Comedian and actress Tiffany Haddish made a brief unannounced appearance. She brought three young children on stage, all appearing to be under 10-years-old,, including Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada’s daughter. Haddish quipped that the children paid for the privilege of doing a few jokes for the crowd. In reality, the three separate $1,800 checks that Haddish brandished were donations. Each child’s two-line jokes had the crowd roaring.
Emmy Award-winning actress Rachel Bloom shouted Hebrew vulgarities during her set — and quickly clarified that she doesn’t know any much other Hebrew. After the Israelis’ laughter subsided, she explained the translation for the non-Hebrew speakers in the audience.
Comedians Brian Kiley and Ian Edwards, though not Jewish, also performed. Kiley and Edwards have traveled to Israel several times to do the Comedy for Koby shows. Jewish comedians Kira Soltanovich and Wendy Liebman had the crowd rolling too.
Dan Ahdoot’s set was distinguished by his going all-in on jokes about the Israel-Hamas war. His opening salvo gave a good idea of what was to come: “Hot take: I think Israel absolutely has a right to exist. I wish I didn’t, because the Palestinian chants are just so much more fun than ours. They’re quick, they’re snappy, they rhyme, even if you don’t agree with them. They’re fun to sing!”
It would be an injustice to describe the rest of the Ahdoot’s Israel bit, but a video from a January 23 performance can be seen on Ahdoot’s Instagram feed:
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With ticket prices starting at $36, the show sold out only a few days after it was announced. It was co-produced by writers Rob Kutner, Mike Rotman and David Waghalter. Over the last three decades, Kutner wrote for Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart and Dennis Miller. Although he doesn’t normally produce live comedy events, he did put on a few comedy fundraisers in New York in the early 2000s. For “Comedy Hug,” Kutner was moved to plan it after being exhausted from engaging in comment thread battles about Israel on social media.
“I saw people in my community raising money for supplies and stuff like that [for Israel],” Kutner told the Journal. “I thought, ‘I have access to all the talent and to all these connections, let’s give people a joyous reason to come out and support.’ There’s probably a bit of fatigue setting in among donors here and there. So I wanted to give Jews and their friends and allies a sort of joyful reason to feel good together and to have some laughter. And I made a conscious effort to not only include Jews in the lineup. It’s a statement, bringing some solidarity into the community at a time when we really need it.”
Kutner said that everyone he reached out to “immediately jumped on board to help.” Laugh Factory owner Jamie Masada donated the venue and graphic designer Daria Hoffman designed the flier. Hoffman is known for her custom designed and printed Jewish Simcha invitations. Since the comedians weren’t being paid, Kutner reached out to Jewish-owned businesses to create gift baskets for the talents. These included donations from Bibi’s Bakery and Café and Munchie’s Candies. Kutner insisted the Journal mention each sponsor in any review of “Comedy Hug”: Livonia Glatt Market, Got Kosher? Gourmet Bakery, The TeaBook, JDC Design, The Cask Wine & Spirits and Vidor Insurance Agency. Shmira Public Safety provided extra security for the event.
The show was headlined by comedian Jeff Ross. Ross is known as the “Roastmaster General,” and he might be one of the best at crowd workin the comedy business. While in line waiting to get into the show, several attendees spoke about how Ross sang a new song at the Roast of Antisemitism show in June. The song was titled “Don’t F— with the Jews.” There was hope that Ross would do a reprise at “Comedy Hug.” The song was not part of Ross’ nearly half-hour set, and the set didn’t need it.
Ross’ set was a deep, heartfelt and of course, funny end to the benefit. Up until that point in the night, “Comedy Hug” was live-streamed by co-producer Rotman’s Streamin’ Garage team; when Ross hit the stage, he asked that the cameras be turned off. The Laugh Factory staff, who during the earlier comedians’ sets had not actively enforced the “no photos or videos” policy, cracked down. Not because Ross is some sort of diva. It was because he was about to speak contemporaneously.
Ross shared personal stories about his family and how he and sister had lost both of their parents before turning 20. He spoke about how in his home in Newark, New Jersey, his parents instilled in him a sense of humor as a defense mechanism. Ross also told a story about his Uncle Murray, known as “Mean Murray.” As Ross wrote in his 2009 book “I Only Roast The Ones I Love,” his Uncle Murray’s teasing came from a place of love which hardened the young Ross to handle schoolyard bullies. Uncle Murray was also an Army medic who helped liberate a concentration camp in World War II. There was an audible awe in the crowd when Ross later talked about how he draws mental fortitude from a ring given to him by his maternal Grandfather Jack, also a World War II veteran. The ring is made from a bolt that Jack pried from a Nazi U-Boat he dismantled. Ross wears it everywhere he goes. The topics were heavy, but Ross’s stories did not stint on massive laughs. Although Ross has not written a book in 15 years, his set at “Comedy Hug” is proof that he has all ingredients for a hilarious and inspiring future bestseller.
Ross left the audience wanting more. And more they can get on May 9, when Ross will do a show at the Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever as part of the “Netflix is a Joke” Fest. The show, “Take A Banana for the Ride” will most likelybe an expanded version of the heart and hilarity Ross brought to the Laugh Factory on Monday night in support of Israel. In total, the event raised over $25,000.
“Comedy breaks the tension and it brings people together,” Ross told the Journal after the show. “This common sound of laughter is very cathartic.”