The Borscht Belt is gone now, so this will have to do.
On Christmas Eve — which coincides with the first night of Chanukah for the first time since 1978 — Jews will mingle and do what they love best: eat.
Or, as the comedian Avi Liberman puts it, “Why not fulfill all the stereotypes in one night?”
Welcome to the Moo Shu Jew Show, now in its ninth year, sponsored by the Gershman Y. Only on this night, rather than eating matzah and bitter herbs, do we eat Chinese food. And enjoy comedy.
Liberman is one of three comedians who’ll perform at Ocean Harbor Restaurant in Chinatown, joined by Josh Gondelman, a writer on HBO’s hit show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Julie Goldman, who describes herself as someone who’s “high-energy, very opinionated, coming at you full-force.”
They’ve never met and don’t even know the order of billing, which was put together by longtime comedienne Cory Kahaney and her husband, Ken Misrok.
But as long as they’re among “their people” and everyone’s having a good time, they say it doesn’t really matter.
“I love the fact that it’s Chinese and Christmas Eve, because that’s how we all grew up,” said Goldman, who was raised in Lexington, Mass., but now lives in Los Angeles. “There’s a celebratory-ness which I like.
“And it’s nice poking fun at ourselves. My mother was a Hebrew school teacher and had a kosher home. So I do feel in my blood I am Jewish, and I love it.”
So does Liberman, who was born in Israel, where he lived until he was 3½ when his family moved to Houston. He still performs regularly in his homeland — having just returned from a visit — but finds a special warmth in a setting like Moo Shu Jew.
“I did Cory’s show last year in Boston. Now I’m fortunate to be a part of the production in Philly,” said Liberman. “I’m happy to go wherever she wants.
“Obviously, you adjust your act to where you are.”
While Liberman adjusts from Israeli audiences to British and now American crowds — doing his shtick at a number of Chabads as well — Gondelman is making a tougher adjustment. From January through November, he’s one of the brains behind Last Week Tonight, doing stand-up at various New York clubs in his spare time.
Lately, though, he’s been a full-time comedian, hitting the heights in places like Oklahoma City; Austin, Texas; and Minneapolis. But this week the Stoneham, Mass., native will head back East, including Philadelphia, where he’s played three times before at different locations.
“Coming from Boston, where I started, I’ve done a ton of shows in Chinese restaurants,” said Gondelman, who’s also became an internet favorite for his Twitter pep talks to cheer up disheartened followers as well as his Bouncy Castle newsletter. “It’s nice to have people come to the show with a common interest.
“We did the traditional Chinese food thing in my family, so I like doing such a specific event like this.”
Gondelman, who’s only been seen in crowd shots on Oliver’s show, assumes he’ll be the warmup act for Liberman and Goldman, who are both more accomplished performers.
“I’m sure those guys are funny, so what I’m expecting is you’ll see a bunch of Jews talking s—,” said the brash Goldman, who’ll appear in an upcoming episode of Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. “At Moo Shu, we’ll lean more heavily on the Jewish stuff, mainly talking about family.
“But I don’t really change my act. I want to be challenging, and I’m not looking to not be myself. I can usually size up an audience in the first 30 seconds and tell if it’s going to be good or bad. I’m openly lesbian and I look it.
“With Jews, it’s usually super easy, though.”
However, making it as a comedian is never easy.
Goldman, Gondelman and Liberman may sound like a law firm, but each has had to pay their dues, travel to less-than-exotic places and deal with patrons who might not like their particular style and aren’t afraid to let them know it. That’s one reason they find Moo Shu Jew so appealing.
“With every show you never know, but my philosophy is to think like you’re walking into a safe space,” said Goldman, who’ll be back in the area on New Year’s Eve performing at The RRazz Room in New Hope. “It’s like a date.
“Cory [Kahaney] is such an awesome comedienne. She knows what’s good. This should be a good time.”
The host agrees.
“It’s really always been a great evening with a special feeling around it,” said Misrok, who’ll introduce the talent, then get out of the way. “I’ve never seen an event that has such goodwill.
“It’s just about having fun.”
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