Stand-up comedy is a tough business in the era of pandemic shutdowns and limits on live performances.
That hasn’t prevented Jewish comedians like Cory Kahaney from taking to the stage virtually.
On Nov. 14, Kahaney performed an evening set for the 31st Katz JCC Bank of America Festival of Arts, Books and Culture. The festival, which is based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, runs from Nov. 8 to Nov. 19 and features authors, speakers and performers from around the country. Festival Director Shonnie Lebovitz said turnout has been high due to the audience’s increasing comfort with technology. So far, the record for most devices tuned in to a festival event is 193.
Kahaney is based in New York and has performed frequently in Philadelphia. She was a finalist on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and the 2016 season of “America’s Got Talent.” She has stand-up specials on Comedy Central and HBO and runs the monthly Ruthless Comedy Hour on her website (the title references the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg).
“It’s very feminist, it’s very liberal and it’s basically Jewish-mom humor,” she said in a separate interview.
During her festival performance, Kahaney joked about her two marriages, her relationship with her children, her body, online shopping and more. She read a fake review she left on Amazon for a $15 hat her husband became obsessed with and talked about the time she spent an hour making up promo codes to try to get a discount.
“I just typed in ‘Up yours!’ and I got 15% off,” she said.
She advised one audience member to go to Trader Joe’s if she ever felt like she wasn’t being heard in her marriage.
“I go to that cash register at Trader Joe’s and the woman will look at me with so much empathy,” she said. “She’ll say, ‘Hi, did you find everything you were looking for?’ And I suddenly feel vulnerable and say, ‘I never got unconditional love from my mother.’ And she’ll say, ‘Oh, did you look in frozen?’”
She also joked about the pressure she was under to marry a Jewish man after her sister came out as a lesbian to her conservative parents: “My mother was hysterical. She said, ‘We’ll never dance at her wedding!’ And my father was like, ‘Shut up, we just saved 50 grand.’”
Other highlights included her mother’s apocalyptic texting style, her husband’s inability to throw anything away, the high price of private college and Manhattan preschools, and the age of her genitals.
“What I have is a classic. Some people call it a collector’s item,” she said to uproarious laughter.
The show was filmed on the platform StreamYard, which allowed some audience members to appear on screen with Kahaney. She took advantage of the opportunity to connect with the crowd, asking questions and riffing on their lives during several bits.
Kahaney said making the transition to virtual shows was relatively easy because she focuses more on joke writing than on physical comedy, and crowd work has also translated pretty smoothly.
“I’ll be in the middle of a joke that’s a little bit racy and I’ll go, ‘You know what I’m talking about, Myrna!’” she said. “I don’t offend anybody’s decor or whatever, I’m more looking for opportunities to connect.”
Hecklers haven’t been daunted by the virtual format, either. Kahaney said she usually listens to what they have to say and only cuts them off if they interrupt too much.
“Now I’m in an area of material where they want to contribute, or they disagree,” she said.
She believes it’s possible to make fun of the pandemic, and often incorporates COVID jokes that tackle masks, anxiety and loneliness.
“We can make fun of stuff like, you know, we pretend to be more obsessed with COVID so that we can get the elevator all to ourselves,” she said. “Or, have you ever been so desperate to find a mask that you needed to go into the store to pick up one thing that you used one you found on the sidewalk?”
Lebovitz said Kahaney’s performance provided a form of entertainment that has been particularly difficult to access this year.
“We always love to do something that is fun or funny, and this year it’s as important as ever to do that,” she said. “So we were looking for someone who would be a nice fit for our community. We are thrilled that Cory is willing to do this, we know this is a tough time for comedians right now and we are truly honored.”
[email protected]; 215-832-0729