By Jacob Gurvis
The White House recently released a detailed strategy for combating antisemitism, complete with more than 100 action items.
One thing not on the list? Comedy.
That’s where Jewish celebrities such as Howie Mandel, Rachel Bloom and Michael Rapaport came in on the night of June 14 at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills, California, at a so-called “Roast of Anti-Semitism.”
As event organizer Dani Zoldan put it, the comedy show was focused on “making fun of people that hate Jews.”
Emceed by longtime standup and occasional TV actor Elon Gold — who joked that there were no Proud Boys in the audience, only “Jewish mothers who are proud of their boys” — the evening was full of Yiddishisms, circumcision jokes and poking fun at the likes of Kanye West and Donald Trump.
There were countless jokes about antisemitic stereotypes — more than one performer mocked the idea that Jews control the weather, noting that the auditorium was uncomfortably warm. There were bits about conversion, Jesus and Hitler, and even a couple of musical numbers, including Bloom’s rendition of “Remember That We Suffered,” from the musical comedy she co-created and starred in, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.”
The sold-out crowd of 1,900 also heard from Montana Tucker, the social media star who has become known for her Holocaust education content, and Noa Tishby, the actor and Israel’s former antisemitism envoy, who was fired after criticizing the current government’s proposed judicial overhaul.
Israel itself was not a big topic at the show, aside from a few jokes about flying El Al and Gold proclaiming, to considerable applause, that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.”
Zoldan, whose Manhattan comedy club Stand Up NY produced the show, said he and his collaborators hope to pitch the show, which was recorded, to streaming platforms to help it reach an even wider audience.
“There’s obviously so many different initiatives around the world fighting antisemitism, so this was just our contribution, hoping to make some small difference,” Zoldan said in a phone interview before the show. Zoldan is also the creator of the Chosen Comedy Festival, a touring Jewish comedy show featuring many of the same comics.
Daniel Bernstein, who works at nearby Wilshire Boulevard Temple, said he attended the roast because he is “pro-semitism.”
“I think we’ve been through so much, the only way to get through it is to laugh,” he said.
Bernstein was there with his friend Talia Amoyal, who added that “a lot of pain comes out through humor.”
Tehran Von Ghasri, who goes simply by Tehran on stage, also performed. A comedian and actor based in LA, Von Ghasri said he often seeks opportunities to use comedy to address difficult topics. He is half Iranian and half Black, and his maternal grandmother is a Mizrahi Jew from Egypt.
“I wanted to add some literal and metaphorical color to this lineup,” he said. He added that his close bond with his grandmother made Judaism a big part of his life growing up. He celebrated Jewish holidays and had a bar mitzvah.
“It’s good to show that there’s no monolith of Judaism,” he said. “There’s no one thing or person that it looks like.”
Zoldan, who himself is an observant Jew, said the event was largely targeted at a younger, non-Jewish audience. The team behind the show relied on influencers and social media marketing to spread the word and sell tickets.
“I don’t think it’ll help the cause if we just filled the audience with Jews who agree that antisemitism is bad,” Zoldan said. Instead, he said he hoped the show would offer a younger, non-Jewish audience “a different side and a different conversation about antisemitism.”
In fact, multiple comics asked the non-Jews in the audience to make some noise — a prompt that received a few scattered cheers.
The show also featured Orthodox comedian Modi Rosenfeld, who, along with Mandel, received the most laughs of the night; a video from Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (who was created by Jewish comedian Robert Smigel) interviewing people in London about controversial Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters; “Roastmaster General” Jeff Ross and others.
Due to the size of the lineup, each comedian’s set lasted only around 10 minutes. Still, Zoldan said, he recognized how big the ask was each time he invited someone to participate.
For one thing, unlike in a typical comedy show, in which traveling comics can repeat their go-to set (which Rapaport and Yamaneika Saunders still seemed to do anyway), this show’s specific theme required the performers to write new material. Plus, Zoldan added, the ongoing Hollywood writers strike may have dissuaded some comics from agreeing to take part, out of deference for the striking writers.
Mandel, who closed out the show, ended by encouraging the crowd to be proud of their Judaism — that is, after he made fun of a woman in the front row for falling asleep during his set.
“We’ve been persecuted for 6,000 years,” he said, “but you can’t sit for a f–ing hour?”