Didja hear the one about the 200 Jews who went into a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve? The annual Moo Shu Jew Show provided laughs during its eighth year.
Didja hear the one about the 200 Jews who went into a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve?
No punch line here. But on a 70-degree night at Ocean Harbor in Chinatown at the eighth annual Moo Shu Jew Show, the laughs were nearly as plentiful as the food. And judging from the reaction of the crowd crammed into the place, eight won’t be enough.
The event is the brainchild of Cory Kahaney, a 52-year-old New Yorker who’s been on the comedy circuit for a couple of decades. She’s figured out a way to put together the perfect Jewish holiday trinity: Jews, Chinese food and comedy. Joined by fellow late-night television veteran Dan Naturman, along with super-fast-talking Philadelphian Buddy Fitzpatrick, Moo Shu Jew was again a sold-out affair.
That’s because the material has something for everybody: motherhood, fatherhood, single parenthood, marriage, second marriage, being single, being
divorced and more. And after we had Thanksgivukkah in 2014, looking ahead to 2016 when the first night of Chanukah and Christmas Eve coincide for Chanuk-imas, next year’s show should really be something.
“Whenever you do anything, it becomes a tradition — and Jews love tradition,” said Kahaney, who emcees the event here, while her husband, Ken Misirock, does the same up in Boston. “It’s a way for Jewish people to socialize that has nothing to do with religion. It’s not a fund drive. Nobody’s judging what synagogue you go to; it’s just a night out. Philadelphia’s the perfect-sized city Jewish community: just big enough but not too big. We own the city tonight.”
That wasn’t the case in 2013, when the Gershman Y, which had co-hosted the event since its inception, decided to go in a different direction. Fortunately, Kung Pao Klezmer, which took place directly across the street and featured klezmer music performed by the Klingon Klezmer band, only lasted one year.
Whatever ruffled feathers or bruised egos might’ve existed between Kahaney and the Y were eventually smoothed over. “I think what was disappointing was, when they said they were choosing not to be involved, I asked them, ‘Are you going to do something?’ and they said they had no plans,” explained Kahaney, who says she and her manager still argue who came up with the name “Moo Shu Jew.” “Then they changed their minds. I wouldn’t have minded if they hadn’t done it across the street. I thought that was disrespectful. I’d made money for the Gershman Y for five years. It wasn’t like they were doing me a favor.”
But a change in leadership at the Y led to the “couple” re-uniting. “From my understanding, my predecessors had all kind of different ideas how to do things,” said Sahar Oz, the Gershman Y’s director of programs since 2014. The native of Rishon LeZion, who had previously had been director of Judaic programming at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, said that “That year, we had two events on the same night and each event had half the audience. I had worked with Cory for six years at Katz with her ‘Jewish Princesses of Comedy’ show, so she knew she had an honest broker.”
With that resolved, it was on with the show. As appetizing as the whole thing sounds, in reality, the dinner part of Moo Shu Jew isn’t the star of this particular show — unless you don’t mind sitting at a crowded table with
total strangers, eating standard-issue banquet food and dealing with unruly servers. As for the comedy itself, though, most of it was pretty funny.
The night started off with Kahaney discussing the woes of dealing with her 30-year-old daughter from her first marriage, then having to shift gears to handle her 10-year-old son from her current marriage. Then came Fitzpatrick, the father of teenage girls, whose imitation of his ex-wife puts the fast-talker from Seinfeld to shame. Finally, Naturman, a Penn grad who went to Fordham law school before doing a 180-degree career turn, explained why he’s remained a bachelor. Among the reasons cited: If they talked about the pluses and minuses of marriage the way used car salesmen describe their product, no one would ever take the plunge.
Despite his impressive resume, Naturman doesn’t mind working Moo Shu Jew — or on a cruise ship. “It’s a fun gig,” said the 45-year-old Stamford, Conn., native, who’ll be back in town on New Year’s Eve playing Helium Comedy Club. “I’ve known Cory for years. We’ve done it in Philly and Boston, and there’s always a good turnout.
A former contestant in both Last Comic Standing and America’s Got Talent, to go with appearances on The Late Show With David Letterman and Conan, he says times have changed for comedians trying to make it big. “I think in the old days, everyone watched the networks,” said Naturman, who grew up watching old sitcoms while listening to Eddie Murphy, Woody Allen and Jackie Mason, then got to meet top names like Chris Rock, Jon Stewart, Ray Romano and the late Robin Williams while performing. “Now it’s not the near life-changing experience it could’ve been had you been on [Johnny] Carson. Nowadays there are so many channels, plus the Internet. Far fewer people are watching networks. But if you can get nice video and put it online, it does help.”
While Fitzpatrick couldn’t completely relate to the audience, he says comedy is comedy, whatever your ethnic background. “I don’t change my material,” said Fitzpatrick, who attended Archbishop Ryan in the Northeast. “Humor transcends, whether you’re Jewish or Catholic. But with this crowd, I can do more subtle things.”
The bottom line at Moo Shu Jew was that Kahaney, Fitzpatrick and Naturman all left them laughing as folks headed out the door on the warmest Christmas Eve in Philadelphia history.
“You won’t be surprised by the food,” summed up Kahaney, whose website includes videos of her appearances on Letterman, Craig Ferguson’s Late Late Show and Last Comic Standing, as well as HBO and Showtime comedy specials. “But it’s so rare to see so many Jews all in a good mood. Yes, someone will complain [especially at the Jewish Exponent’s table]. But overall the mood is really fun.
It’s a bit of a love fest.”