Philly Faces: Sharon Geller

Sharon Geller. Photo by Christopher Kadish Photography

Two Jews are standing on a street corner in Berlin in 1940.

One says, “I know for a fact that, every morning at 10:30, Hitler walks down this cobblestone street, goes right over to that corner cafe and has a cup of coffee. I’ve got a gun. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to assassinate him.”

The other Jew thinks it’s a great idea, and the two make a plan to kill Hitler the next morning.

The day comes, and 10:30 passes. 10:45, 11 — no Hitler. Finally, at 11:15, one Jew turns to the other and says, “Gee, I hope nothing happened to him!”

If you liked that joke, you’ll love comedian Sharon Geller, who shared that joke as an example of the Borscht Belt humor she loves and has embraced in her career, most notably in the show “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” In addition to comedy, she has been acting, writing and directing in Philadelphia for more than 20 years. The West Oak Lane native has appeared on “Saturday Night Live,” sold products on QVC and trod the boards of just about every stage in Philadelphia. You can find Geller on your computer now, too; she’s teaching improv through Zoom.

What’s it been like doing comedy in quarantine?

Everything’s happening on Zoom these days, so I’m continuing to teach my comedy improv classes on Zoom. I’ve taught for over 25 years at the Walnut Street Theatre. I teach my own advanced comedy improv class on Zoom. And for years, I’ve taught that through the Drexel Law School, a class I created called “Improv for Lawyers.” I teach that on Zoom. And I do a CLE called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Arbitration.” And University of Pennsylvania has hired me to do an improv class for neuroscientists.

I don’t even know if I heard of Zoom before March. And if you had said to me, “Can you teach comedy improvisation on Zoom?” I would have said to you, “Well, that’s a little like asking someone to learn how to play basketball by reading a book. It’s just impossible.” But somehow I’ve done it doing what you do in improv: You think outside of the box, and you try to find another way to do things.

You’ve said that humor is a way to pierce the pretensions of the powerful. Do you have an overarching project as a comedian besides, you know, being funny?

I love making people laugh. I’m not a stand-up comedian. But my goal was always to be on “Saturday Night Live” because I do a lot of different comedic characters. And I’m happy to say I’ve been on four times. It would have been nice to be a member of the cast, but I’ll take the four appearances that I got.

But I have to say, one of the most satisfying things that I do is being a cast member of “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” I’ve been touring the country with that for the last eight years, and I love being onstage and singing funny songs. And it’s an homage to my history, which is the Borscht Belt.

What have you been laughing at in the last couple months?

I love watching really well-done sitcoms. And even though there are a lot of great ones, my old fallback is always “Everybody Loves Raymond.” That sitcom was as well cast and as well written as “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

I will never be the kind of person who comes home and turns on an hour-long crime drama, no matter how well it’s done, because I feel like there’s so many depressing things lately in the news. The last thing I want to do is spend an hour watching a crime drama! I always prefer to watch something that makes me laugh or lightens my load. I love watching comedians on TV — everyone from Bill Maher to Sebastian Maniscalco.


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