Meet Comedian Ari Teman – A Funny Guy with a Serious Side

This is a guest post by Julie Swiler, Marketing and Communications Director for the United Jewish Fund and Council of St. Paul. Julie can be reached at [email protected].  
See Ari Teman at the United Jewish Fund and Council Annual Campaign Kickoff Gala on Sunday, Sept. 18 at Temple of Aaron. Contact Sharyn Effress Pesses for details at [email protected].
Ari Teman is an award-winning comedian who has appeared on MSNBC, BBC and VH1 and is a favorite at a-list clubs, colleges and venues around the country. He is the Jewish Federations of North America’s 2009 “Jewish Community Hero of the Year,” selected for founding JCorps, the Jewish social volunteering network. JCorps brings together Jewish volunteers between the ages of 18 and 28 to connect and contribute to their communities. Volunteers are from all walks of life, representing every religious denomination, 180 jcorpcolleges and universities, 500+ companies, and countries all over the world.
We recently spoke to Ari about his comedy, the impetus for JCorps and what’s on the horizon.  
Q: You’re a comedian and the founder of JCorps, the social volunteering network that helps young Jews do good in their communities – pretty serious stuff. How do these two sides of you fit together?
AT: I take the comedian thing pretty seriously. Quite a bit of work goes into perfecting my act. Both require elements of effective communication – they’re about connecting people and hearing ideas.  In both cases, it’s the greatest feeling in the world when you connect with your audience.
Q: Which came first – comedy or charity?
AT: I started both at about the same time – around five years ago. I run JCorps as a volunteer.
Q: How did you decide to become a comic?
AT: I went to a comedy club and forgot my wallet – actually I’ve enjoyed making people laugh since I was a kid. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and people told me I should. I took a comedy class a few years ago. The class was terrible but it gave me a deadline to be on stage. No matter what, I had to write 10 minutes of material and get up and do it.
Q: How did you start doing standup? Any particularly eventful first experiences?
AT: I remember one of the first times on stage being blinded by the lights. I couldn’t see the audience and I didn’t know where in the room the laughter was coming from. It was like I was up against a wall telling jokes.  A comedian with more experience came after me and when he heard laughter in the back he said, “Oh the drug addicts are in the back.” I wondered, “How does he know that?” With experience your ears become attune to every sound in the room – now it is like a have a three-dimensional map in my head when I perform.
Q: How and why did you start JCorps?
AT: Basically, I wanted a way to meet Jews from a wide variety of backgrounds. That doesn’t happen at one temple or party or gathering, so how do you create the right social atmosphere? I figured volunteering is a great way to meet a nice group of people who care about the world. JCorps creates an environment where people can connect socially and also have volunteer experiences that are meaningful.  If you’ve got to choose between two volunteer opportunities and one will let you meet a bunch of great people you are going to choose the one that lets you meet a lot of great people.
Q: What’s next for JCorps?
AT: We just launched in more cities including Be’er Sheva, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and we re-launched in Montreal. We are also working on something we call JSuite. The idea is to create a physical space where college and post-college students can gather in a central location of a major city to work, volunteer, socialize, learn, eat and relax. The space would include things like offices for startup organizations and entrepreneurs, shared workspaces, multi-purpose conferences rooms, plus spaces to relax like a coffee bar and an event space that could also serve as a restaurant, a concert venue or a place for volunteer activities. The goal is to enable a diverse group of young Jewish adults to gather and work alongside each other, fostering collaboration and community.