Loads Of Laughs On Tap At Jewish Humor Festival

The impression Adam Grabowski made at last year’s Twin Cities Jewish Humor Festival was so good, he’s not only back for this year’s festival – he’s headlining the festival’s opening night. But the Chicago-area native has an idea of what to expect from the audience.

“The audience was awesome, but there was a couple who were too funny,” said Grabowski, who opened for Carol Leifer. “When I was watching Carol, people were complaining because the people next to them were laughing too loud.”

Grabowski’s show is on Jan. 20, the first day of the eight-day-long festival. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and will have policeman-turned-comedian Chuck Gollop opening for him.

At least Grabowski will get a good crowd to make laugh, and he’s been drawing plenty of those in his eight years doing stand-up. He has been named the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities comedian of the year the last four years, although he said the crowd may be a little bit older.

“I’m talking to people who have probably reproduced as opposed to those who haven’t,” he said. “I’m not so much joking about the issues of being single. I know I’m only 30, but I have something valid to say. In the end, people still are there for an experience.”

Grabowski started in comedy after finishing his undergraduate work a semester early with a degree in sociology and psychology. Instead of figuring out what graduate program to go while he was recuperating after breaking his hand, he started what he calls “proactive procrastination,” and started doing comedy instead of figuring out his life.

However, he hasn’t strayed too far from his undergrad schooling. He does lectures on mental health, does live surveying speeches on consent, and is the founder of the #SAYITANYWAY campaign for depression and anxiety awareness.

Also part of this year’s festival:

Sunday, Jan. 21 at 2 p.m.: The Last Laugh at the Sabes JCC

The Holocaust would seem to be an absolutely off-limits topic for comedy. But is it? History shows that even victims of Nazi concentration camps used humor as a means of survival and resistance. Still, any use of comedy in connection with this horror risks diminishing the suffering of millions. So where is the line? The Last Laugh offers fresh insights into these questions, featuring interviews with influential comedians and thinkers ranging from Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Jeff Ross, Larry Charles, and Gilbert Gottfried, to authors Etgar Keret and Shalom Auslander, plus Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. The film also includes rare archival footage of cabarets inside the concentration camps themselves, as well as clips ranging from The Producers to Curb Your Enthusiasm, video of performances from comics Louis CK, George Carlin, and Chris Rock, and newly discovered footage of Jerry Lewis’s never-released Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried.

Monday, Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m.: Really Spicy Opera Presents A Pickle by Deborah Yarchun at the Sabes JCC

A hit of the 2017 MN Fringe Festival, A Pickle is a one-woman show about pickles, ignorance, prejudice, and the Minnesota State Fair. The Fair rejects Doris Rubenstein‘s traditional kosher pickles, claiming that they “look” spoiled. Something funky is going on and she’s going to raise hell about it! A true story, this darkly comedic play looks at pickle prejudice. Performed by Angela Timberman.

Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 7:30 p.m. Diaspora Boy: Comics On Crisis In America And Israel Brew-Ha-Ha, at Blackstack Brewery, 755 Prior Ave North, St. Paul

The St. Paul JCC’s Books & Brews series combines with the Jewish Humor Festival to present Books and Brewhaha, an evening with writer/artist Eli Valley and his first full-scale anthology, Diaspora Boy, which provides an essential retrospective of America and Israel at a turning point.

Diaspora Boy itself is a satire of Zionist conceptions,” Valley said. “It’s an inversion of that caricature as a way to return pride to the diaspora Jewish experience.”

Valley says he’s always been an artist and writer, but not doing comics on this issue. What got him to here was some happenstance, some passion, and interest.

“I was writing op-eds 10 years ago and I realized there was so much more kinetic power to the visual,” he said. “Words are ubiquitous, but personal drawings are not. I decided to express myself through the visual media.”

Valley’s work has been featured in The Nation, The New Republic, The Village Voice, The Nib, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Gawker and elsewhere. His art has been labeled everything from “ferociously repugnant” by Commentary and “hilarious” by The Comics Journal. He gleefully lists on his website the plaudits and criticism, the latter of which he doesn’t back down from.

“The actual reviews from intelligent people have been gratifying,” he said. “I don’t [care] what Bret Stephens thinks.”

The ticket includes a token for a free beer! Warming up the crowd for this fun event will be none other than returning favorites and local Jew-ish improv troupe, The Chosen Few.

Thursday, Jan. 25 at 7:30 p.m.: Comedian Gina Gold with Wendy Berkowitz, at the Sabes JCC

Wendy Berkowitz, who is opening for Gina Gold, is relatively new to stand-up having picked it up after retiring from a career in finance.

“For the first 12 years I lived in St. Paul, I did one show,” she said. “I didn’t want to mix the two.”

In the past two years, she has gotten into a network of people who do stand up and paid more attention to the craft.

“You have to keep your eyes open,” she said of how she gets material. “In 2016 I was an election judge. Three things happened that became 2 ½ minutes of material. Something funny you see can be the premise for a joke, then it’s working and reworking it”

Gold is an African American, Jewish humorist, filmmaker and stage artist. She grew up in a New York neighborhood thinking “oy vey” was something all black people said. She also performs with You’re Funny But You Don’t Look Jewish, a touring stand-up comedy show with some very funny African American, Indian, Italian American and Vietnamese Jewish comedians.

Saturday, Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m., Comedians Jess Salomon and Deanne Smith, at the Sabes JCC

Hosted by Emily Saltzman of JPRIDE

Jess Salomon is a Jewish lesbian, former UN war crimes lawyer turned stand-up comic. The Montreal Metro has called her comedy “charming and intelligent”. Jess’s festival credits include Just for Laugh’s OFFJFL and ZOOFEST, The Winnipeg Comedy Festival, San Francisco Sketchfest, the Laughing Skull Festival, the Boston Comedy Festival, the Cape Fear Comedy Festival, Odd Block, and the Ice Breakers Festival.

DeAnne Smith is also a lesbian but is not Jewish. But she often co-headlines with Jess and it is so fantastic so you all just have to deal with her gentile status. DeAnne has performed all over the world, including the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Iceland Comedy Festival and Just for Laughs Montreal and Chicago to name a few. Ticket includes pre-show celebration with food and drinks at 6:30 p.m. in the JCC lobby.

Sunday, Jan. 28 from 1-3 p.m. Workshop: ARTrageous Mad Lib Collages at the Sabes JCC

This wacky workshop for kids and families is full of nothing but fun! First, ARTrageous Adventures owner Amanda Vallone will guide families on a mad-lib storytelling adventure, and then the fun and interactive story that is created by the group will inform the visual art workshop to follow! Families will collaborate on an artistic collage combining animal and human characteristics. Feel free to bring photos of your pets or family members to personalize your art! Recommended for children 5 and older, but all are welcome. Children 12 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Fee includes supplies. Workshop Fee: $5 per person; children 4 and under are free; children 12 and under are free but must be accompanied by an adult registered for the workshop.