Professional comedians Ari Teman and Danny Cohen like to make people laugh, but they are completely serious about showing their support for Israel during this time of conflict with Hamas in Gaza. The two have arrived in Israel to perform a week of stand-up shows, an operation they have dubbed Rocket Shelter Comedy.
“We’ve come to cheer people up, but to tell you the truth, I have been amazed by how many smiles I have seen on people’s faces here,” said Teman. “People are even smiling when they’re driving, which is really unusual given how Israelis drive.”
“People are smiling here more than they are in New York. Maybe we should just turn around and go back to do some shows in New York,” joked Cohen, who has also been struck by Israelis’ resilience.
Teman, 32, has appeared on major television networks in the US and UK. The 45-year-old Cohen has been seen on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend and Chappelle’s Show.
They will be joined on stage by Israeli comedians Benji Lovitt and Yossi Tarablus for shows in Tel Aviv, Modiin and Jerusalem. Tickets are available online and entrance is free of charge, although donations for lone soldiers are encouraged.
In addition to these performances for large audiences scheduled for July 28-31, the comics will be taking their show on the road to fans around the country unable to make it to the main venues.
“There are seniors, pregnant women and families with children who have asked us to perform in their neighborhoods,” said Teman, who took the lead in organizing the entertainment initiative.
“We’ve also been working with the IDF and the Friends of the IDF to arrange smaller shows in bomb shelters in more dangerous territory in the south.”
Cohen and Teman, who flew from New York to Israel at their own expense, managed to get here despite the FAA’s temporary ban on flights by US carriers last week. (An anonymous donor has underwritten the expense of renting the Jerusalem performance venue.)
“We flew El Al and really enjoyed it. Everyone was so well behaved. I guess only mensches are flying to Israel right now,” Teman quipped.
“And the plane was completely full, which is great. But it wasn’t so phenomenal for me, because I was really expected there to be some room so I could stretch out,” Cohen added.
Each of the performers will bring their own comedic chops to the 90-minute-long Rocket Shelter Comedy shows. “We all have different styles. Some of us are more political than others,” said Cohen.
“Benji talks about life in Israel, Danny focuses a lot on family, and I deal with what’s wrong with all of us inside,” Teman said.
Tarablus, a native Hebrew speaker, will also perform in English. “It’s unfair how funny he is in his second language,” Teman said.
The American comics are staying together in a Tel Aviv apartment. Teman was taking a nap when the first air raid siren following his arrival went off. When he woke up, it took him a few moments to realize that the sound was not his cell phone alarm.
“The first thing that entered my mind was, ‘What is appropriate to wear out in to the stairwell?’” Teman said. He ended up going out in the gym shorts he had been sleeping in.
Cohen, on the other hand, said he wore nothing as he dashed out the door. “And there wasn’t even a siren,” he joked.
All humor aside, the two found the siren experience quite surreal.
“But it’s really not a big deal for us. It’s a big deal for the people who are living here and have to deal with this far more than we do,” Teman said.
Both Cohen and Teman have been to Israel many times before. For Cohen, however, this is his first visit in six years.
“It took the war to get me here,” he said.