Reel funnyReel funny

Film documents US comics in Israel

Biannual tours of American comedians are a fish-out-of-water experience that ‘produces the best laughs’

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

(From left) Comics Craig Robinson, Avi Liberman, Gary Gulman and Dwight Slade during the 2007 Comedy for Koby tour (Courtesy Avi Liberman)
(From left) Comics Craig Robinson, Avi Liberman, Gary Gulman and Dwight Slade during the 2007 Comedy for Koby tour (Courtesy Avi Liberman)

With nearly 30 comedy shows logged in Israel since 2001 through his stand-up charity tours, American comedian Avi Liberman figured it was time to put it all down on film.

“It’s sort of enough that every movie out of Israel is either negative or about the Israeli-Arab conflict,” said Liberman, a Los-Angeles-based comedian who brings American comedians to Israel twice a year (and who was interviewed by The Times of Israel at length in October). “We wanted to get one more movie out there that shows people having a good time, because that’s what I experience.”

“Caution: Comics Crossing” will offer an insider’s glance at the bi-annual Comedy for Koby tour, joining Liberman and his fellow comics as they tour Israel, discuss jokes, timing and the Israeli audience.

“We were going to do this years ago and it’s sort of a blessing in disguise that we didn’t,” said Liberman. “It gave us time to film more tours.”

Produced with Danny Gold, a longtime Los Angeles-based director and producer — “he’s the guy to bring this home,” said Liberman — the film is being financed through indiegogo, a crowdfunding site frequently used by filmmakers. The crowdfunding is “a bonus scenario,” said Liberman, adding that there are already several private funders backing the film, although they had only raised $659 out of the $50,000 crowdfunding goal just 31 days in to the project.

Liberman isn’t new to the fundraising aspect of the business, having first begun his comedy tours to raise money for Crossroads, a Jerusalem organization helping troubled teens, and then switched to the Koby Mandell Foundation, an organization that works with children who have been victims of terror, and named for Koby Mandell, the 13-year-old victim of a 2001 terror attack.

He maintains relations with several donors who cover the basic costs of the comedy tours, paying for flights, hotels and touring for the three humorists he brings along, aiming to make as much money as possible for the foundation from the tickets sold for the comedy shows.

While some of the comedians have been fearful of Israel or told Liberman to “stop bugging them” about the trip, “I tell them I wouldn’t bug them if I didn’t think they were great,” he said. “But the word is out that it’s a great gig.”

With tours that last about a week, and include several performances in at least six cities, Liberman has built up a following among local audiences, made up primarily of Anglos, but with a solid Israeli crowd when in Tel Aviv, often brought by fellow comics.

“There’s usually a whole section of Israeli comics. We hang out with them in the downtime,” said Liberman, who also works with local English-speaking comedians.

His biggest problem? Fresh material, especially when he’s coming to Israel every six months, and the audience expects “a fresh 20 minutes.”

“You can’t win with Jews; you just gotta do what you gotta do,” he said.

The next Comedy for Koby tour will take place May 22 to May 29; go to the Koby Mandell Foundation website for more information.

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