When Jerry Seinfeld arrives in Israel at the end of December, he’ll be traveling with one of his oldest friends, comedian Mark Schiff.
Schiff has been lucky enough to travel with Seinfeld for the last 15 years — on Seinfeld’s private jet, no less — opening for Seinfeld in arenas and theaters.
An inveterate comedian of moderate fame, he likes to talk about his “clean” sense of humor — not like other comedians, he says — and falls back frequently on a repetitive slate of Jewish moms, long marriages and doctor visits for a familiar 15 minutes.
Schiff will open for Seinfeld again in Israel, when the king of comedy appears for two consecutive shows on December 30 at Tel Aviv’s Menora Mivtachim arena.
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“We had such a great time last time,” said Schiff of their 2015 visit. “We weren’t there that long, and it was a tough time for Israel with the stabbings taking place, so we wanted to go back when we felt that there was a little less pressure, less craziness going on. Jerry loves Israel.”
The Israeli audiences loved Seinfeld so much so that he added three additional shows after the first one sold out within minutes. But Schiff? Not so much.
Local reviewers said Schiff was “old school” in his manner, making jokes heard before in multiple variations.
“I’m not afraid to come to Israel,” Ynet quoted Schiff as saying. “I’ve been married 25 years already.”
He did veer from the script a bit during one of the 2015 shows, when he said he felt obliged to scream as loudly as he could, “Screw those guys. Screw them,” referring to the spate of stabbings taking place at the time.
The audience, he said, clapped uproariously.
“The audiences were tremendous, absolutely tremendous,” he said. “We demanded that they speak English, but they were there with us, and they were fantastic.”
He then wondered aloud how Israelis learn English from TV shows when he hasn’t succeeded in learning much Hebrew while watching “Srugim” and “Fauda.”
“I said to my wife, ‘how do these people learn?’” said Schiff.
At the time, one Walla reviewer said Schiff didn’t succeed in translating his jokes to a global language, and his references to the American world left “a lot of closed faces in the audience.”
Schiff didn’t see it the same way, apparently. And it would seem, neither did Jerry, who is bringing him along again.
During this upcoming trip, Schiff will be traveling with his wife, and Seinfeld, and they plan on visiting an army base, Jerusalem and Ra’anana, a suburban town where the Schiffs have old friends.
Schiff, who tweets his jokes regularly, said he’ll “be the Donald Trump of comedians and will just keep tweeting” during the visit.
Hmm. Awkward silence from my end of the line.
It actually doesn’t seem to much matter what anyone has to say about Schiff, as Seinfeld wouldn’t think of taking anyone else to Israel. It may also suit Seinfeld to have a warm-up act who sticks to his routine and doesn’t offer any surprises.
“I’ve been on the road with him for 15 years,” Schiff said during our phone conversation. “He uses two or three of us. For Israel, he said, ‘I can’t think of anyone else but you.’”
That makes sense, sort of, as Schiff, who attends the Century City Young Israel congregation in Los Angeles “whenever I can,” and counts himself as a strong supporter of Israel.
He’s also a good friend, said Schiff of himself, and “if I didn’t do a good job, Jerry wouldn’t have me go out there. I have to deliver the goods, and we help each other with material.”
The two comedians have been friends for 40 years, said Schiff, first meeting at the Comic Strip on 82nd Street in New York City, when Seinfeld was working as a waiter and Schiff was earning a living as a mailman.
Now, all these years later, Seinfeld still lives in Manhattan, while Schiff is in LA, and the master comedian is performing regularly at small clubs and large arenas, still honing his craft, line by line, and bringing his old buddy along for the ride.
“We always worked together,” said Schiff. “I’ll see a routine he’s doing and if it needs something I’ll tell him. We grew up in a comedy world where people really helped each other and we’ve never stopped doing that. It wasn’t cutthroat or opportunistic, even though everyone wanted to be successful.”
Not like comics today, said Schiff.
As for this trip, it looks to be more of the same, at least for Schiff.
“This time, we’ll do some new stuff for sure,” Schiff said. And if some material gets repeated, “the audiences don’t mind hearing something funny again.”
This time around, however, tickets are still available.
Jerry Seinfeld will perform at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Saturday, December 30 at Menora Mivtachim Arena in Tel Aviv; tickets range from NIS 295 to NIS 1255.