Being deployed as an Israel Defense Force tank gunner in Lebanon doesn’t sound like a lot of laughs, but US-born grunt Joel Chasnoff began a thriving stand-up comedy career based on his exploits.
A mainstay of Jewish community functions and conventions, Chasnoff is now grounded in Israel. So he turned to Zoom to continue his gigs in Jewish communities around North America.
But then the race riots started up in the United States and a few communities opted to postpone their events “because they were afraid that it wasn’t appropriate to laugh… They said, it doesn’t feel right to be laughing, to be making jokes, when people are suffering both from the pandemic and with the riots,” he said.
He’s says the questions of when laughter is appropriate versus insensitive, helpful or detrimental, are important to debate — and often have a culture-based answer.
“I personally believe that as long as you’re not forgetting the problems that are going on around you, it’s always OK to laugh. I think certainly in Israel we’re a lot more willing to laugh at things, and sooner than they are in the US,” said Chasnoff. “In America there is this waiting period before it’s OK to laugh at something.”
Chasnoff said that these days he finds himself drawn to other topics than the pandemic — perhaps even subconsciously. “Maybe just I need a break from it. Maybe I don’t feel like delving too deeply into those subject areas,” he said.
Chasnoff is a Jewish in-joke maven and finds humor in mothers (of course), keeping kosher, bar mitzvahs, Israel, and even tefillin.
Chasnoff speaks with The Times of Israel about coming to volunteer for the IDF as an old man of 24 (which he charts in his 2010 memoir, “The 188th Crybaby Brigade”), finding out that the State of Israel didn’t consider him Jewish, and the continual culture shock of being a non-Sabra in the Holy Land.
We’ll hear about how Chasnoff continues to perform via Zoom, and have a few laughs in the process.