'It's a portal into our world through laughter and pride'

Popular Jewish comedian Modi has a new special. He wants non-Jews to watch, too

The funnyman popular with Orthodox Jews says the best way to end antisemitism is to invite people to ‘laugh with us’

Comedian Modi Rosenfeld. (Courtesy)
Comedian Modi Rosenfeld. (Courtesy)

JTA — In his new comedy special full of jokes about an Orthodox Jewish ambulance corps, DNA test results, and an elevator that is configured to accord with traditional Jewish Shabbat observance, comedian Modi Rosenfeld says he hopes plenty of non-Jews will tune in.

“I think one of the best ways to end antisemitism is not educating people on what’s happening. It’s more just — laugh with us,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Much of the crowd at the hour-long special, filmed at New York’s Gramercy Theatre last April, appears to be Jewish. But throughout the special, Modi, as he’s known professionally, continuously picks on one non-Jew in the audience — and presents himself as a guide to explain the Jewish unknown.

“For people who are Jewish, it’s just a moment to be like, ‘Yes, yes, thank God, someone’s got it. Yes, this is what we go through and we’re laughing at it,’” Rosenfeld said of the special. “For people who aren’t Jewish, it’s literally a portal into the Jewish world through laughter and pride.”

Rosenfeld’s husband, Leo Veiga, directed the special, which is now available on 800 Pound Gorilla, a comedy distribution and production platform that has carried specials for names like David Cross, Claudia Oshry, Sasheer Zamata, and Tim Heidecker.

The title of the special, “Know Your Audience,” is a reference to a principle Rosenfeld, a mainstay comedian in Orthodox circles who frequently performs at charity benefits for Jewish causes, has followed in his own career. Last January, he publicly revealed in an article in Variety that he is gay, but added that he tends not to discuss being gay when performing for Orthodox crowds.

“Even though some religious organization has brought me in and people are coming to see me, I understand I’m under the umbrella of a certain demographic that I need to respect and know the audience,” Rosenfeld told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the time. “If you put me in front of an audience, I give them what they need. And they don’t need gay material — they need the material for this audience.”

“But when I’m on the road doing my material, I can do whatever I want,” he added. “They came to see me.”

The special explores Veiga and Rosenfeld’s significant age difference, COVID-19, antisemitism, and the logic of Shabbat elevators, which automatically stop on every floor so that those who observe the day’s practices — including a prohibition on using electricity — don’t need to press buttons.

The special was filmed nearly a year ago, before Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught on Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza transformed the Jewish world. Asked about whether the material still feels relevant without discussing the war, Modi gave an answer reminiscent of the special’s title. He said that now, when he is on tour, he will often ask people to sing Israel’s national anthem at the end of his show.

But he added that not every performance ends with a focus on Israel: “Obviously at the Comedy Cellar, I’m not asking them to stand up and sing ‘Hatikvah,’” he said, referring to one of New York’s top comedy clubs.

He said that generally, although he is a standup comedian, the war is “in the back of your head” during his shows.

“Even though we just completely left the war for an hour and 20 minutes, we have to remember what’s happening and that there’s hostages and that Israel is going through it,” he said.

But at the same time, for his audience members, he said, the shows are often an escape from reality.

“People come up to me afterward, they literally say to me, ‘I just haven’t laughed in so long,’” he said.

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