2 pulled out; 2 stepped in

US comics help Israelis cope with trauma of Hamas massacre

Comedy for Koby organizers say laughter is best medicine; agrees one mum whose two soldier sons just got back from Gaza: ‘It’s healthy and you don’t need to feel guilty about it’

File - Avi Liberman on stage in Comedy for Koby. (Photo credit: Yissachar Ruas)
File - Avi Liberman on stage in Comedy for Koby. (Photo credit: Yissachar Ruas)

Tami Varon needed a night out to laugh. With two of her sons just back from fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip, she joined some 400 others at a comedy show of visiting US comics in Israel to try to forget about the war for a while.

For Varon and the show’s organizers, comedy can help to heal those who remain deeply traumatized by the October 7 attack when Hamas-led terrorists killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in southern Israel, and kidnapped over 250 others, triggering the war in Gaza. It was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.

In the initial weeks of the war, movie theaters and other forms of entertainment, even shopping malls, were closed. Photos of hostages held in Gaza and signs saying “Bring Them Home Now” remain plastered across buildings and bus stops.

But steadily some form of normalcy has returned in Israel. The country’s leading TV satire show “Eretz Nehederet” resumed, treading cautiously at first before once again mercilessly attacking Israeli politicians. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld and other actors visited Israel to show solidarity.

Now, comedy shows are sold out as rocket attacks from Gaza have started to subside.

“It’s OK to get your head in a different space and to laugh,” Varon, a therapist by profession, told Reuters at the stand-up show in the central city of Modiin, where the crowd laughed and cheered loudly.

“It’s healthy and you don’t need to feel guilty about it.”

This series of shows, called Comedy for Koby, has been running for more than 15 years, bringing top American comedians to six Israeli cities including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, to raise money for a foundation that supports those who have lost loved ones “to terror or tragedy.”

The current tour was briefly in doubt when two unnamed US comics pulled out, but others stepped in.

Butch Bradley, a resident US comic in Las Vegas who grew up admiring Bob Hope’s trips to entertain troops in World War II, told one show he had at least expected cheap flights on Israel’s flag carrier El Al, as tourists stay away.

“And they’re like, ‘No. It’s $6,000!’ But there’s a war? ‘Yeah, you’d be shocked. It’s going up. Beaches will be packed. It’s vacation time!'” quipped Bradley, who is not Jewish and was a frequent performer for troops in Afghanistan.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Butch Bradley (@butchbradleycomedy)

Brian Kiley, a longtime writer for the Conan O’Brien show in the United States, joked: “My agent doesn’t follow the news. All weekend my friends would ask ‘why are you going to Israel?’ and I had to explain to them that Ukraine was booked.”

While TV satirists have lampooned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his handling of the conflict, the US comics largely avoided referencing the war happening just hours away in Gaza, where the Israeli retaliatory offensive, aimed at toppling Hamas, has killed more than 25,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Those figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Peter Berman did not consider canceling.

“When October 7 happened, I just wanted to come even more to try and bring some comfort and ease to people,” he said.

File – Comedian Avi Liberman takes pride in the Comedy for Koby tours he’s arranged since 2008 in Israel, putting the country on the map for American comedians (Courtesy Yissachar Ruas)

Avi Liberman, an Israeli-US comedian who recruits the stand-ups for the twice-yearly series, said the best response to horror was for Israel to carry on: “Especially in times like this when people need a break.”

The foundation behind the comedy shows has tried to help with that. It was founded by the family of teenager Koby Mandell who was killed in a Palestinian terror attack in 2001. It offers emotional support and runs camps to affected families. It expects the demand to rise.

“Laughter is healing,” Eliana Mandell Braner, Koby’s sister and head of the foundation, told Reuters. “This is going to be a really long war so we all need this for our morale.”

Most Popular
read more: