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Arts & Culture » Theater

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy: going strong after 29 years

by David-Elijah Nahmod

 comic Jessica Kirson
comic Jessica Kirson  

For the past 29 years, lesbian comic Lisa Geduldig has celebrated the holiday season by presenting an evening of kosher comedy. The premise of these shows is simple: Geduldig and her guest comedians perform stand-up routines in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the day after Christmas, because there's nothing else for Jews to do on Christmas except go to a Chinese restaurant.

This year, due to concerns regarding the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the Chinese restaurant will be virtual. The show will be broadcast live on Zoom and YouTube.

This year's show offers an all-female line-up. In addition to hosting, Geduldig will perform, as will her mom, 90 year old Arline Geduldig. The elder Geduldig made her comedy debut during one of Geduldig's monthly online shows, and became the surprise hit of the season. Arline has been performing in her daughter's shows ever since.



Path to funny
In addition to the Geduldigs, the line-up includes funny woman Ophira Eisenberg and lesbian comic Jessica Kirson, who hails from South Orange, New Jersey. Kirson had originally planned to be a therapist, but her life path changed when her grandmother told her that she needed to be a comedian because Kirson always had people laughing.

"That was it," Kirson tells the Bay Area Reporter. "I just fell into it and got addicted to it. That was in 1999, and I've been doing it ever since."

Kirson is old enough to remember a time when people didn't come out. She recalls meeting another young woman in college. The two became inseparable best friends.
"It was so intense," she said. "We would literally sit in a car, I would drop her off at her dorm and just sit in the car and we'd stare at each other for four hours. It was crazy. We could not stop looking at each other and staring at each other. We just wanted to be next to each other. There was no label on it. We just could not have enough time together."

Eventually they entered into a "secret" relationship. They would meet in hotels, and dated boys so that other people wouldn't figure out what was going on between them. When Kirson finally told her family about the nature of their relationship, no one was surprised. They stayed together for seven years and remain friendly today.

When she performs, Kirson does a variety of old Jewish characters, such as her Jewish grandmother. She performs as both male and female characters, including characters modeled after her teenage daughter and the daughter's boyfriend. She even does a sex therapist.

"Sometimes I just literally improv and will just go into different characters that I've never even done before when I'm onstage," Kirson said.

She cites the late Robin Williams as a major influence. Williams had encouraged Kirson's comedy, and the two even did shows together. She was deeply affected by Williams' passing. Other influences include her idols Gilda Radnor, Lucille Ball, and Carol Burnett.

Though this is Kirson's Kung Pao debut, she is an old hat at doing Jewish themed shows.

"Jewish people are able to laugh at ourselves," she said. "Which is amazing, considering what we've been through. I always say that people who've had the most pain laugh the most."


Lisa Geduldig and her mom, Arline  

Little pip
"I am in total disbelief," Lisa Geduldig said when asked how she felt about reaching her 29th year. "I though the event was going to be a one-off in 1993. I started doing this event at 31 years old, next year we turn 30 and 60 together. Kung Pao is my thirty-year-old child. So I'm surprised and I'm proud and I'm kind of blown away that it's been so many years."

Having her mother take part in the show came about during the pandemic lockdown, when Geduldig stayed with her mother in Florida for a few months. It was the first time they had spent an extended amount of time together in many years, and Geduldig came to realize how funny her mother was.

"Much to my surprise, she has a thing for firemen," Geduldig said. "And other young hot bucks that she sees, so she's talked about that, and she's talked about getting kicked out of Costco because she returned her hearing aids too many times. She's just a little pip!"

Geduldig reports that her audience is a mixture of Jews, gays and straights. The first year her audience was 99% Jewish, but when comic legend Henny Youngman performed in the fifth year, the show opened up to a wider audience.

"There's definitely a queer contingent," she said. "When I have a queer performer on the bill as I do this year with Jessica there's more of a queer audience. So it's really a wide range."

Geduldig feels that it's very important for people to laugh these days, given all that the country has gone through these past few years.

"We were all in trauma," she said. "After the elections and Biden came into power, I needed to stop all of the real estate that the Trump family was taking in my head. I loved to hate Ivanka, and I loved to read about stuff and post it on Facebook, and as soon as they were gone, I'm like, OK, I'm done. So between four years of Trump and almost two years of the pandemic, I feel that we have so much healing to do, and comedy provides a lot of relief."

She wants to assure people that being Jewish isn't necessary in order to get the jokes. Not all the comedy material is Jewish, but the material that is Jewish goes across cultural and religious backgrounds.

"It's a community experience," she said. "If you're coming to the Zoom show you can be with other people and laugh on the screen with people, you can cruise, that's what I do half the time when I'm at an event. Half of me is listening, and the other half is checking people out in their little boxes, and what they're wearing. So there is cruising that can be done on Zoom."

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, December 24 and 25 at 5pm, and Sunday December 26 at 2pm. www.koshercomedy.com

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