Kung Pao Kosher Comedy: annual holiday tradition celebrates 30 years

  • by David-Elijah Nahmod
  • Tuesday December 13, 2022
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Cathy Ladman (photo: Troy Conrad), Mark Schiff, Orion Levine (photo: Nick Larson), <br>Arline Geduldig and Lisa Geduldig (photo: Kent Taylor)
Cathy Ladman (photo: Troy Conrad), Mark Schiff, Orion Levine (photo: Nick Larson),
Arline Geduldig and Lisa Geduldig (photo: Kent Taylor)

It's been 30 years since Lisa Geduldig presented the first Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, now an annual Bay Area tradition. The shows are inspired by the fact that Jews often choose to go to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. Geduldig, who also produces a monthly comedy show, came up with the idea of presenting comedy shows in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.

Over the years the shows have grown in popularity as a bevy of legendary comics have graced the Kung Pao stages. People like Judy Gold, Elayne Boosler, David Brenner, Shelley Berman and Henny Youngman have kept Kung Pao audiences in stitches.

"I seriously thought when I came up with the idea and created the show in 1993 that it was going to be a one-off," Geduldig said in an interview with the Bay Area Reporter. "But I knew the first night when we had a full house and turned away 200 people that I was on to something."

For many years Kung Pao took place at New Asia Restaurant in Chinatown. But since that venue closed down during the pandemic, Geduldig had to find another place to stage the shows. This year Kung Pao happens in the Kung Pao Room at Congregation Sherith Israel, the progressive reform synagogue at 2266 California Street. Food will be provided by Angela Chou of Green Chow Down, who will offer their signature dish, Kung Pao chicken, or a vegetarian option, Kung Pao tofu, among other dishes. Bay Area people who attend the shows virtually will be able to order from the menu for delivery.

Arline Geduldig and Lisa Geduldig in Florida.  

Geduldig offered a little insight as to why the shows have been so successful.

"I think the secret is that I tapped into a need and gave Jews and others looking for something to do on Christmas a sense of belonging and community," she said. "The show is always funny with a diverse line-up, and people feel like it's their event. It's given them a sense of community and belonging at a time when we often feel left out."

This year's line up will feature Mark Schiff, who tours with Jerry Seinfeld, Orion Levine, Geduldig herself, and Cathy Ladman, who has forged a career for herself appearing on sitcoms in addition to her stand-up career. Ladman told the B.A.R. that she enjoys both aspects of her career.

"I think I'm yearning more for acting right now because I haven't done much of that lately," she said. "But I have to say that it comes down to the project, be it stand-up or acting. And then I'm doing my solo show too, 'Does This Show Make Me Look Fat?' which is about my recovery from anorexia. And yes, it's funny, but it's also pretty dark."

Ladman also spoke of what inspires her comedy.

"Life, family, absurdity," she said. "Anything that I'm experiencing, what I'm going through at the moment. My next area is likely to be about my divorce. I'm in the middle of that now, after a 25-year marriage."

Ladman's comedy has been described as a "self-probing, anxiety venting vehicle for exposing personal neurosis."

"I mostly talk about what I'm going through as opposed to what's going on out there," she said. "I'm a main character in my comedy."

Mother's Day
Geduldig's 91-year-old mother Arline will also be appearing at Kung Pao, albeit virtually from Florida. The elder Geduldig has become a popular staple of Lockdown Comedy, Geduldig's monthly online shows.

Arline first got involved in her daughter's shows during the pandemic when Lisa, who had gone to Florida for a two-week visit, ended up staying for 17 months due to the pandemic. Lisa wanted to keep her comedy act alive at a time when people could not gather, so she created the online shows from her mother's guest bedroom. Noticing how funny her mother could be, Lisa asked Arline if she wanted to be part of the show. Arline was an immediate hit and became a staple of the shows, including Kung Pao. This year she'll be appearing via pre-recorded video.

"It's been a treat to have her on the shows," said the younger Geduldig. "Having her sitting next to me while I am performing has been interesting, since I largely talk about her. I never knew how funny she was, and living with her during the pandemic has been such a gift."
Each year's partial proceeds from the shows go to organizations that are near and dear to Geduldig's heart. This year the beneficiaries are the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank and the Center For Reproductive Rights.

"Food insecurity is a dire issue," Geduldig said. "So many people go without, even in a city like San Francisco where there is so much wealth. And reproductive rights are on the line."

"I love doing 'Kung Pao' added Ladman. "I love the audiences and the time of year. It's one of my favorite gigs, and I so love San Francisco. I'm really looking forward to it."

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, December 23, 24, 25. Dinner 5pm, show 6pm. Congregation Sherith Israel, 2266 California St. Also on YouTube Live at 6pm. $30-$100 www.CityBoxOffice.com/KungPao www.koshercomedy.com

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