Comic relief coming to St. Louis Park

  • Article by: ERIN ADLER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2012 - 2:53 PM

The Minneapolis Jewish Humor Festival began as a break from winter's woes. In its third year, it's emphasizing what audiences enjoy most -- stand-up comics (and the occasional headstander).


David Harris

Three years ago, when Claire Avitabile was planning the winter arts programming for the Sabes Jewish Community Center, she had a brainstorm: Why not have a festival focused on comedy?

"I was planning for the dead of winter, and comedy seemed like the only thing that would get people out of their houses," she said.

The strong tradition of humor in Jewish culture only added to the appeal -- and meant there were lots of talented performers to choose from.

Thus, the first Minneapolis Jewish Humor Festival was born in 2010, with Avitabile as festival director.

Since then, it has gained momentum. This year it is expected to entertain between 2,500 and 3,000 audience members between the opening show on Saturday night and the final event on Jan. 28. Eight shows are scheduled at the Sabes Jewish Community Center in St. Louis Park over that two-week period.

The festival's growth can be seen not only in increased ticket sales but in its budget, which has doubled since its first year, Avitabile said.

"The festival has been our baby, our growing baby. It's our toddler now," she said.

Stand-up is king

This year's festival will give audience members more of what they've said they want: Stand-up comedy.

"People just really love stand-up," Avitabile said. "They love that on-the-fly, off-the-cuff comedy," and the festival organizers have gotten clear feedback on those sentiments from surveys and box office numbers.

This year's festival also will feature more national acts, like Julie Goldman and Jeff Applebaum, in addition to a documentary, a laughter yoga session and a one-woman show. Avitabile noted that it will include more GLBT performers and more female comedians as well.

The festival is the only one of its kind in the Midwest, and possibly the country, Avitabile said. While there are plenty of Jewish book festivals, and many Jewish community centers feature comics in individual shows, the clustering of events over a couple of weeks is apparently unique.

Avitabile said that lately her phone has been ringing with calls from other community centers from across the country inquiring about the festival's success and how she made it happen.

"It's become nationally known because of its local success," she said.

A community role

While the festival's performances are open to the general public and it draws many audience members who aren't Jewish, Avitabile said it plays an important role in the local Jewish community.

"A lot of community center members aren't necessarily connected to a synagogue, but they're looking to connect to Judaism. Events like this help them do that," she said.

Dave Goldstein, a nationally known comedian from New York who will be performing at the festival, said the cultural element of the festival made it an interesting opportunity. "It means a lot to me -- I'm a very proud Jew. I like the community aspect," he said.

And Goldstein said he thinks he'll do just fine in the Midwest: "I've kind of got that Big Ten look about me. I'm a big, pale white guy."

Back for a third time

For Minneapolis native David J. Harris, who's half of the "David Harris and David Harris Comedy and Variety Show," this will be his third year performing at the festival. Harris began doing magic at age 15 for bar mitzvahs and children's parties. He describes his show as a blend of magic, stand-up and stunts.

"Last year was a blast," he said. "It's nice to perform in an actual theater, and when you know the audience is there to see your act, that's the ideal circumstance."

Harris looks forward to this year's show and quips that even though his star is rising, he'll remain true to his roots.

"Don't worry, L.A. has already called me, but I told them I have lots of kids' birthday parties to do in Forest Lake."

Erin Adler is a Twin Cities freelance writer.

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    Tuesday January 10, 2012

    Here's the lineup of events scheduled for the Jewish Humor Festival Jan. 14-28 at the Sabes Jewish Community Center, 4330 Cedar Lake Road S. in St. Louis Park. For more...

  • Here's the lineup of events scheduled for the Jewish Humor Festival Jan. 14-28 at the Sabes Jewish Community Center, 4330 Cedar Lake Road S. in St. Louis Park. For more details, go to . Opening Night: Outrageous Comedy with Julie Goldman, with special guest Laura Thorne 7:30 p.m. Saturday Julie Goldman, star of three seasons of LOGO's Big Gay Sketch Show, navigates between comic folk singer and standup comedienne. She's headlined various shows on Comedy Central and performed on Broadway in "Laughing Liberally." Laura Thorne is a Minneapolis standup comedienne who got her start in 2007 when her former boss, as he was firing her, recommended she pursue a career in comedy instead. She does standup and improvisational acts for corporate events, charities and comedy clubs. For ages 18 and older. Tickets are $15-$18, which includes admission to an opening night party with the comedians at Cooper Irish Pub at The Shops at West End following the performance. Telling Tales Out of Shul - An Evening of Laughter, Music and Observations from an Inappropriate Rabbi Featuring Rabbi Sim Glaser, with special guest Gloria Fredkove 7:30 p.m. Sunday Rabbi Sim Glaser joined Minneapolis' Temple Israel clergy in 1999, and in addition to sharing his knowledge of Torah and Israeli culture has often entertained with his comic storytelling and musical talents. Gloria Fredkove is a stand-up comedienne who's performed at the Acme Comedy Club, Patrick's Cabaret and past humor festivals. For ages 18 and older. Tickets are $10-$12. Film: "Making Trouble" 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, and 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 20 "Making Trouble" is a documentary about six of the greatest female comic performers of the last century: Molly Picon, Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Joan Rivers, Gilda Radner and Wendy Wasserstein. Hosted by Judy Gold, Jackie Hoffman, Cory Kahaney and Jessica Kirson, and billed as "the true saga of what it means to be Jewish, female and funny." For ages 18 and older. Tickets are $8-$10. Comedian Dave Goldstein, with special guest Dylan Fresco 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 21 Dave Goldstein performs a stage act that often taps into his family's unique Jewish experience. He's performed stand-up on NBC's Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Comedy Network, The National Lampoon Radio Network and Dylan Fresco has created two solo shows for the Minnesota Fringe Festival: "The Anton Kissbougel Technique," a satire on a yoga class, and "Domino's Pizza Saved My Life." For ages 18 and older. Tickets are $10-$12. Laughter Yoga Workshop, with Sarah Routman Noon on Sunday, Jan. 22 A Yiddish proverb states: "What soap is to the body, laughter is to the soul." Learn how 90 minutes of "Laughter Yoga" can help you let go of inhibitions, unlock joy, trigger positive chemical reactions in the brain and even strengthen core muscles. Laughter Yoga got its start in India and is now practiced in 53 countries. Sarah Routman, executive director of Hillel at the University of Minnesota, has been a Laughter Yoga instructor since 2008. Workshop fee: $15-$18, which includes healthy refreshments. "Circumference," an Awkward Moment Productions presentation written and performed by Amy Salloway 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 22, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 23 "Amy is fat... and she's not gonna take it anymore!" Minneapolis-based actor and writer Amy Salloway has created "a fearlessly honest and hilarious story of size, sweat... and exercising your demons." For ages 18 and older. Tickets are $10-$12. The David Harris & David Harris Comedy and Variety Show, with special guests The Chosen Few 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 25 Billed as "Two Men. One Name. Three times the Entertainment," comedian and magician David J. Harris and comic and stunt artist David M. Harris will be performing with the Jewish improv troupe, The Chosen Few. For ages 16 and older. Tickets are $10-$12. Comedian Jeff Applebaum, with special guest Neal Karlen 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 Jeff Applebaum's comedy is based upon his peculiar life experiences, including being the only white kid on his Little League team in Queens, having a Chinese wife who orders from take-out menus in fluent Mandarin, and raising a teen son who calls himself "Jewnese." Applebaum recently appeared on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Local writer Neal Karlen is author of "Shanda: The Making and Breaking of a Self-Loathing Jew" and "The Story of Yiddish." He grew up around parents who would speak Yiddish to keep him and his siblings from understanding what they were saying, and now he is fluent in Yiddish. For ages 16 and older. Tickets are $10-$12. An Evening with Rachel Feinstein, with special guest Phoebe Bottoms 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28 Rachel Feinstein grew up outside of Washington, D.C., the daughter of a civil rights lawyer and a blues musician. She was a finalist on season seven of "Last Comic Standing" and has been featured on "Comedy Central Presents Rachel Feinstein." Standup comic Phoebe Bottoms is a 22-year-old recent transplant to Los Angeles, where she resides in a West Hollywood apartment with two mixed breed dogs and a "goyfriend," Matt. For ages 18 and older. Tickets are $12-$15 and include a closing night reception after the show.
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