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Israeli comedian picks at stereotypes

By Clayre Benzadon

Section: Arts

March 14, 2014

On Thursday, Mar. 13, Brandeis’s Israeli Comedy Night was held in the Lown Auditorium with TBA, one of Brandeis’ improv troupes.

They began by first improvising with the word “falafel,” setting the scene with two actors playing the roles of new caterers who got the job at the catering company out of desperation, as the company needed to make falafel sandwiches for 200 people in two hours. Sadly, however, the only thing that these two newbies could make were omelettes and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. TBA then acted out “Israeli tour guides,” with one guy imitating a thick Israeli accent, driving the tour bus while the other assistance tour guide, who was American, was too nervous and sick to even begin, stuttering, “Welcome to Israel … this is my first tour in English and I’m … not totally sure …” about anything, feeling helpless as he felt as though he should have taken some culture classes. The tour guide, however, reassured him with the common saying, “Everything is all right” in Hebrew and an order of a couple of shots at the disco.

After TBA’s performance, comedian Benji Lovitt, who has entertained audiences across the world, including crowds at Hillel, on Birthright and at other campuses, has even appeared on Israeli television shows and radio stations. From the moment he stepped on stage, everyone began to laugh hysterically, as he started off by saying, “I was doing some research on Brandeis and saw that in 2010, it was considered the 31st most stressed out college in America … it’s half-Jewish, I’m sure its higher than that, you know, with the Jews complaining about digestive problems, the economy …”

And as he noticed the crunching of a plastic container during his performance, he was quick to comment, “Only Jews eat during shows. They can never compete with food!”

He then went on to describe his life in Israel, as he has been living there for seven years now, and made a joke, “I know I’m becoming Israeli when I become a little too aroused watching this water [from Niagara Falls] … The things that I would do to you … I would take a bath, that’s what I’d do to you …”

Next, he went on to describe his observations of the Israeli citizens, humorously warning the audience, “Never bring an Israeli with you to a casino. Why? They’ll try to negotiate with the dealer!” After he involved the audience in trying to get us to address the different stereotypes that are associated with Israelis, he mentioned the fact that “the Israelis have no idea why anyone would want to move from America to Israel. They act very different once the tourists arrive—they’re on full-on marketing mode: ‘Oh Israel is great—the people, the beaches … we are all family here!’ But after Aliyah: ‘We were joking! You believe us? Why you want to live here?’”

And an Israeli’s description is not complete without the aggressive attitudes of the sellers at the shuk markets, or as Lovitt likes to call it, “Dirty Walmart.” “You know, I’d like to see a job interview with someone who works at the shuk: ‘You have an excellent resume. Can you yell and scream? OK … can you dangle your cigarette over the food? OK … you have a sufficient amount of chest hair …’”

Lovitt later asked the audience if anyone had ever been to Israel. Not surprisingly, almost the entire audience clapped to confirm his suspicion that people had. And he had a lot to say about the Israeli security checks in the El-Al airport. “The first time you travel, you have no idea where the security guards get these questions from: ‘How do you know Hebrew? When did you have your bar mitzvah? Do you have a sister?’ But as I’ve gotten used to [the security checks], I’ve never felt safer. TSA, they don’t even know what they’re doing. They’ll just make up the rules as they go along: ‘Drop your pants and moon!’ or they’ll ask ‘Hi, welcome to Delta, is this a bag?’ Yeah … I’ll stick to El-Al.”

Many audience members felt that the comedy was a bit confusing, despite the fact that Lovitt tried to focus on different stereotypes about Israel. Many audience members indicated that they had been to Israel, so perhaps they were looking for the comedy to reflect more than what felt like a person’s first impressions.

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