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All Christmas-ed Out

[whitespace] Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
Katy Radditz

Jewish Jesters: Chinese food and Jewish humor join forces against the dominant culture with the kooky Kung Pao Kosher Comedy troupe.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy offers comedic relief for just about anyone who's not into celebrating Christmas

By Chris Knight

For the last six years, comedian Lisa Geduldig has offered a unique answer to the age-old question "What does a Jew do at Christmas?" Since 1993, she's organized and starred in "An Evening of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy," playing this year at the New Asia Restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. Christmas Eve through Dec. 27, sell-out crowds sit down to a seven-course Chinese banquet and comedy show and celebrate being Jewish. Headlined by veteran New York comic Freddie Roman, this year's show also features Brooklyn native Sara Cytron and San Francisco local Dan Lewis, creating a mixed stage of young and old, male and female, gay and straight.

A crowd as diverse as the comics packs the restaurant each year, representing every race, religion and sexual orientation you can think of. "A lot of new friendships are formed," says Geduldig. "Every so often I'll get a call from someone who said they met somebody at their table, somebody they would be unlikely to meet in a normal setting, but they came together for this cockamamie event."

Over the phone, Geduldig talks about everything from being Jewish and the incarnation of Kung Pao Kosher Comedy to disappointing your parents and eating Chinese food.

Where did the idea for Kung Pao Kosher Comedy come from?

I was performing in a small town outside of Northampton, Mass., and was booked at what I thought was going to be a comedy club called Peking Garden Club. I got there and, lo and behold, it's a Chinese restaurant. So, I was talking to a friend on the phone after the event ... and this idea just came up as a joke out of the conversation. I came back to San Francisco in 1993 and mulled it over, and I said, 'You know, I hate Christmas. My people hate Christmas. Let's see if I can put something together like this.' And apparently there was a need for it. Jewish people feel alienated that time of year and just like to have something to celebrate instead of hiding under the covers until the end of December.

How is the show geared toward San Francisco?

Well, the performers and audience are a mixture of gay and straight, so to start out with, that's what's very San Francisco about it  ... it's different ages, sexualities and races. It's primarily Jewish, but you've got your handful of Chinese/Jewish couples, believe it or not interfaith couples, people who are just far from home or looking for something alternative, and a lot of people who aren't Jewish, but just don't subscribe to Christmas mania. It looks like a big Bar Mitzvah, basically, and some of us are still at the kids' table and always will be. What I like about putting the event on for people of different ages and sexualities, urban/suburban, et cetera, is that everyone is laughing at the same jokes, whether or not it's a 35-year-old lesbian or a 91-year-old, old-timer comic.

Can you talk about how your Jewish heritage informs your comedy?

Oy! Where do I begin? I mean, not to go off on the stereotypical Jewish mother, but my mom does unintentionally write about 90 percent of my material. I don't know why it is, but there's also just a sort of inbred humor in being Jewish. I don't know if it's just a cultural thing, or people dealing with difficult issues with humor. A lot of my material is Jewish-related and a lot of it just talks across the board about growing up in a Jewish family, or being gay and coming out to your mother. [It's] Jewish material that everybody could understand, whether you're Jewish or not. [Material] you can relate to like telling your parents something they weren't thrilled about--you know, that you're moving to San Francisco, or you aren't going to become a doctor or a lawyer, or whatever causes disappointment. This city's kind of filled with people who have disappointed their parents. That's why we all get along here.

What do most Jews typically do during Christmas?

Well, in New York, Jews typically go for Chinese food and a movie, often a Woody Allen movie. There's some age-long connection between Jews and Chinese food, whether it's because those restaurants are open on the holidays, or if you kept kosher you could still typically go to a Chinese restaurant and not have to worry about mixing meat and milk.

So pretty much you go for Chinese food, you go to a movie and you just try to avoid Christmas carols ... I mean, you get very Christmas-ed to death from Nov. 27 on. I'm not, like, anti-Christ or anything. You just feel like a stranger in a strange land for the entire month of December.

What do you hope that the audience gets out of the show?

New girlfriends, new boyfriends, some new material ... I think the event really brings people together to celebrate something instead of just going, "Oh! We're Jewish, we hate Christmas!" As a performer I want people to laugh and be able to enjoy themselves and feel good about who they are. ... Everyone will get a good Yiddish proverb in their fortune cookie. I go to a little fortune cookie factory in a little alley in Chinatown, a little sweatshop where these women sit there and make fortune cookies all day--usually X-rated ones--but once a year this little 5-foot-1-[inch] Jewish lesbian walks in with, like, "A goat may have a beard, but it doesn't make him a rabbi," and "A pimple's no problem on someone else's tushy."

Is there anything else that people should know about the show?

We won't be burning an effigy of Christ or Santa Claus there. It's a celebration of Jewish culture; there's nothing against them personally.

Kung Pao Kosher Comedy, Dec 24-27; 6pm dinner show, $45; 9:30pm cocktail show, $30; At the New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific Ave. (between Grant and Stockton); 415/522-3737.

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From the December 21, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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